It was a case of five times lucky for Berhane Adere while Hendrick Ramaala completed a hat trick of wins in the BUPA Great North Run this morning as the Ethiopian and South African were crowned 2006 champions after breaking away from their respective rivals in the final two miles of the Newcastle to South Shields Half Marathon.
After winning here in 1997 and 2003, the 34-year-old Ramaala judged his race perfectly to clock up his third win in this event in 1:01:04. Only Kenya’s Benson Masya (with four) has had more victories, while Ramaala has now finished first three times, second and third in his five appearances in the Tyneside race.
After a couple of surges earlier in the race, the South African made his decisive move between 11 and 12 miles to pull clear of Ethiopia’s Dejene Berhanu, the 2004 champion, and USA’s Dathan Ritzenhein in the closing stages. He crossed the line 19 seconds clear of Berhanu with the debutant, Ritzenhein, another three seconds adrift.
“I wanted to run under 61 minutes but I couldn’t do it,” said Ramaala. “But I won for the third time and I am very happy about that.
“You never know you’ve won until you cross the finish line, so I was very happy when I eventually got away.”
Adere appeared to have no such doubts. Despite failing to win in four previous attempts, the former world 5,000m champion looked comfortable throughout the race, coping easily with the undulating course and saving plenty of energy to ease away from Australia’s Benita Johnson and Kenya’s Susan Chepkemei with just over a mile to go.
The Ethiopian ran the 13th mile in a devastating 4:50, and finished in 1:10:03, nearly five minutes slower than Paula Radcliffe’s course record and the slowest winning time since Ireland’s Sonia O’Sullivan claimed victory in 1998 in 1:11:50.
“I wanted to go faster and I could have pushed earlier,” said Adere. “But I wasn’t going for a time I just wanted to win. Now I’m really happy to be champion after trying so many times.”
Johnson, a winner here two years ago, was second 1:10:17, five seconds ahead of Chepkemei, the 2001 winner.
It was the Japanese runner Mikie Takanaka who led in the first, fast, downhill mile at the head of a group of a dozen of the leading contenders, the tall Adere prominent among them. They passed the first mile in 5:13 and Takanaka led a bunch of 10 over Newcastle’s famous Tyne Bridge. Alongside Adere, Chepkemei and Johnson were Kenya’s Sally Barsosio and Britain’s Jo Pavey.
Pavey, running in only her second international road race and her first half marathon, had talked during the week of her anxiety about covering the half marathon distance in the company of such illustrious marathon runners, but after six miles she was comfortably positioned at the back of a group containing these leading five names.
Takanaka slipped out of the reckoning after five miles and Barsosio dropped off the back with seven miles gone. Johnson and Adere took up the pace in front of Chepkemei and Pavey and pulled them through the eighth mile in 5:01, the fastest so far.
Johnson is an old hand at the GNR – she won here two years ago – and had prepared herself well for the tougher second half of this course with a pre-race plan to apply the pressure in the closing miles. The former IAAF World Cross Country champion began to put that into action with five miles still to go.
But the Africans looked relaxed, and were little troubled by Johnson’s brief surge, while the less experienced Pavey was happy to sit just off the pace.
The leaders passed nine miles in 46:51 and when Adere made a move in the 10th mile (5:16), a gap opened between Pavey and the other three as the 33-year-old Ethiopian dragged Johnson and Chepkemei clear. For a moment it seemed to be the decisive moment, but Adere - the fastest finisher in the race - was only testing her rivals and as the race slowed again Pavey dragged herself back into contention.
Despite the changing pace - miles clicked by in anything from 5:01 to 5:52 - these four were still locked together after an hour with less than two miles to go. Pavey was eventually dropped as Johnson made a move down the hill towards the South Shields sea front, but the Australian had not done enough to kill off the Africans.
Adere had merely been biding her time and when she opened her long stride with the finish line shimmering in the distance she rapidly created a gap of 10 metres that grew quickly to 20, then 30. The victory was hers.
