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Sergiu Ciobanu, the Moldovan-born athlete aiming to represent Ireland in Rio next year

Coached by TV pundit Jerry Kiernan, he’s hoping the Berlin marathon will be his opportunity.

Sergiu Ciobanu and first place female Orla Drumm at last year's Samsung Night Run.
Sergiu Ciobanu and first place female Orla Drumm at last year's Samsung Night Run.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

SERGIU CIOBANU KNOWS the date is coming as it’s been marked in his diary for months now.

The Moldovan-born Irishman has rehearsed every stride he’ll take in the 26.2-mile dash around Berlin in three weeks, a marathon effort he hopes will be quick enough to secure a qualifying time for next year’s Olympics.

The problem for Ciobanu though, is he hasn’t beaten his personal best of 2:17:27 in three years and the qualifying time for Rio next year is 2:17.

Berlin is notorious for setting fast times – five of the last eight years has seen world records set there, but the fact it provides such lucrative prize-money is another reason it attracts so many competitors.

Ciobanu, 33, won’t beat Kenyan Dennis Kimmetto’s time of 2:02:57, but it won’t stop him or the sizeable Irish contingent going from trying to produce the performance of a lifetime.

“Every Irish athlete I know that can possibly make the Olympic standard in the marathon is going to run Berlin,” says Ciobanu, who moved to Ireland nine years ago.

“For me, this is probably the most important race since I missed out on the Olympic A standard qualification by 27 seconds in Rotterdam in 2012 (despite running a personal best there).”

Coached and mentored by former international-turned-TV commentator Jerry Kiernan, Ciobanu will be joined by the Paul Pollock, Sean Hehir, Mick Clohisey Mark Hanrahan debutant Gary Thornthon Tomas Fitzpatrick – making his debut and a host of others.

It’ll be an incredibly tense afternoon and though failure to meet the standard doesn’t mean it can’t be done before Rio, it becomes much harder.

Think the pressure mounting, more time away from family and friends, more money, less favourable conditions. Ciobanu knows the time is now.

“You’re never confident in a marathon race until you cross the finish line. Considering that for the last 10 or even 15 years only Mark Kenneally has run faster than me so this gives me the belief that I can do there with a real chance to make it.”

His story is interesting; from fleeing his home country without a word of English, arriving in Dublin and falling in love with the place. Now happily married in Clonmel where he runs a physiotherapy practice with his wife.

It’s a never-ending quest for form and fitness, but something he feels blessed to be able to do.

“The competition in Berlin is going to be unbelievably strong, from European athletes trying to get an Olympic standard to African athletes going for world record.

“The marathon is a cruel event when you’re chasing a time; everything is important, weather, diet, shoes, sleep the night before etc. In a 5k race you can get away with a head cold but the marathon is another fish entirely, that’s why is good to try get the standard early and not leave it too late.

“But again, if things aren’t working well in Berlin then there is Dublin, Frankfurt, Dubai and maybe some marathons in the early spring; I’m not sure yet when is the deadline I’ve been so focussed on this.”

He’s been in good form this year, winning the Frank Duffy 10miler from a strong field while also adapting well to a spell at altitude, something he hadn’t previously tried.

He’d currently knock out anything up to 120 miles a week in training, all for the goal of running for Ireland in Rio.

“To do that at 33 years old will be a dream for me but if I don’t make it, I’ll be 37 for the Tokyo Games, so I won’t be giving up just yet!

“I’ll never forget where I came from in Moldova but representing the country that has adopted me will be a honour for me.”

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Brian Canty

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