Stephen Scullion books Olympic berth as he finishes fifth in Houston

Stephen Scullion shows his delight after crossing the finishing line in Dublin
Stephen Scullion bettered his Dublin time by nine seconds

Belfast man Stephen Scullion booked an Olympic Games spot as he finished fifth in the Houston Marathon in a new personal best of 2:11:52.

Scullion's time was 22 seconds outside the Tokyo standard but the Houston event is a gold label race which means his finish secures his Olympic place.

His stirring run on a windy course cut nine seconds off the time he set in Dublin three months ago.

Fellow Northern Irishman Paul Pollock has already qualified for Tokyo.

Ireland's Scullion, 31, went to halfway in 1:05.49 - almost a minute faster than in Dublin.

At that stage, his projected finishing time was in just outside 2:12 but the 31-year-old produced a strong finish to achieve a new personal best and move into the top-five spot which booked his Olympic berth.

The Houston event is among the marathon races on the world circuit where top-five finishers are regarded as having achieved the Olympic standard.

Ethiopia's Kenkile Gezahegn took victory in 2:08.38 as he finished two minutes and one second ahead of compatriot Bonsa Dida with Eritrea's Amanuel Mesel [2:11:04] and Kenyan-born Bahrain athlete Benson Seurei coming in one second ahead of Scullion.

The Northern Ireland athlete made a brave effort in the closing stages to chase down Seurei but his effort just came up short.

Scullion, who has competed in three marathons over the last four months, said after the race that the wind "hurt me a lot".

"It made me angry that I needed to run fast but I had to relax and not make excuses. Focus on every mile," he said on Twitter.external-link

The Belfast man's performance in Dublin came only three weeks after he represented Ireland at the World Championships in extreme heat in Doha.

Prior to his Dublin time, Scullion's best marathon performance came at last year's Houston Marathon when he clocked 2:14.34.

Scullion spends much of his time training at Flagstaff in Arizona.

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