Athletics: Race is on for Rio Marathon
The race for place on the Irish marathon squad for next year's Rio Olympic began in earnest at the weekend, when both Mick Clohisey of Raheny Shamrocks and Thomas Frazer of St Malachy's in Belfast completed the Rotterdam Marathon inside the Olympic B standard of 2 hours 18 minutes.
Clohisey was running his debut marathon and came home in a time of 2:17.42. Frazer was just behind him in 2:17.45 - identical to the time he ran in the 2013 Berlin Marathon.
Gary Thornton of GCH ran 2:18.21, outside his best of 2:17.20 run in Rotterdam three years ago, while Rathfarnham's Seán Hehir's time of 2:19.23 was also slower than his best.
Winning the race was Abera Kuma in 2.06.47, while the best Dutchman was Abdi Negeet in 2:12.33.
It is fair to say that Irish marathon running has some catching up to do, despite the best efforts of the Marathon Mission, sponsored by the SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon, which has introduced squad training for marathon runners and gives them coaching and other support year round.
Since 2000, only three Irishmen have run under 2 hours 15 minutes for the marathon. Mark Carroll ran the second fastest ever time by an Irishman of 2:10.54 at New York in 2002. It took another six years before Martin Fagan of Mullingar Harriers ran 2:14.06 in Dubai.
Then in 2011, Clonliffe's Mark Kenneally ran 2:13.55 in Amsterdam, which qualified him for the London 2012 Olympics.
Fagan runs the Zurich Marathon this coming Sunday just a year after completing a two-year ban for doping.
He remains the only Irish athlete to have returned to the sport with any degree of success after a doping ban. As such, he is charting new territory and however he runs this weekend, he will receive mixed reviews.
Paul Pollock remains the front runner for Rio '16 and he's aiming to run a qualifying time in Berlin later this year.
His fastest marathon was the 2:16.30 he ran on his debut over the distance in Dublin 2012, but with a half marathon best of 62 minutes 10 seconds from last year, he could be the one to break the magic 2 hours 10 minutes barrier.
As for the women, Fionnuala Britton, the current top ranked Irish female marathon runner, successfully defended her national 10km title when she finished second overall at the Spar Great Ireland Run in Dublin's Phoenix Park.
Britton finished second behind British athlete Gemma Steel in a personal best 33 minutes 7 seconds for the hilly course. Second of the Irish was Leevale's Lizzie Lee in 34 minutes 18 seconds.
Mark Christie of Mullingar won the men's national title in 30 mins 10 secs, followed by Clonliffe's Sergiu Ciobanu in 30:30.