With the withdrawal earlier today of Kenyan Paul Tergat with a slight hamstring injury, a duel between defending champion Dejene Berhanu of Ethiopia and South African Hendrick Ramaala, the 2004 New York Marathon winner will be the focus of the men’s half marathon at Sunday’s 25th anniversary BUPA Great North Run (18).
Tergat, who won the Newcastle to South Shields contest four years ago, damaged a hamstring during his final speed session in Nairobi yesterday. He will be sadly missed especially as his motivation would have been high considering his world record was bettered** last Sunday (11) in Rotterdam by 18-year-old Japan based Kenyan Samuel Wanjiru (59:16).
But Berhanu, 24, who last year ran the fastest ever half marathon witnessed on British soil as he beat off the challenge of Ramaala, 59:37 to 61:38, has been steadily augmenting his world class reputation in the last 12 months. Eighth in August's bizarrely slow run World Championship 5000m final, Berhanu sped to a national 5km road best in Carlsbad, California (13:10) in April, having taken 7th and 8th in the short and long races respectively at the World Cross Country Championships in March.
Ramaala, had sped to his official PB for the half marathon distance when winning the Great North Run in 2003 (60:01), though his fastest, on the downhill course in Lisbon (2nd, 2002), is 59:20.
Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadesse, this year’s World Cross Country silver medallist in the long race and the 2004 Olympic bronze medallist over 10,000m is likely to provide the stiffest opposition to the two, along with marathon specialists Morocco’s Abdelkader El Mouaziz, Spain’s Julio Rey and the host country's Jon Brown.
WOMEN's Half Marathon
The women's half marathon is expected to be equally competitive with Catherine Ndereba aiming to become the first Kenyan winner since Susan Chepkemei's success four years ago.
Ndereba, the current Olympic and World marathon silver medallist and the world's fastest half marathoner this year will be taken on by three great Ethiopians. Berhane Adere, a former World 10,000m and Half Marathon gold medallist, Derartu Tulu, former World and twice Olympic 10,000m champion, and Werknesh Kidane, this year's World Cross long race bronze and short race silver medallist.
Notably, Kidane won the "Rock 'n' Roll" half marathon at Virginia Beach in the very impressive time of 69:48, her debut at the distance.
Kenya along with Ndereba will be fielding last year's Newcastle race runner-up Edith Masai, the three-time World Cross country short race gold medallist, who showed her form with a solid victory in the recent Tilburg 10K race, and Sally Barsosio, the 1997 World 10,000m champion.
Latvia’s Jelena Prokopcuka, the Osaka marathon winner last January will also be a strong challenger.
Men's and women's Mile and 3km races on Saturday
Australia's Craig Mottram will be aiming to add to his quickly growing reputation as the world's top male non-African distance runner in the British Telecom 3km road race this Saturday on Tyneside in the north of England.
The World Championship 5000m bronze medallist will race against Eliud Kipchoge, 2003 World 5000 champion, and 19-year-old Boniface Kiprop of Uganda, the World Junior 10,000m champion, in the race which takes place on Newcastle quayside.
Kiprop's fellow Ugandan Dorcus Inzikuru, winner of the inaugural World 3000m Steeplechase final in Helsinki, runs the 3km women’s race where she will face Kenya's Isabella Ochichi, the Olympic 5000m silver medallist.
Ivan Heshko after a brilliant victory in the men’s 1500m at the World Athletics Final will start as favourite to defend his David Lloyd Great North Mile title.
Double World 1500m champion Tatyana Tomashova of Russia will try to go better than two years ago in Newcastle, when she finished third in the women's Mile.
Chris Turner and an IAAF correspondent in Newcastle
**subject to ratification