Newcastle, UKA sub60min clocking for Tsegay Kebede and an epic struggle in the women’s race between winner Gete Wami, unknown Kenyan Magdalane Mukunzi and British hope Jo Pavey were the highlights of the 28th running of the Great North Run.
It was a family affair for the two Ethiopian winners as Wami’s husband is coach to Kebede who has shot from the anonymity of gathering wood for 30cents a day to Olympic bronze and thousand-dollar paydays.
Kebede’s commanding performance, a swift 59:45, cemented his growing reputation as yet another in the long line of Ethiopian champions.
Some are already tagging him as the heir to Haile Gebrselassie and there was plenty in this performance to suggest that may well be the case.
But it is worth mentioning that his time on Tyneside is still 40 seconds slower than Gebrselassie’s current world lead and even ten seconds slower than Kebede’s own winning time in Ras al Khaimah in February.
"I thought I could have ran faster," was Kebede’s assessment and with company it was clear he would have threatened his PB.
For her part, Wami looked uncomfortable for the last half of the race and later revealed an old hamstring injury had resurfaced in the last four miles. But she was happy enough with a personal best.
"This is a big race to win and I put in some special training to ensure I would be at my best, “ she said, before expressing surprise that she will once again be facing Paula Radlciffe at next month’s New York City Marathon so soon after hobbling across the line in the Olympic race.
It was in New York last year that the two fought shoulder to shoulder before Radcliffe forged ahead to win.
After her initial disappointment at not winning today, Pavey felt happy with her time: “I was pleased to get a PB and it was fun to have such a good race at the end.
“It was a little bit frustrating to come third when it was all so close after all that distance running together.
“I was surprised at Mukunzi because I hadn’t run against her before and she ran really well and she had that change of pace at the end. It made it a really exciting race, but I was pleased and frustrated at the same time.”
Kebede from the gun - Men’s race
The men started after the women but Kebede wasted no time splitting the race apart with a 4:20 opening mile and then simply ran away from a quality field including World Marathon champion Luke Kibet and London, Rotterdam and Chicago Marathon winner Felix Limo.
At the Tyne Bridge, a mile after the gun went, there was already daylight behind Kebede who looked as though he had decided to disregard the opposition and do his own thing.
In his wake, fellow Ethiopian Gebre Gebremariam, double World Cross Country medallist, was jousting with Kibet and the USA’s Abdi Abdirahman who was hoping to break his PB in his build-up to the New York Marathon. These three were to engage in their own private battle for second right to the end.
In the trailing group was John Brown, fourth in the Olympics twice and now representing Canada, Mexico’s Juan Luis Barrios, Ireland’s Martin Fagan, and the former European 10,000m gold medallist, Chema Martinez of Spain.
After that opening mile, Kebede settled into 4:30 pace, ticking off the miles up to the five-mile banner in 4:31, 4:26, 4:38, and 4:37.
Behind him, the order had suffered a minor change as Abdirahman went through a bad patch that saw him drift back 50m from Kibet and Gebremariam.
Up front the relentless pace continued around the 4:30-mark, varying no more than nine seconds between 4:31 for the sixth and 4:40 for the ninth mile.
The slightly uphill 11th mile was to prove the slowest of all (4:43) but the 12th returned to a metronomic 4:34 as Kebede flew down the steep section approaching the finish on the sea-front.
Behind Kebede, at the 11th mile, it was Kibet’s turn to struggle as a revived Abdirahman and Gebremariam opened up a gap.
Gebede padded past 12 miles in 54:40 and set his sights on his second sub-60min half marathon of the year. At 800m he started to raise the pace and crowned an imperious performance crossing the line looking as fresh as when he started.
The battle for second was intriguing as Gebremariam, Abdirahman and Kibet were locked in battle, but with 250m to go Gebremariam took off crossing the line in 61:29.
Abdirahman, meanwhile, forced himself ahead of Kibet to claim third in 61:33, just outside his best.
Thrilling three-way battle in Women’s race
The women set off 30mins before the men on a crisp, sunny morning with the temperature nudging seven degrees, and Pavey quickly showed her intention of breaking her best so far of 70:37.
In a race without pacemakers, the Exeter women strode into the lead in the fast first mile tracked by Wami as they went through the mile marker in a swift 5:17.
By the time they crossed the Tyne, however, it was the unsung Mukunzu who was looking lively, forcing the pace with Pavey and Wami tucked in behind accompanied by fellow-Kenyan Martha Komu and Ethiopian Worknesh Kidane.
Into the third mile and Mukunzu was bounding along, ticking off the second mile in 5:06 followed by an even swifter 5:02.
