A special occasion requires a special athlete and for the 30th edition of the Bupa Great North Run, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, in the north east of England, Haile Gebreselassie is to make his debut. Needless to say, the Marathon record holder will be the man to beat.
Gebrselassie’s presence on Sunday (19) might have a dramatic effect on the course record of 59:05 established five years ago by Eritrean Zersenay Tadesse. Not that records will be on the Ethiopian’s mind as much as simply winning the race to pick up the Great North Run title at the first attempt to add to his cabinet of honours.
In absolute terms, Gebreselassie has a faster time than Tadesse’s course record to his credit when he clocked 58:55 in Phoenix four years ago, then a World record. This year he crossed the line equal first in Dubai in 1:02:52 at the beginning of the year, but the Newcastle to South Shields course should be to his liking and a super fast time is on the cards.
“My top priority here is to win the race," said Gebrselassie, well aware around 11,000 Ethiopian fans back home will be watching their hero with the race broadcast live for the first time ever to the running mad nation.
Gharib steps in for injured Lel
His closest challenger would have been double champion, Martin Lel, but the Kenyan pulled out with injury at the last minute. In his stead comes double World Marathon champion, Jaouad Gharib of Morrocco, third on Tyneside last year.
Another late addition is fellow-Morroccan Abderrahime Bouramdane who broke through into the elite ranks in the 2007 Seoul Marathon clocking 2:08:20. In Boston 2008 he was to finish second in 2:09:04, but this year in London he smashed his personal best with an excellent 2:07:33 to finish fourth.
If anyone is capable getting in amongst the favourites, it is Dathan Ritzenhein at his best. Last year he ran a 1:00:00 PB finishing third in the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships as well as setting an American record over 5000m in Zurich and a sixth place finish in the world championship 10,000m.
But this year there has been silence until now. Since 2010 is a non-championship year for Americans, Ritzenhein decided to sort out his injury problems and Newcastle to South Shields represents his return to action as a sharpener for the New York Marathon where he will once again confront Gebrselassie.
Paying a return visit to the north-east classic after last year’s excellent second-place finish (59:44) is Kenyan Kiplimo Kimutai who was seventh in the 2009 World Half Marathon Championships.
Europeans will be well acquainted with José Manuel Martinez after his performance in the Barcelona Marathon where the Spaniard collected silver in the searing heat. Shortly to celebrate his 39th birthday, Martínez showed considerable guts and stickability in the Catalan capital when he appeared to be flagging and about to drop out of the medals. But he overcame his bad patch by sheer force of will.
In last year’s World Marathon champs he was eighth and his best time over the half distance stands at 1:02:46 from two years ago. Martin Fagan of Ireland (best 1:00:57) and the USA’s Jorge Torres, seventh in South Shields last year, will give Martínez some stern opposition.
The pick of the Brits is Andrew Lemoncello whose best of 1:03:03 came in the World half last year in Birmingham, but he came within eight seconds of that in Japan in February this year and his best could well be revised on Sunday.
Yamauchi, Adere and Dita to battle in women's race
The loss of Irina Mikitenko in the women’s race due to a cold means a three-way battle between Briton Mara Yamauchi, former Great North Run champion, Berhane Adere of Ethiopia, as well as the 2008 Beijing Olympic marathon champion, Constantina Dita of Romania.
As far back as 2002 Adere was proclaimed IAAF World Half Marathon champion, one year before she lifted the world 10,000m track title. Her Tyneside title dates back to 2006, but more to the point, Adere won in New Orleans in February this year in 1:07:52.
Surprise Olympic marathon champion Dita lifted the World half marathon title in 2005, a just reward for perseverance after seven years of trying. The 40 year old has a best of 1:08:07 from four years ago.
Yamauchi, based in Japan, is aiming to become the first British woman to win the event since Paula Radcliffe seven years ago. Yamauchi has not competed since she finished 10th in the London marathon in April.
"I last ran the Great North Run when I smashed my PB (1:09:51),” said Yamauchi. “Since the London Marathon I’ve been building up my training towards the autumn and winter road-racing season. I had a small foot problem in June but that is now resolved and I am training well again.”
These three won’t have things all their own way, though, after the late entry of a strong Portuguese challenge from Sara Moreira, European 5000m bronze, Ana Dulce Félix, third here last year and Marisa Barros, eighth in the Barcelona European marathon.
Taking it to the streets - UK and Australia square off in Great City Games on Saturday
The Half Marathon is preceded on Saturday 16th by the Great City Games which pitches some of the best known British and Australian names against each other.
IAAF/VTB Bank Continental Cup Pole Vault champion, Steve Hooker, faces Steve Lewis, Mark Lewis-Francis goes in the 100m, Chris Tomlinson will measure himself against 8.33m performer Chris Noffke in the Long Jump, European champion Andy Turner competes over the hurdles, while Craig Mottram takes on Andy Baddeley over two miles.
On the women’s side, Sally Pearson will be testing herself over the 150m sprint as well as the hurdles and there is an exciting tussle in prospect between Helen Clitheroe, Jenny Meadows and Hannah England in the mile.
Michael Butcher for the IAAF