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Great Debuts

In her first half marathon race, Olympic 5000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot won the 2016 Great North Run with a customary kick. We celebrate hers and four other great debut performances on the roads of South Shields.

Grete Waitz, 1984

The Great North Run was only in its fourth year in 1984, but already it was becoming established as one of the world’s premier road races. Entry numbers were in their tens of thousands and the course was attracting huge crowds – a feature that has come to define the annual race.

The race’s growing stature also meant it was able to attract top stars. Grete Waitz had become the first woman to run a sub-2:30 marathon four years earlier (2:27:32 in New York). She showed that pace to devastating effect to become the first non-Biritsh winner of the women’s race.

A year after winning Wolrd Cross Country Championships gold in Gateshead, the Norwegian destroyed the course record by more than six minutes to win in 1:10:27. A month later she won Olympic marathon silver at Los Angeles 1984.

The road running legend enjoyed a successful return in 1988, winning in a British all-comers record 1:08:49.

Tegla Loroupe, 1993

Waitz’s win ushered in eight year of non-UK winners of the women’s race. The shut-out was ended in 1992 by Liz McColgan, the 10,000m world champion. Yet the following year would see the crown leave British shores once more.

Tegla Loroupe, who had finished fourth in the 5000m at the previous month’s world championships, was just 20-years-old when she won on her Great North Run debut in 1993. The time of 1:12:55 was not eye-catching but her win was still significant. She became the first Kenyan woman to win the event – Moses Tanui won the men’s race to complete the first Kenyan double (there have been three since).

It also acted as the precursor to huge wins to follow: the following year she won the New York Marathon and would win three straight individual half-marathon world titles between 1997-99. She returned to South Shields in 1999, finishing second in her last race of a heady decade.

Kara Goucher, 2007

Kara Goucher Great North Run 2007 ()

“I just wanted to stick with the leaders for as long as possible”

There had never been an American winner of the men’s or women’s race until USA’s world 5000m bronze medallist Kara Goucher rocked up in 2007.

Goucher was 29 at the time and had no real road racing pedigree. Yet she ran a perfectly judged race to win in 1:06:57, which was the fastest time run by an American in history (though it would not count as a record because of the course’s overall downhill profile).

“I'd never run anything longer than 10k so I just wanted to stick with the leaders for as long as possible,” Goucher admitted after the race.

Those leaders included local favourite Paula Radcliffe, who was returning after a 21 month break from running. Goucher eased away from the marathon world record holder in the closing three miles to cause an upset and create a slice of history: no American, male or female, has won the race since.

Tirnuesh Dibaba, 2012

In 2012 Tirunesh Dibaba was the best female distance runner in the world. A month earlier at London 2012 the Ethiopian had become the first woman in history to retain the 5000m and 10000m Olympic titles she had won in Beijing.

Dibaba was not new to the roads but the Greath North Run was her first test over the half marathon distance. She won by unleashing a kick that could only come from a track superstar, sprinting away from the Olympic marathon champion Tiki Gelana and Edna Kiplagat to win in 1:07:35.

“Hopefully next time I can run a faster time. I am thinking of running a marathon next year,” Dibaba, then 27, said after the race. She was faster the following year, though her 1:06:56 was only good enough for third. It wasn’t until 2014 that she tested herself over the longer distance, finishing third in London.

At the Rio Olympics this year, Dibaba added Olympic 10,000m bronze to her glittering cabinet, before returning to compete in South Shields for a third time, again finishing third.

Vivian Cheruiyot, 2016

Taking the win ahead of Dibaba in the 2016 race was Vivian Cheruiyot. It was the Kenyan’s first attempt at the half marathon distance, although the circumstances of her Grear North Run bow were rather different to those of Dibaba in 2012.

Cheruiyot is one of the great distance runners of the era with four world titles over 5000m and 10000m, yet Olympic gold had eluded her until Rio 2016, where she won the 5000m in an Olympic record 14:26.17 (adding to the silver she had won in the 10,000m earlier in the week, and the 5000m silver and 10,000m bronze from London 2012).

On her 33rd birthday, she wisely stuck with Dibaba and road-running stalwart Priscah Jeptoo until late on. It became a two woman race in the closing kilometres, and Cheruiyot was able to use her better speed to break clear of Jeptoo and win in 1:07.54.

“I found it tough with one kilometre to go but it's fantastic for me to end my season this way,” said the delighted birthday girl, who became the latest debutant winner of the Great North Run.