It was a double Ethiopian celebration for the 30th running of the Bupa Great North Run, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, in the north-east of England with Haile Gebrselassie taking the title with ease on his debut here in 59:33 while Berhane Adere had to work slightly harder for her second women’s title in four years in 1:08:49.
Second to Gebrselassie and repeating last year’s placing was Kenyan Kiplimo Kimutai (1:01:23) with double World Marathon champion Jaouad Gharib of Morocco a further 37sec back.
It was a Portuguese one-two behind Adere as Ana Dulce Félix also repeated last year’s second place, crossing the line in 1:09:01 with her compatriot Marisa Barros another eight seconds adrift.
Running the second half of the race on his own, Gebrselassie could clearly have threatened the course record of 59:05 had he had company, a fact he clearly agreed with: “I needed someone to push the pace,” said the Marathon world record holder. “It would have been faster if I had had someone with me over the last two kilometres.”
“It was a strong race,” said Adere. “My tactics were to push the pace after 15km but it was very tough in the rain, but I am in good shape and happy with the time.”
Under pewter skies the field set off at a surprisingly conservative pace. Because of the nature of the course, the first mile is normally swifter than the 4:39 that was recorded on this occasion and that probably explains why there was such a large group at this stage.
Gebrselassie was already prominent with American hope Dathan Ritzenhein (4th, 1:02:32) alongside and all the pre-race favourites packed in behind. Included at the 11th hour, Jaouad Gharib, possibly unfamiliar with what was coming rashly shot into a 10m lead on a sharp downhill.
The dramatic injection of pace had the virtue of sorting out the true favourites and as they crossed the Tyne Bridge it was suddenly Indian file as the field was reduced to the big four: Gharib, Gebrselassie, Ritzenhein and Kimutai. Heading the chasing group were Scot Andrew Lemoncello and Spain’s European marathon silver, José Manuel Martinez.
The second and third miles passed in 4:27 and 4:34 with the quartet comfortable, but Kimutai obviously thought it was too comfortable as he pressed the accelerator and took Gebrselassie with him, detaching these two from the Moroccan and the American.
At this point the Ethiopian was grimacing and did not appear entirely comfortable but on a gentle uphill, he moved alongside Kimutai and working together the two very quickly opened up a 50m gap on third and fourth with the chasing group already another 200m back.
Miles four and five went by (4:31 and 4:43) with Gebrselassie and Kimutai locked in what was now clearly a two-man race, but it now seemed just a matter of time as to when the Ethiopian took over for good. At this stage Ritzenhein was third with Gharib starting to suffer for his early temerity.
With the leaders approaching 30min of running (6th mile 4:21, 7th 4:21, 8th 4:25), Gebrselassie finally made his move and quickly opened up a 20m lead and essentially the race was over. The timings for the first three 5km-splits were 14:09, 14:03 and 13:57.
The only change to the running order at this stage was in the battle for third as Gharib had recovered from his early mistake and regained third place over Ritzenhein.
Coming down to the sea-front and turning sharp left Kimutai took a hit from an intrusive camera on the shoulder, but appeared untroubled by it while up front it was a regal reception for Gebrselassie as he took the plaudits.
From the gun the British favourite for the race, Mara Yamauchi went into the lead with Adere moving across the road and onto her shoulder.
A group of five immediately broke away with the Portuguese trio of Barros, Sara Moreira, and Dulce Felix joining Yamauchi and Adere and instantly leaving the Olympic Marathon champion, Constantina Dita, adrift. The Romanian, now 40, was to eventually finish in a modest 1:17:07.
The first mile was ticked off with a solid 5:10 and as they crossed the Tyne Bridge Dulce Felix and Barros had moved into a slight lead with the Briton, Moreira and Adere bringing up the rear.
Two miles passed in 10:17 with the Portuguese trio looking easy as they entered the third mile past Gateshead stadium.
At four miles the field was on 67min pace with Adere still lurking ominously in the background.
Past half-way and the three Portuguese were still making the pace with Adere and Yamauchi tucked in behind.
After 45min of running, the decisive move came as Adere, Felix and Barros broke away and from that moment on the placings were decided.
The ninth mile went by in 5:24 with now Adere and Dulce Félix fighting it out and Barros a further 10m down but not giving any more ground at this stage.
On this undulating course, the mile times see-saw and the tenth was clocked at 5:15 as Adere made her first attempt to open up a gap, checking over her shoulder as Felix dug in and set about clawing her way back.
The Portuguese saw her chance on a downhill and once again she fought her way back onto the Ethiopian’s shoulder while the gap to Barros had grown to 30m.
But finally, on the long descent to the sea-front, Adere went away again and this time it was decisive and she relaxed for the long haul to the finish.