Topi Raitanen and Megan Davies take top honours in Armagh

The flying Finn pulled away from his rivals late on for victory

Manthorpe, Raitanen, Young
Manthorpe, Raitanen, Young Topi Raitanen (centre) with his closest challengers Alfie Manthorpe and James Young

THE cold and damp conditions did not take away the lustre of a star-studded night’s racing in Armagh on Thursday.

Over 1000 athletes took part in a 10-race programme on the fast circuit around the city’s Mall, with the international Sportsshoes Men’s 5K and Armagh Sports Women’s 3K the feature events.

A late late show from Topi Raitanen saw him bridge a five-year gap back to 2019 to claim his second victory in the men’s race.

The European 3000m steeplechase played his cards close to his chest before showing at the front for the first time less than 200 metres from the finish.

Raitanen stopped the clock at 13:50 as 16 men went under 14 minutes. Morpeth Harrier James Young had the race of his life to claim the runner-up spot, sharing the same 13:51 timing as Sheffield & Dearne’s Alfie Manthorpe in third and Sweden’s Vidal Johansson in fourth.

The NI & Ulster representatives finished down the field with Jack O’Farrell (14:23/43rd), Tony McCambridge (14:26/52nd), Craig McMeechan (14:26/54th), and Lughaidh Mallon (14:29/62nd) no doubt benefitting from rubbing shoulders with international standard athletes.

There was a bunch of possibly as many as 20 athletes at the front throughout most of the race as Southampton’s Zak Mahamed, Johannson and Finland’s Mustafe Muusa took turns at the front.

There were still at least 10 in contention as they entered the final straight along the Mall West with cool-hand Raitanen keeping his powder dry a stride back of the leaders before exploding to the front inside the final 200 metres. After that there was only one winner and that was the Flying Finn.

There was an upset in the Armagh Sports Women’s 3K when defending champion Alex Bell was relegated to third in a fast finish.

Megan Davies had been prominent throughout and when push came to shove in the last 100 metres the Sale Harrier had the most gas in the tank.

The Sale Harrier continued to move away in the final metres and broke the tape in 9:19, with Cardiff AC’s Cari Hughes coming with a late charge to snatch second in the same time as Davies. A fading Bell held on for third another two seconds back.

The NI & Ulster women fared well against the top-quality opposition with Fionnuala Ross finishing ninth in 9:27 and Letterkenny AC’s Nakita Burke lifting the prize for first F35 in 15th recording a 9:34 timing.

Enniskillen’s Edel Monaghan (9:45/ 32nd) and Annadale Strider Hannah Gilliland (9:53/43rd) completed the leading local quartet.

Hometown favourite Ross had led the field through the opening lap, with Bell biding her time in about 10th.

Oxford University’s Alexandra Shipley took over at the front shortly afterwards and had a 10-metre advantage at the bell before Davies moved through to lead with Bell taking closer order.

The Manchester-based athlete, representing Scotland, still had the advantage entering the long home straight and it looked like Bell’s race to win when she struck for home 300 metres from the finish. However, Davies had other ideas and responded to snatch the initiative in the final metres.

Seventeen-year-old Oliver Patton from the Kilbarchan club in Glasgow proved to be a class apart in the Linwood’s Open Men’s 3000m winning comfortably in a fast time of 8:29, just one second off the race record.

Hercules Wimbledon’s Charlie Wylie was second in 8:32 with Lagan Valley’s Charlie Jones another second back in third.