By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2016 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
GATESHEAD, ENGLAND (10-Sep) — The women’s race at Sunday’s 36th Great North Run features a tantalizing match-up between Olympic gold medalists Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya and Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia running more than twice their normal distance of 10,000m. The two women last faced each other almost a month ago in the historic Olympic 10,000m final where Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana broke the world record and Cheruiyot and Dibaba earned silver and bronze, respectively.
In a media session here yesterday, both women said they were taken aback by the ferocious pace of their race in Rio, and that it tested them like no other event.
“When they started the race, it was not normal,” said the tiny (39 kg) Cheruiyot, her nails painted purple. “We started and everyone was quick from the start.” She continued: “When we were in the middle of the race, I was, like, it’s going to be fast!”
Dibaba agreed. Speaking through a translator she said, “This was an unusual race. I was very shocked with what happened here.”
While Ayana sped away to a world record 29:17.45, Cheruiyot managed to pull away from Dibaba and finish second in a Kenyan record 29:32.53. Remarkably, Dibaba ran her best-ever time of 29:42.56 but only finished third.
Cheruiyot, 33, would come back to the blue track at Estadio Olimpico in Rio a week later to win the 5000m 14:26.17 (a faltering Ayana faded to finish third), finally realizing her dream of winning Olympic gold. After the 10,000m, she thought she would have to wait another four years to get a gold medal chance, probably in the marathon.
“For me, personally, it was really nice for me to get a gold medal in 5000,” she said, showing a smile. “I’ve been running Olympics, ever time I normally get silver or bronze. But for me, I want to say Rio was best for me. It was the best for me.”
Here is England, Cheruiyot is at a disadvantage to Dibaba. Cheruiyot has never run a competitive half-marathon (her longest-ever road race was a 51:17 10-Mile in Portsmouth in 2015). Dibaba has completed two half-marathons, both here at the Great North Run. In 2012, she won the race in her debut at the distance in 1:07:35. She ran it again in 2013, clocking an even faster 1:06:56, but finished behind both Priscah Jeptoo (1:05:45) and Meseret Defar (1:06:09). Jeptoo is also racing here this year, along with the versatile Joyce Chepkirui (1:06:19 PB).
“I want to say that this is my first half-marathon,” Cheruiyot said, perhaps trying to dampen expectations slightly. “I know on Sunday it will be a very nice race. Tirunesh is here, Priscah Jeptoo, Joyce (Chepkirui) are also strong.”
Dibaba said she is ready for all opponents.
“I have prepared for this race,” she said confidently. “Sunday is going to be a good challenge for the athletes. Vivian is here; I have run so many times with Vivian. It’s going to be a very challenging race on Sunday.
Similar to the Boston and New York City Marathons, the elite women will start ahead of the men and masses and will run without the benefit of pacemakers. The women’s course record is a very fast 1:05:39 set by Kenya’s Mary Keitany in 2014.