The Ethiopian crossed the line some 14 seconds ahead of Johnson who outkicked Chepkemei in the closing stages while Pavey hung on for fourth in 1:10:42. The Briton suffered dramatically in the last half mile and was quickly whisked away to the medical tent feeling “puzzled” and “delirious”.
“I suddenly felt totally weird and wasn’t sure I could finish,” said Pavey who admitted she might not have eaten enough beforehand or drunk enough water during the race.
There were no such alarms for Adere who, after Derartu Tulu’s victory last year, is only the second Ethiopian to win the women’s Great North Run. Incidentally, the news from Tulu’s manager is that the double Olympic 10,000m champion did not defend her title here because she is pregnant.
In her absence, Adere was a worthy successor. “I wanted to push earlier but it was not possible,” said Adere. “My plan was to see if anyone was with me, then go at the end.”
It worked perfectly.
With the early morning damp disappearing under north east England’s thin autumn sunshine conditions were almost perfect by the time the elite men set off half an hour after the women and at the head of a mass field of 50,000 hopeful pairs of legs.
While most of them were still struggling towards the start line, Morocco’s world marathon champion Jaouad Gharib had already clipped through the first mile in 4:17 and sped across the Tyne Bridge at a pace that only three others were prepared to match.
That small group quickly became five when Ethiopia’s Dejene Berhanu joined Gharib, Ritzenhein, Ramaala and Kenya’s Rodgers Rop, with Italy’s Olympic marathon champion Stefano Baldini running his own race alongside Kenya’s Wilberforce Talel some 50 metres behind.
That gap grew when Ramaala put in one of his customary bursts after 30 minutes of running. He clocked 4:24 for the seventh mile to pull Berhanu a few metres clear of the American and Gharib, and 4:26 for the eighth, which saw the end of Rop.
Ritzenhein had predicted he would “stick his nose in amongst the big boys and see what happens” and the American was certainly getting a sniff of top class road racing. But the man nicknamed “Ritz cracker” was far from overawed by the ebb and flow of the pace and he dragged himself back into contention, passing Gharib on the way.
With only three miles left, Ritzenhein was back on level terms with Berhanu and Ramaala. Perhaps sensing the danger from the largely unknown American, Ramaala put in another surge as he aimed for his third Great North title.
With two miles left, the South African opened a gap of 10 metres on Berhanu and left the steady Ritzenhein another 10 metres behind. Berhanu’s effort to stay with Ramaala appeared to have cost him as Ritzenhein, running his own even rhythm, closed the gap again and moved into second.
While Ramaala, running 4:38 for both the 12th and 13th miles, had done enough to secure his Great North Run hat trick, the battle for the minor places was far from over. As they strained towards the finish Berhanu found one last ounce of energy to creep past Ritzenhein and snatch second place by just three seconds.
“I love this course,” said Ramaala after completing the slowest of his three victories. “It wasn’t the hardest race and much easier than 2003.
“It was kind of a tactical race today,” added Ramaala, who only arrived in England from Johannesburg two days ago. “I felt heavy in the first half but I think my body was just waiting for the race to get going.
“I made a couple of surges around 10 and 11km and got rid of some of the runners but then I decided to save myself for the finish. Some of the hills here are a little bit mean.”
Ramaala will now be full of confidence for the New York Marathon early in November when he will attempt to regain the title he won in 2004 and lost by inches to Paul Tergat last year.
Morale-booster for debutante Ritzenhein
This time he will have a new challenger, for Ritzenhein emerged from today’s race with a morale boosting performance behind him. The American was rewarded for ingoring the surging Africans and sticking to his own race plan with a time well inside his target of 62 minutes.
“The pace was all over the place,” said the 23-year-old. “I tried to be smart and run a more even rhythm. And at some points I moved up to let them know I am not intimidated.
“I picked this race because I knew a lot of New York contenders would be here,” he added. “As for the New York Marathon, I don’t want to put any limits on myself. A lot can happen in a marathon but after today I am full of confidence and even think I can win it.”
Ramaala, Tergat and the rest, take note.
Matthew Brown for the IAAF