Ben Connor, Laura Weightman & Stephen MacKay win at Armagh International:

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Armagh International Road Races 2017:

On Thursday 16th February 2017, athletes from fifteen countries took to the streets of the Cathedral City of Armagh for the 27th annual running of the Armagh International Road Races, an exceptionally well organised event hosted by Armagh AC.

This year also celebrates 50 years of athletic promotion for Armagh AC and continued a tradition of International Road Races which began in 1975 with the NACAI International Sport & Cultural Week.

An exceptional night of racing saw Laura Weightman (Morpeth Harriers), Ben Connor (England) and Stephen MacKay (Inverness Harriers) steal the headlines, but ultimately, it was road racing itself which benefited most – a staggering 79 men ran under 15 minutes for 5k and 29 ladies dipped under the 10 minute mark for 3k.

The atmosphere within the oval shaped ‘Mall’ area of the historic city was electric, with supporters turning out in force to cheer on the thousands of junior and senior athletes as they took on the flat and fast course.

After the well supported junior races, which attracted in excess of 1,200 participants, had warmed things up perfectly, it was the turn of the elite fields to take to the roads.  Perfect conditions and talent laden fields awaited, all that had to be delivered was the performances to match… and they were!

In the International Ladies 3k, double Olympian Laura Weightman lived up to expectation, smashing Mary Cullen’s course record.  Despite strong early running by fellow English athlete Jessica Judd, it always looked like Laura would have the final say and that did indeed prove to be the case as the Steve Cram coached athlete moved clear going into the 1,000m.

Laura broke the tape in a new course record of 8:59 for 1st place, with Rosie Clarke, a fourth place finisher here in 2016, taking 2nd place in 9:02; this was also inside the previous course record of 9:07.  Jessica Judd completed the top three in 9:11 (3rd place).

After the race, Laura told Athletics Weekly’s Alex Donald, “I knew it was a strong record to beat. I really wanted to test myself and that’s a good platform now looking forward to the summer.”

Rio Olympic Steeplechaser Kerry O’Flaherty (Newcastle AC) showed very little signs of fatigue following her impressive outing at last night’s AIT International Grand Prix, where she recorded a European Indoor 1500m qualifying time, as she led the Northern Ireland team home in a new 3k road personal best of 9:22 for 9th place.

The International Men’s 5k brought a record number of participants to the Mall West start line.  Just like the ladies event, the men set off at a blistering pace, which they kept up for much, if not all of the race.  Little separated the lead group until the latter stages when England’s Graham Rush made a brave surge.  This provoked a  reaction from the remainder of the lead pack, from which Ben Connor (England), Brandon Doughty (USA) and Dewi Griffiths (Swansea Harriers AC) emerged.

In a frantic battle for top honours, it was Ben Connor who held strong to cross the line first, taking top spot in 13:55 (1st place) – this was an agonising one second off the long standing course record of 13:54, held by USA’s David Nightingale since 2009.  Brandon also finished in 13:55 (2nd place), with crowd favourite Dewi following in 13:58 (3rd place).

Ben spoke to Alex Donald (Athletics Weekly) about his victory: “I always wanted to give this race a go, the atmosphere is amazing.  It’s the best 5km I’ve ever done. To come through and win like this was great, winning is a habit you get into.”

City of Derry AC’s Conor Bradley looked close to his best as he continues his return to competition, leading the local runners home in 14:30 (31st place), while Neil Johnston (Springwell Running Club) led the Northern Ireland team home five seconds later in 14:36 (38th place).

The final race of an excellent event programme was the Open Men’s 3k.  After a similarly fast start to the international events, it was City of Lisburn AC’s Jonathan Whan who headed to lead pack. Up and coming star Jonathan was then absorbed back into the chasing group, with Stephen MacKay (Inverness Harriers) and Zak Hanna (Newcastle AC) coming to the fore as the men entered the final 400m stretch.  In the final metres, Stephen moved ahead, eventually sealing victory in 8:45 (1st place).

Zak was rewarded for an excellent performance with the runners up prize – the Northern Ireland and Ireland mountain running international clocked 8:49 for 2nd place. Last year’s winner Craig McMeechan (North Down AC) claimed 3rd place in 8:52.

International Ladies 3k – Podium Places:

Top 3 Ladies:  1st Laura Weightman (Morpeth Harriers) – 8:59, 2nd Rosie Clarke (England) – 9:02, 3rd Jessica Judd (England) – 9:11

Top 3 Northern Ireland Ladies:  9th Kerry O’Flaherty (Newcastle AC) – 9:22, 10th Emma Mitchell (QUB AC) – 9:23, 14th Ann-Marie McGlynn (Letterkenny AC) – 9:34

International Men’s 5k – Podium Places:

Top 3 Men:  1st Ben Connor (England) – 13:55, 2nd Brandon Doughty (USA) – 13:55, 3rd Dewi Griffiths (Swansea Harriers AC) – 13:58

Top 3 Northern Ireland Men:  31st Conor Bradley (City of Derry AC – 14:30, 38th Neil Johnston (Springwell Running Club) – 14:35, 42nd Danny Mooney (Letterkenny AC) – 14:37

Open Men’s 3k – Podium Places:

Top 3 Men:  1st Stephen MacKay (Inverness Harriers) – 8:45, 2nd Zak Hanna (Newcastle AC) – 8:49, 3rd Craig McMeechan (North Down AC) – 8:52

Top 3 Northern Ireland Men:  2nd Zak Hanna (Newcastle AC) – 8:49, 3rd Craig McMeechan (North Down AC) – 8:52, 4th Shane McGowan (Derry Track Club) – 8:55

Full Results:  Armagh International Road Races 2017 Results