By Bill McGuirk
The Olympic World and European champion Mo Farah looks to cross the Great North Run finish line in pole position
Who will ever forget last year’s Bupa Great North Run when Britain’s favourite athlete Mo Farah was out-sprinted by world superstar Kenenisa Bekele.
Just one second separated the duo at the finish as Farah attempted to claw back the Ethiopian in the run to the line at South Shields.
There is no Bekele this time round so can the Olympic, World and European champion go one better this time?
Farah will certainly be roared on every step of the way and with the experience of the race behind him he’ll be in no mood to be second best second time around.
Despite the absence of Bekele, Nova International have once again assembled an elite field any race promoter would be proud of.
Naturally, African athletes, of which there is an abundance, could be Farah’s biggest threat to being crowned GNR champion.
Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich, last year’s marathon gold medallist from the World Championships and the London Olympic marathon champion, heads the challenge on what will be his second visit to Tyneside.
In July he tasted victory in the Great North 10k in Gateshead and would greatly like to make it a winning double on Sunday.
It would be amazing if another Bekele was first across the line, but Ethiopia’s Tariku Bekele will have to show the form which saw him win the 10,000m bronze medal two years ago in the Olympics in London. His best half-marathon time of 62min 59secs may not be good enough to trouble the leaders, who will be seeking to join the sub-60 minutes roll of honour.
Kiprotich’s fellow-countryman, Thomas Ayeko is no stranger to Great Run events, having won the Great Birmingham Run, and was a 10,000m finalist in last year’s World Championships but, like Tariku Bekele, has a half-marathon best of over 62 minutes so he’ll have to make a huge improvement to make it on to the podium.
However, fellow Kenyans Mike Kigen and Mark Kiptoo could well throw up a surprise. Kigen finished third in the Paris Half-Marathon earlier this year and already has a sub one-hour half-marathon to his name, while Kiptoo has run 60:29, so a good run on the day by either athlete could make it difficult for Farah and Co.
Brazil is represented by Paulo Paula, who finished seventh in last year’s World Marathon Championships, while Masato Kikuchi looks the pick of half-a-dozen Japan athletes on the start line.
Apart from Farah, the domestic challenge is headed by recent Commonwealth and double European medallist Andy Vernon.
Vernon last competed over the half-marathon distance three years ago when he finished 20th in the GNR.
However, the form he has shown this year on the track, if repeated on the roads, albeit a little further, could see him finish well inside the top 10.
Vernon’s time in 2011 was 65:45, a time which surely will be bettered this time round.