In the past two years Great Britain’s Mo Farah was among those who gave the starting signal for events associated with the Bupa Great North Run. He will do this again next weekend but this year the double Olympic and World champion will finally be running the famous Half Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Sunday.
In a unique constellation, Farah will be competing against the Ethiopian superstars Kenenisa Bekele and Haile Gebrselassie in the point-to-point race which goes from Newcastle to South Shields.
Together, the trio have won all the Olympic 10,000m gold medals available since Atlanta 1996 but it will be the first time they have competed in one race.
Bekele, of course, still holds the World records at 5000m and 10,000m, which he took from Gebrselassie. Farah is the European record holder at 10,000m.
At the age of 40, Haile Gebrselassie naturally lacks some speed compared to his former years so it is unlikely that the former World Half Marathon record holder will be able to challenge for victory on Sunday.
Nevertheless, he said: “I can still compete at the highest level and I look forward to giving both of them a run for their money. This is something special for everyone. It’s going to be a tough contest for all of us which I am sure will result in an exciting race.”
Meanwhile Bekele, who was not included in Ethiopia’s World Championships team, will be eager to show that he can be a force on the roads in the future.
Now 31, he will be making his Half-marathon debut on Sunday and, so far, he has not raced farther than 15km on the road.
“I am looking forward to my Half-marathon debut. It’s not going to be easy for me as the others have more experience over the distance and yes, I am the newcomer just starting to pursue a serious road running career,” commented Bekele.
Farah, by contrast, has run two Half-marathons so far, discounting his effort to halfway during this year’s London Marathon, winning both of them. He ran 1:00:23 in New York in 2011 and then 1:00:59 in New Orleans this February.
The 30-year-old has also raced twice against Bekele over 10,000m on the track and despite losses over other distances, he is unbeaten against the World record-holder.
In the 2011 World Championships 10,000m final, Bekele dropped out and Farah took the silver medal while at the London 2012 Games Olympics Farah won gold and the Ethiopian finished fourth.
“I have experience on the roads but this will be only my third Half-marathon race. I hope to make it a third win in the North East,” said Farah. Two more non-African runners could also feature prominently on Sunday: Italy’s Daniele Meucci and Australia’s Collis Birmingham.
Defar v Dibaba again
The women’s race will not be overshadowed though as, for the first time, the Ethiopian female giants of long distance running, Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar, will meet in the Half-marathon.
After running separate events in the World Championships – Dibaba won the 10,000m and Defar took the 5000m – the two Ethiopians ran against each other in the 5000m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Zurich at the end of last month.
Here Defar beat Dibaba, but Dibaba showed she still is in top form when she clocked an Ethiopian record over 10km on the roads in the Dutch city of Tilburg, clocking 30:30 just a few days later.
Dibaba, now 27, will also return to the Great North Run as the defending champion. A year ago she clocked 1:07:35, one of the fastest Half-marathon debut times, and Sunday’s race will just be her second tilt at this distance.
Defar, who is two years older, has run two Half-marathons so far. She won on her debut in Philadelphia 2010 with 1:07:45, then she improved winning in 1:07:25 in New Orleans this past February.
However, there is one runner on the start list who might potentially steal the show from the Ethiopian pair, Kenya’s Priscah Jeptoo. She improved to 1:06:11 this year, when she was second in the RAK Half Marathon and she then went on to win the London Marathon.
Behind the three Africans, there are three Europeans who could do well: Portugal’s Jessica Augusto, Croatia’s Lisa Stublic and Great Britain’s Gemma Steel.
As a prelude to the Great North Run, there are the Great North City Games on Saturday, which will be staged alongside the banks of the River Tyne in Newcastle.
Oliver and Pearson in action
Four 2013 World champions from Moscow plus three 2012 Olympic Games gold medal winners will be present.
In the men’s 110m Hurdles, 2013 World Championships winner David Oliver takes on his compatriot Aries Merritt, who is the Olympic champion and the World record-holder while another US athlete, Moscow silver medallist Ryan Wilson, is in the race as well.
The women’s 100m Hurdles will see Australia’s 2012 Olympic champion Sally Pearson race against the USA’s 2008 Olympic gold medallist and 2013 Diamond Race winner Dawn Harper-Nelson and Great Britain’s Tiffany Porter, who was third in Moscow.
Another gold medallist from last summer’s Olympics is the USA’s Christian Taylor. The Olympic Triple Jump champion will compete in the Long Jump. Spectators will also be eager to see Great Britain’s World 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu, who will compete over 150m.
Kenya’s 2013 World 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop will run a Mile race along the Tyne while his compatriot Milcah Chemos, the 3000m Steeplechase winner in Moscow and the 2013 Diamond Race winner over the barriers, will compete at this distance as well.
Jörg Wenig for the IAAF