Olympian inspiring next generation of NI runners receives honour

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  • Mo Farah
    British track and field athlete
Sir Mo Farah is among those who have taken part in the half marathon (Justin Kernoghan/PA) (PA Archive)
Sir Mo Farah is among those who have taken part in the half marathon (Justin Kernoghan/PA) (PA Archive)

An Olympic athlete who is inspiring the next generation of runners in Northern Ireland is being honoured with a British Empire Medal.

James McIlroy still holds records as the fastest man in Ireland at the 800m and 1,000m distances but is now bringing other internationally renowned athletics to his native east Antrim.

He is the race director of the Antrim Coast Half Marathon, which has twice attracted Sir Mo Farah as well as Jo Pavey Scott Overall and Kevin Seaward among others.

Sir Mo Farah celebrates after crossing the finish line in the Antrim Coast Half Marathon (Justin Kernoghan/PA) (PA Archive)
Sir Mo Farah celebrates after crossing the finish line in the Antrim Coast Half Marathon (Justin Kernoghan/PA) (PA Archive)

Mr McIlroy, from Larne, Co Antrim, described the honour as unexpected, adding he feels delighted and very humbled.

He retired in 2010 following a 13-year career in athletics competing internationally for Northern Ireland, Ireland and Great Britain.

Following his running career he worked in sport through ambassadorial roles and coaching, and is now passionate about the Antrim Coast Half Marathon.

He told the PA news agency that the race saw a new world record set in August which has not been ratified.

“It’s been a great year so to get recognised at the end of it, it’s topped off a great year,” he said.

“The race runs from the start of the Antrim coast road which goes the whole way up to Portrush, it’s a Unesco world heritage site, a beautiful road, and we encourage the best athletes on the globe to Northern Ireland which is nice.

“The race started in 2020 and over the last two years the response from people visiting the province has just been amazing so it makes it an easier job to attract Olympic champions.

“It’s a beautiful part of Northern Ireland so it’s great to have one of the nicest roads in the world with some of the best runners in the world. It’s great for the country.

“Events like ours certainly help showcase the region and we would work very much with Athletics Northern Ireland to try and encourage the next batch of potential Commonwealth and Olympic athletes to see what it’s like to rub shoulders with the likes of Sir Mo Farah or last year’s winner Lily Partridge or some of the more prominent British athletes.

“It also encourages the trend in getting healthy for the mass runners, it’s not all about the elite side of things. It’s sport for all. We want to affect every athlete in the world, and if you’ve got a body you’re an athlete so it doesn’t matter what ability you are, it is taking part that counts.

“For 2022 the response so far for the race, which isn’t until the end of August, has been overwhelming, so we’ll have great news hopefully coming in the first quarter of the new year on that.”

In 2022, the race will partner with One Tree Planted and for every entry into the race a tree will be planted.

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