On a day when Valencia properly shook the all-time marathon rankings, Sinead Diver ran the fastest ever time by an Irish woman over the classic distance, only for record purposes it will count for Australia.
Proving again that age is certainly no barrier, and defying perhaps some expectations, the Mayo-born Diver finished 12th overall in a brilliant time of 2:21.34, improving her previous best by some 2½ minutes, just over two months shy of turning 46.
It’s almost a minute faster than the long-standing Irish record of 2:22:23 which Catherina McKiernan ran in Amsterdam in 1998, although McKiernan still holds on to that record, and for Diver improves her previous best of 2:24:11 clocked when finishing seventh in the 2019 London Marathon, at age 42.
It also improves the Australian women’s marathon record, the 2:22:36 run by Benita Willis Johnson back in 2006, and Diver will now be credited with that record given she’s been representing Australia for the past eight years, that switch coming after Athletics Ireland refused to accept her qualifying time for the 2015 World Championships in Beijing.
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For Diver, who first moved to Melbourne in 2002 for work purposes, it’s another age-record too, unquestionably the fastest marathon time by a 45-year-old woman. At last year’s Tokyo Olympics, Diver finished 10th in the women’s marathon, at age 44 the oldest member of the Australian athletics team.
Still very much the Irish woman running for Australia – as Diver happily and proudly puts it – the long trip to Valencia certainly proved worthwhile. The 11 women ahead of her were all African, Amane Beriso from Ethiopia giving the women’s world record a real fright with her winning time of 2:14:58.
Helped by near-perfect running conditions, the all-time rankings on the men’s front were shaken too, 23-year-old Kenyan Kelvin Kiptum running the fastest ever debut marathon with his winning time of 2:01:53. He is now the third-fastest man ever behind Eliud Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele.
Diver’s time has certainly been garnering as much praise, going from 2:24:11 to 2:21:11, that pervious best in London taking over a minute off the 2:25:19 she ran to win in Melbourne in 2018; that 2:24:11 was already the second fastest ever by an Irish woman.
“I do still see myself as an Irish woman representing Australia, I do still feel very Irish,” Diver previously told The Irish Times “It’s unusual, but that’s the reality, and I’m really proud to be representing both countries in the way that I am.”
Her continued improvement is perhaps even more impressive considering she only took up competitive running in her early 30s, after moving to Australia with her Limerick-born husband, Colin, in 2002. Melbourne is also now home to their two sons, Eddie and Dara.
Back in 2015 she was turned down by Athletics Ireland for selection for the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, even though she did have the qualifying time; the problem was Athletics Ireland had made it 45 seconds faster, and refused to consider Diver’s time.
From Belmullet, in west Mayo, that prompted her decision to switch allegiance to Australia. She later said: “The Irish thing is still very much in my heart, it might not say it paper, but I consider myself lucky to be part of both, and I’m thankful for the support. There’s no negativity around it anymore.”
She has often credited her improvements in recent years to a switch to a new training group at the Melbourne Track Club, under the guidance of Nic Bideau, Sonia O’Sullivan’s husband, although she still trains mostly in her spare time, away from family and IT work commitments.
Before London in 2019, she ran 1:08:55 for the half marathon in Japan, the fastest ever time for a woman over the age of the 40.
Valencia produced fast times across the board: Kiptum was just 44 seconds shy of the men’s world record, Beriso just 54 seconds adrift of the women’s mark. Their winning times of 2:01:53 and 2:14:58 elevate both to third place on the men’s and women’s all-time lists.
World 10,000m champion Letesenbet Gidey, a pre-race favourite, finished second in 2:16:49. Like Kiptum, she set a record for the fastest marathon debut in history. For the first time in history, four women finished inside 2:18 and seven women finished inside 2:19.
Meanwhile in Boston, an Irish record was broken by Brian Fay, the Raheny Shamrocks runner improving the indoor 5,000m mark with a time of 13.16.77, clocked at the BU Sharon Colyear-Danville Opener. That took over nine seconds off the record set by Barry Keane in December last year, Keane also bettering his previous best when clocking 13:21.57.
Both Fay and Keane will be part of the Irish senior men’s squad at the European Cross Country Championships in Turin next Sunday.
Also racing Stateside, Stephanie Cotter from West Muskerry AC become only the ninth woman ever to win the NCAA Division 2 cross-country title twice, having previously taken the race in 2019.