Press Release03 Sep 2014

IAAF and Great North Run to display dramatic opening ceremony to recognise millionth finish milestone


Athletics for a Better World (© IAAF)

·  Protocol ceremony hosted by IAAF President Lamine Diack, Brendan Foster, Paula Radcliffe, Tanni Grey-Thompson, Haile Gebrselassie and Mike McLeod

·  Millionth finish achievement officially recognised by IAAF’s Athletics for a Better World programme

To mark the Bupa Great North Run becoming the first ever running event to reach a historic millionth finish, a spectacular opening ceremony will be hosted on the banks of the Tyne on Thursday 4 September.

The evening will also see the millionth finish achievement officially recognised by the IAAF’s Athletics for a Better World global social responsibility programme.

Ahead of the annual run on Sunday 7 September, the evening will commence with a protocol ceremony hosted by the President of the IAAF, Lamine Diack, and feature some of the most legendary names in the sport.

Brendan Foster, founder of the Great North Run, plus athletics royalty including Haile Gebrselassie, Paula Radcliffe, Tanni Grey-Thompson and Mike McLeod will all be part of the milestone occasion and the unveiling of the First Millionth Finish flag.

Ahead of the ceremony, Foster said: “We are delighted to announce that the President of the IAAF, Lamine Diack, will be overseeing the official protocol for the Great North Run Million Opening Ceremony, celebrating Tyneside as the first ever host of the millionth finish.”

“Such is the stature of the accomplishment that the millionth finish event is being included in the IAAF’s Athletics for a Better World initiative, which we are enormously proud of.”

Athletics for a Better World (ABW) was launched by the IAAF earlier this year and uses the universality of athletics to make a positive difference by helping to support and promote projects around the world in the fields of peace, social inclusion, environment and health.

The Bupa Great North Run has, for many decades, given ordinary citizens from all over the world the chance to be inspired and motivated to use athletics as a way to become fit and healthy and, through charity support, to also generously give to others.

These achievements were the driving factors in the IAAF welcoming the event to the Athletics for a Better World programme. 

IAAF President Lamine Diack said: “Athletics for a Better World is a crucial initiative made up of a number of inspirational projects throughout the world aiming to encourage and promote athletics to millions as a way to create fit and healthy lifestyles.

“The millionth finish of the Bupa Great North Run is an extraordinary achievement which we welcome into Athletics for a Better World and I would like to thank Brendan Foster and his team for the phenomenal work they have done since 1981 to make this IAAF Gold Label Road Race not just an important fixture in world athletics but also a part of the rich athletics culture in Great Britain.”

Paula Radcliffe, one of the greatest marathon runners of all time, has held the women’s course record for the Bupa Great North Run since 2000.

The Bedford and County athlete made her debut in that year and won in 1:07:07, breaking the previous record that had stood for 12 years to the great Grete Waitz of Norway.

In 2003, Radcliffe set her stunning world marathon record of 2:15:25 in London and improved her Bupa Great North Run record to a similarly scorching 1:05:40. Both marks still stand unchallenged, 11 years on.

Now 40 and an ambassador of Athletics for a Better World, the mother-of-two has become a popular member of the BBC television athletics commentary team that also includes Great North Run founder and chairman Brendan Foster.

Haile Gebrselassie can lay claim to being the greatest male distance runner of all-time. The 41-year-old Ethiopian has broken an incredible 26 world records, at distances ranging from 3000m indoors to the marathon.

He has won a world indoor title as a 1500m runner and two Olympic and four world titles at 10,000m. 

In 2010 he fulfilled a long-standing promise to Foster to make his Bupa Great North Run debut in the 30th running of the race. He won in 59:33, finishing almost two minutes clear of Kiplimo Kimutai of Kenya. He returned to Tynseide for the 2013 race, finishing third after a thrilling battle with Kenenisa Bekele and Mo Farah.

Mike McLeod was the first finisher of the first Great North Run. Fittingly a Newcastle man, the Elswick Harrier won the inaugural race in June 1981.

The Olympic 10,000m silver medallist also won in 1982, and twice finished runner-up in the race. 

“It meant a hell of a lot to be the first runner home in the first Great North Run,” said McLeod.

“And it means a lot now. To have the one millionth finish in the race in 2014 is going to be a fantastic achievement.”

No athlete has savoured more success in the Bupa Great North Run than Tanni Grey-Thompson. The great Welsh Paralympian reeled off two notable winning streaks in the women’s wheelchair section of the 13.1-mile event: three in a row from 1991 to 1992, and then five in a row from 1995 to 1999.

That makes eight Bupa Great North Run titles in all, to go alongside the remarkable haul of 11 Paralympic titles she won between 1992 and 2004.

Now 45, the former Tanni Grey has become Baroness Grey-Thompson and was made a life peer in 2010.

Grey-Thompson still plays a key part in the event, manning a water station just past the halfway point with volunteers from her local athletics club, New Marske Harriers.

During the opening ceremony, the flag will be paraded in two parts along the Quayside in front of the spectators. It will then be joined together to create a unified flag. This flag will be passed to each subsequent event to record their millionth finish and become a key part of celebrations around the world.   

This flag will be escorted along the Bupa Great North Run course on Sunday by members of the Royal Marines taking part in the event. It will then be raised in South Shields to congratulate the millionth finisher, in a presentation by Brendan Foster and IAAF Vice President Sebastian Coe.