Just five weeks after huge crowds celebrated the British team in central London for their success during the Olympics the extraordinary summer of sport in Great Britain will continue further north as Newcastle will be the scene for the Great North City Games on Saturday, followed by the world’s biggest Half Marathon on Sunday, the Bupa Great North Run.
The City Games will feature another Great Britain versus USA match with a total of nine events to be staged. Among those competing on Saturday will be Britain’s Long Jump Olympic champion Greg Rutherford. The City Games will be free to watch for spectators and will be shown live on BBC One from 1 pm.
On Sunday the world’s most spectacular half marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, will be started in Newcastle, leading to South Shields. The biggest race of its kind has 55,000 registered runners. Among them are some of the greatest names in road running. While Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang heads the men’s start list the women’s event will probably make the headlines. In what will be her debut at the distance the Olympic 10,000m champion Tirunesh Dibaba will compete against her fellow-Ethiopian Tiki Gelana, the Olympic Marathon champion. A tough Kenyan challenge comes from Edna Kiplagat, who is the reigning World Marathon Champion. The race will be shown live on BBC One on Sunday from 9.30 am.
Great North Run: Kipsang vs Merga
Wilson Kipsang had huge success in Marathon running in recent years. It was in Frankfurt a year ago that the Kenyan missed the World record by just four seconds, clocking a staggering 2:04:42. When the 30-year-old took the London Marathon in April it was his fourth major Marathon win in a row (out of five he had won). Kipsang then entered the Olympic marathon as the favourite, but after taking the lead a couple of times he had to be content with the bronze. Although he made the headlines in the Marathon recently Kipsang also is one of the fastest Half Marathon runners ever with a personal best of 58:59.
It remains to be seen how well Kipsang has recovered after the Olympic race and if he already has enough speed to be in contention for victory on Sunday.
Despite the withdrawal of Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie with a knee injury and Mo Farah organisers still have put together a very strong field. Among them are a couple of athletes with extraordinary speed at shorter distances.
One of them is Imane Merga. The 23-year-old Ethiopian is the World Cross Country Champion from 2011, took bronze at 10,000m at the World Championships last year and has a personal best of 26:48.35. The Great North Run will be his debut at the distance.
Two Kenyans have also done very well at the 10 k distance: Emmanuel Bett clocked a world lead of 26:51.16 in the 10,000m a week ago in Brussels. He has a Half Marathon personal best of 1:02:10 from last year but should be capable of doing much better. Micah Kogo is another Kenyan with tremendous speed. He won bronze at 10,000m at the 2008 Olympics and features an even faster personal best (26:35.63). The 26-year-old, who had been the World record holder at 10k (27:01), was fourth a year ago with 1:00:03.
Britain’s Chris Thompson (1:01:23), Yared Asmeron (Eritrea/1:00:28), who was 19th in the Olympic Marathon and France’s national record holder Abdellatif Meftah (1:00:46) could also do well on Sunday.
Half marathon debut for T. Dibaba
Of particular interest this weekend with be Tirunesh Dibaba’s debut as she looks set to start a serious road running career. She has contested some road races before, but no further than 15k. However her 46:28 from Nijmegen 2009 stands as a World record. It will be fascinating to see what the double Olympic Champion from Beijing (5000 and 10,000m), who added another gold (10,000m) plus a bronze (5000m) in London to her impressive Olympic medal collection (in 2004 she had taken a bronze in the 5000), is capable of running.
"Although it is the furthest Tirunesh has ever competed over, I am sure she will adapt to 13 1/2 miles quite easily and after resting before returning to training following her Olympic exploits will be fully prepared. But it is going to be a great challenge for her to win," said Peter Riley, who takes care of the elite races in Newcastle.
Dibaba, who intends to run a Marathon possibly next spring, will be up against very strong Marathon runners. The big Marathon name is Ethiopia’s Tiki Gelana, the Olympic champion who has a personal best of 1:08:48. But her Marathon PB of 2:18:58 suggests that she can run faster. It is similar with Edna Kiplagat. Kenya’s reigning World Marathon champion, who dropped back to 20th in the Olympic Marathon, has a Half Marathon PB of 1:09:00 (Marathon: 2:19:50). But for both athletes it will not be an easy task six weeks after the Olympics.
"I think Dibaba just as Paula Radcliffe and other top track runners have done will find it fairly easy to move up and her debut over the distance will see a very good performance from her," said Jo Pavey, who will lead the British challenge along with Freya Murray who competed in the Olympic Marathon.
Pavey was third in this race in 2008 and fourth a year ago when returning from giving birth to her son Jacob. Not having run the Marathon in the Olympics could well be an advantage for Pavey on Sunday. Especially since she did so well in the 5000 and 10,000m in London, finishing seventh in both races.
City Games will see Olympic Champions Rutherford, Taylor and Farah
Meanwhile, the Great North City Games, which attracted crowds of more than 15,000 a year ago, kicks off the weekend on Saturday. After the amazing Olympic Games in London and a favourable weather forecast, the crowd may be even larger on Saturday. The US team, which won last year 7-3, will be the favourite again.
Especially the men’s events will see a number of athletes who produced headlines in the Olympics. The Long Jump will feature two Olympic champions, Britain’s Greg Rutherford and Champion Christian Taylor of the U.S. who took Triple Jump gold. The other two have the potential of winning as well, Chris Tomlinson the joint British record holder with Rutherford (both have jumped 8.35 m) and Will Claye, who won silver in the Triple Jumpand bronze in the Long Jump.
While Dwain Chambers (Great Britain) will compete in the 100m, Wallace Spearmon (USA) runs the 150m. After his fourth place in the 200m Olympic final Spearmon looks forward to a change in competition format. Earlier this year Spearmon won the 150m in the Manchester City Games with 14.87.
In the 110m Hurdles Olympic silver medallist and reigning World champion Jason Richardson will be competing for the USA. He’ll be up against Britain’s Lawrence Clarke, who had surprised with a fourth place in the London final. In the mile race former World 1500m champion Bernard Lagat, who won this race a year ago, will be the favourite. Britain’s Andy Baddeley and Andrew Osagie will be among his rivals in Newcastle.
In the four women’s events the mile race will feature World 1,500m champion Jenny Simpson (USA) and Hannah England, who won this race for Great Britain in 2011. In the Pole Vault British record holder Holly Bleasdale is the favourite.
While there are a total of nine events that count for the Great Britain versus USA match, there is one more race added to the City Games on Saturday, a two-mile race that will feature Mo Farah. Britain’s sensational double Olympic Champion (5000 and 10,000m) was originally scheduled to run the Half Marathon on Sunday, but due to fatigue he opted out of the longer distance. The international field includes Portugal’s Rui Silva.