The official countdown to the Brooks International Road Race in Armagh got under way today, after details of the annual athletic standoff were confirmed by organisers at a special launch event to celebrate its 25-year history.
Taking place on Wednesday, February 19, the iconic race is widely acknowledged as one of the best road races in the world for the calibre of its participants and the fierce competition among athletes vying to take the top spot in the men’s and women’s high-speed races.
Organisers say that this year’s event, which is sponsored by sports footwear specialist Brooks and supported by Armagh City and District Council, will feature some of the most hotly-contested racing challenges seen for many years.
With a host of athletes combining national, European, World and Olympic experience between them, competition for the winning places in the men’s 5K and the women’s 3K international challenges will be fiercer than ever.
Last year, the race standard in the international men’s race was so high that 45 runners came in in under 15 minutes, with the last finisher only 90 seconds behind the winner.
Laura Whittle from Loughborough University was victorious in the women’s 3K with a time of 9:25.73, while Nick McCormick from Morpeth AC in North East England came first in the men’s 5K international race with a winning time of 14:11.90.
This year, racing fans will be on the lookout for another record-breaking performance in the women’s 3K race. Former European champion, Brooks-sponsored Mary Cullen, with a personal best time of 8.43.74 for the 3000m, returns to lead the Irish national team, which will also include Donegal’s Ann Marie McGlynn.
However, both runners will have the contention of another Brooks-sponsored athlete, Katrina Wootton from Coventry, who is currently in top form. Other athletes to look out for are Ireland’s Ciara Durkin, England’s Gemma Hillier, Laura Dunn of Edinburgh and Derby-based Ellie Stevens.
In the men’s 5K international race, a revitalised US team led by Joe Stilin, who boasts a best time of 13.33.13 for the distance on the Armagh track, will be up against Polish challenger Krystian Zalewski, the current European 3000m steeplechase silver medallist.
Other big names confirmed include racing champions Luke Cragg, Jonny Mellor and John Beattie from England, while former Irish national cross country champion Gary Murray joins Scotland’s finest, Jake Wightman, in the battle for Armagh that could also see America’s David Nightingale’s 2009 race record of 13:54 come under fresh pressure.
The full programme, which includes details of the 12 races scheduled, is available at www.armaghroadrace.com.
The first race starts at 6.30pm at the top of Mall East in the city centre.
Cathy Rafferty, Lord Mayor of Armagh City & District Council, said: “After a quarter of a century, Armagh’s International Road Race continues to grow in size and stature and we look forward to welcoming so many of the world’s greatest athletes to our city to compete and to celebrate this iconic competition’s anniversary.”
Armagh International Road Race Director, Brian Vallely, added: “It is encouraging for everyone across Armagh that we have so many taking part this year and I hope that the thrill and excitement of the race can inspire many to take up the sport and one day compete in this thrilling event.
“On behalf of everyone across Armagh, I’m grateful for the solid support and encouragement from our main sponsor, Brooks, which has so generously provided its full backing and encouragement to this major annual event.
“In addition to sports retailer Intersport, I would also thank our local business community for their proactivity in getting involved and supporting us to make sure that this year’s race will be one of the biggest and best of its kind in the world.”
Pictured in action, Nick McCormick (centre), from North East England, came first in the men’s 5K international in Armagh in 2014, with a winning time of 14:11:90.
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