In her wake, Martha Komu, a respectable fifth in Beijing, was starting to suffer, dropping off the lead group which was now down to four: Wami, Pavey, Mukunzu and Kidane.
Five kilometres in 15:56, well outside the Radcliffe course record pace but on line for a personal best for Pavey.
The fifth mile, with a slight uphill section, was the slowest so far (5:30) but the 67-min pace was too hot for Kidane who had already slipped 20m off the lead group.
Mukunzi still pressing the accelerator and opening up a slight gap on Pavey and Wami after hitting 5:01 for the sixth mile making it the fastest of the race so far.
But at the Lindisfarne roundabout on 40mins of running, the three were tightly grouped once more as Pavey urged herself back into the lead.
On the following uphill section between seven and eight miles, Wami loped into a three-metre lead but appeared under pressure, trying and failing twice to grab a sponge. Despite the early morning low temperature the sun was beginning to have an effect as the pressure mounted.
At nine miles (5:19) Mukunzi yet again opened up a gap with Wami and Pavey once again being obliged to expend valuable energy in trying to make up the ground lost to the Kenyan.
On 11 miles (5:25) the Kenyan was gradually extending her lead over Pavey and Wami, but with the sharp downhill and long finish straight to come, the Briton and Ethiopian may have been banking on the Kenyan’s inexperience at the unusual ending to the race.
It was two years ago on Pavey’s debut that with two miles to go she suffered a drop in blood sugar levels, misjudged the downhill and suffered in the final mile.
This time she was to take it carefully along with Wami as they allowed the gap of five second to stay as the deceptively long finishing straight appeared.
“I took the hill a lot more cautiously,” admitted Pavey. “I noticed Gete did too so that made me feel a lot better. The last time I ran as hard as I could down it but everyone still got away from me. I think that helped us along the final stretch because that helped us catch up a bit. My legs did not go so bad as last time.”
With a mile to go it was clear their decision was the right one as Mukunzi’s lead slowly but surely started to be whittled down. At this stage it was the Briton making all the running with Wami playing the waiting game, but still not looking that confident.
With 800m to go the three were locked together and Mukunzi went again. At this Wami switched her attention to the Kenyan with Pavey slightly detached as the 400m mark came and went.
From here on, it was clear that Wami’s finish should carry her home and so it proved as she crossed the line in 68:51, smashing her PB from two years ago by more than one and a half minutes.
In second, just one second down, Mukunzi slashed even more time from her best while Pavey’s PB of 68:53 will give her hope for her plan to move up to the Marathon. “It’s another new challenge but that’s a long way off yet,” said the Briton “I’m going to have to learn a lot about it first.”
Michael Butcher for the IAAF
1. T Kebede (Ethiopia) 59:45
2. G Gebremariam (Ethiopian) one hour 1:01:29
3. A Abdirahman (USA) 1:01:33
4. L Kibet (Kenya) 1:01:34
5. J-L Barrios (Mexico) 1:01:48
6. M Fagan (Ireland) 1:02:20
7. F Limo (Kenya) 1:03:11
8. J-M Martinez (Spain) 1:03:31
9. R Silva (Portugal) 1:03:33
10. R Ribas (Portugal) 1:03:35
11. J Brown (Canada) 1:03:36
12. A Chaica (Portugal) 1:03:39
13. D Robinson (GB) 1:04:11
14. M Aish (New Zealand) 1:04:20
15. P Norwill (Australia) 1:04:29
16. M O'Dowd (GB) 1:04:51
17. I Hudspith (Morpeth) 1:04:55
18. A Kuzin (Ukraine) 1:05:37
19. C Birmingham (Australia) 1:05:46
20. A Grice (GB) 1:05:46
1. G Wami (Ethiopia) 1:08:51
2. M Mukunzi (Kenya) 1:08:52
3. J Pavey (GB) 1:08:53
4. M Konovalova (Russia) 1:10:48
5. M Komu (Kenya) 1:10:49
6. H Haining (GB) 1:10:53
7. A Kalovics (Hungary) 1:11:08
8. A Rosa (Portugal) 1:11:25
9. J Augusto (Portugal) 1:11:38
10. W Kidane (Ethiopia) 1:12:07
11. B Johnson (Australia) 1:14:31
12. R Robinson (GBR) 1:14:53
13. L Magnusson (Sweden) 1:16:12
14. H Yelling (GB) 1:16:57
15. C Bryson (GB) 1:19:22
16. J Knass (GB) 1:20:23
17. M Holt (GB) 1:20:51
18. H Lawrence (GB) 1:20:56
19. E Damant (GB) 1:23:50
20. S Lomas (GB) 1:25:44