World Half Marathon champion Paul Kosgei sprinted the final 200m in around 28 seconds to take the UK all-comers’ Half Marathon record under the magical one hour barrier at the Great North Run - 59:58. Sonia O’Sullivan won the women’s race in 67:19, adding to her long list of Irish records.
Kosgei, running the Half Marathon distance for only the second time having made a winning debut in Brussels in May, admitted he didn’t feel in shape to break the 60-minute barrier, but has now threatened to go even faster next year.
Along with fellow Kenyan Boston Marathon champion Rogers Rop and Tanzania's John Yuda, a medallist at the last two IAAF World Half Marathon Championships, Kosgei was quickly at the head of a huge field of 47,000 runners.
Rop was dropped at around four miles (17:59), as Yuda injected some pace and it was then a two-way battle all the way until the final straight. The pair took turns in the lead and with 10 miles completed in 45:23 there were strong hopes of Britain finally seeing a sub-60:00 Half Marathon, but the next mile – slowed by a testing climb as the race reached South Shields – took 4:54.
A steep descent took the athletes into the long final straight with more than a mile to go into the wind, with the clock showing 55:03 at 12 miles, and Kosgei and Yuda appeared to be preparing for a tactical finish.
Approaching the ‘800m to go’ sign, Kosgei began to stretch out the pace and then he suddenly kicked as he hit the ‘200m’ marker, knowing he had just half a minute to beat the hour mark. Immediately he was clear, and his sprint for the line saw him break Benson Masya’s course record of 60:02, with Yuda equalling the old mark.
“I felt very confident I would win today, but I did not expect to run so fast”, said Kosgei. “I was feeling tired in the last mile and it was more important to win the race than record a fast time, but in the last 800 metres the noise of the crowd was amazing.”
“They gave me an extra boost and I forgot all about the tiredness and just ran as fast as I could. Until I heard the noise from the crowd I did not think I had much of a finish left but they gave me a real lift. I hope to come back to break the record next year, but now I am taking a three week break before the cross country season.”
By contrast in the women’s race, Ireland’s Sonia O’Sullivan ran most of the race on her own and at 10 miles was just eight seconds outside the world best she set at Portsmouth last month, a record that was broken two weeks later by Lornah Kiplagat.
Although claiming not to be chasing Paula Radcliffe’s course record of 67:07, she kept churning out fast mile splits and by four miles, the defending champion Susan Chepkemei – the fastest woman in history with a best of 65:44 – was out of the race as former Olympic 10,000m champion Fernanda Ribeiro, Commonwealth 10,000m bronze medallist Susie Power and 1999 winner Joyce Chepchumba, led the chase behind the Irish star.
It was a forlorn chase, as O’Sullivan clocked sub-five minute miles for the seventh and eighth miles, and at 10 miles she was 52 seconds quicker than Radcliffe had been when she broke the record two years ago.
By 12 miles the margin had been reduced to just four seconds inside Radcliffe’s time but the effect of the wind and the work she had put in on her own, took its toll in the final mile and she crossed the line in 67:19.
However, the double European silver medallist from Munich further added to her list of Irish records taking Catherina McKiernan’s mark of 67:50 (O’Sullivan went through 15km in 47:36 which is also the fastest any Irishwoman has ever run).
She now holds every Irish record from the 800m to the Half Marathon, and she hopes to add the Marathon best when she runs the distance seriously for the first time in New York next month.
“The last mile was hard into the wind,” confirmed O’Sullivan. “It always seems to be against you in the last mile along the coast and I was glad there was no-one with me at that point. I came here to win, not to break Paula’s record, although it would have been great had I done so. But it was the fastest I have run for the distance and I am very happy with it.
“It was a race the whole way. You hear people shouting things in the crowd and I thought someone was behind me, so I kept pushing the pace. It was another confidence-booster ahead of New York and I will go with the pace there. I would expect the first half to be around 71 minutes but then I might have to run the second half as fast as I did today!”
Power, second to O’Sullivan when she set the then World 10-mile best in Portsmouth last month, was again runner-up but set a 10-mile PB en route to a very impressive Half Marathon debut of 67:56.
Ethiopia's Olympic 10,000m champion Derartu Tulu struggled in sixth, still getting back to fitness after a serious bout of food poisoning, while compatriot Berhane Adere the World Half Marathon champion was back in 12th place in 74:47.
Bob Frank for the IAAF
1 Paul Kosgei (KEN) 59:58 (course record, UK all-comers’ record)
2 John Yuda (TAN) 60:02
3 Rogers Rop (KEN) 61:40
4 Stefano Baldini (ITA) 61:55
5 John Mutai (KEN) 63:30
6 Marco Gielen (NED) 63:31
7 Allen Graffin (GBR) 64:09
8 Julio Rey (ESP) 64:13
9 Ben Noad (GBR) 64:18
10 Matt Smith (GBR) 65:06
1 Sonia O’Sullivan (IRL) 67:19 (national record)
2 Susie Power (AUS) 67:56
3 Joyce Chepchumba (KEN) 68:34
4 Jelena Prokopcuka (LAT) 68:49
5 Fernanada Ribeiro (POR) 69:20
6 Derartu Tulu (ETH) 69:56
7 Elana Meyer (RSA) 71:36
8 Liz Yelling (GBR) 71:42
9 Kerryn McCann (AUS) 73:26
10 Sue Harrison (GBR) 73:43
Mile Kosgei O’Sullivan
1 4:22 4:59
2 8:56 10:06
3 13:16 15:09
4 17:59 20:27
5 22:33 25:34
6 27:04 30:41
7 31:28 35:40
8 35:56 40:37
9 40:50 46:02
10 45:23 51:08
11 50:17 56:33
12 55:03 61:42
13.1 59:58 67:19
The previous day saw Portugal’s World Indoor 1500m champion Rui Silva outsprint defending champion Shibunin Vyacheslav of Russia to win the Great North Mile on the quayside along by the River Tyne in Newcastle.
In a tactical affair the Portuguese star proved the strongest in a close finish as he defeated the best British athletes led by Commonwealth 1,500m champion Mike East in third.
Another Commonwealth champion, Kelly Holmes, had no such problems in the women’s Mile as she kicked for home earlier than usual and virtually had the race sewn up around halfway.
European 1,500 champion Sureyya Ayhan closed on Holmes as the finish line came into sight but there was no denying Holmes was a popular victor.
1 Rui Silva (POR) 4:12.40
2 Vyacheslav Shabunin (RUS) 4:12.60
3 Mike East (GBR) 4:12.80
4 James Thie (GBR) 4:13.00
5 Andy Graffin (GBR) 4:13.10
6 John Mayock (GBR) 4:14.00
7 Anthony Whiteman (GBR) 4:15.00
8 Tom Mayo (GBR) 4:16.00
9 Reyes Estevez (ESP) 4:16.30
10 Jesus Esapana (ESP) 4:16.90
1 Kelly Holmes (GBR) 4:32.10
2 Sureyya Ayhan (TUR) 4:34.40
3 Tatyana Tomashova (RUS) 4:35.70
4 Geraldine Hendricken (IRL) 4:37.20
5 Helen Pattinson (GBR) 4:39.70
6 Carla Sacramento (POR) 4:43.20
7 Olga Komiagina (RUS) 4:43.60
8 Jo Fenn (GBR) 4:44.20
9 Jolanda Ceplak (SLO) 4:48.90
10 Martha Dominguez (ESP) 4:49.90