Mo Farah winning at the 2014 Bupa Great North Run (© Getty Images)
Double Olympic, world and European champion Mo Farah became the first British man since 1985 to win the Bupa Great North Run when he crossed the line of the IAAF Gold Label Road Race in a winning time of 1:00:00 on Sunday (7).
The race also celebrated its one millionth finisher and, as part of the partnership between the Great North Run and the IAAF's Athletics for a Better World Programme in the wake of Thursday's spectacular opening ceremony, the special IAAF-Great North Run First Millionth Finish flag was escorted along the course on Sunday by members of the Royal Marines taking part in the event.
The flag was then raised at the finish in South Shields to honour the millionth person to cross the line, Tracy Cramond, who was congratulated by race founder Brendan Foster and IAAF Vice President Sebastian Coe.
However, in addition to Farah and Cramond's feats, the performance of the day undoubtedly came in the women’s race, where Mary Keitany spectacularly broke Paula Radcliffe’s 11-year-old course record by one second.
In what was only her second race after coming back from giving birth to her second child, the Kenyan clocked 1:05:39.
Farah just held off the challenge of Kenya’s Mike Kigen after a race-long duel between the pair for his first win at the famous race after finishing second last year behind Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele.
It was Kigen, the fastest runner in the field with a best of 59:58 and one of Farah’s training partners whenever he is in Kenya, who pushed the pace early in the race.
“We had agreed that we should start the race fast to leave the others behind as soon as possible,” Farah later said.
It looked almost as if Kigen was Farah’s pacemaker, but the plan worked well.
Four runners formed an early leading group but Uganda’s Olympic marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich then lost contact to the leaders after eight kilometres.
When Kigen and Farah passed the 10km mark in 28:19, they were also beginning to open a gap on Kiprotich’s compatriot Thomas Ayeko.
Soon afterwards, the pair were on their own with Kigen always a step in front of Farah. A couple of times, the Kenyan opened a small gap of a few metres but Farah was always able to close it again.
With just 600 metres to go, Farah took over at the front for what was really the first time and then just managed to hold off Kigen, crossing the line one step ahead.
"It feels great, I had massive crowd support but I had to dig in deep out there," Farah told the BBC.
"Mike's a great athlete and he just kept pushing and pushing so I was thinking 'just hang in, just hang in' so I could create more speed.
"Once we had dropped everybody, I was thinking 'it's just me and you' but he wanted to run faster and just put his foot down and kept pushing and pushing. There were a couple of times when I was thinking 'four more miles, three more miles, two more miles' but I just had to dig in.
"I just wanted to hang on in there and I knew I had the pace at the end. I was surprised how well he was running. My aim was to run 60-something but I didn't think I could run that fast. It is great to finish the season with a win.
"With 200 metres to go I pushed but I didn't know how much I still had and as soon as I started to celebrate I saw Mike coming back at me again.
"I've learned a lot this year and it has been up and down," added Farah. "But now I want to take a break and relax and get ready for the World Championships next year."
Steve Kenyon was the last British winner of the men's race 29 years ago.
Kigen was given the same time of 60:00 but there was no dispute about the fact that he was second while Kiprotich was third in 1:01:35.
Course record for Keitany
Keitany broke Paula Radcliffe's former course record by one second with 1:05:39
The Kenyan, whose only race this year had been a 10km in Ottawa, which she won in 31:22, made the race fast from the early stages.
After three kilometres, only Ethiopia's Olympic marathon champion Tiki Gelana was able to follow the Kenyan, but not for much longer.
At five kilometres, Keitany drew away from Gelana and continued her high-speed race over the ups and downs of the course towards South Shields.
Passing the 10km mark in 31:16, she then reached 15 km in 46:33, the second-fastest time ever run at this distance behind Tirunesh Dibaba’s 15km world record of 46:28. The next split was equally impressive; Keitany reached the 20km mark in 1:02:23, again the second-fastest ever run.
She didn’t falter or ease up in the final kilometre and initially Keitany appeared to have tied the time set by Radcliffe, who was looking on while working as a commentator for the BBC, but then the official time was amended downwards and announced as being one second faster.
It was the second-fastest time ever for the half marathon, although the point-to-point course from Newcastle to South Shields is not eligible for official records.
Earlier this year, Kenya’s Florence Kiplagat established the current world record of 1:05:12 in Barcelona.
“I am very happy about my time and the course record,” said Keitany. “Initially, it was not my plan to attack the record, but during the race it was going better and better, so I pushed the pace and gave it a try.
“Regarding the ups and downs on the course, I have no problem with this. It is normal, because in Kenya I am always training on hilly tracks,” added Keitany, who has not yet decided if she will run an autumn marathon.
“I will now go back home, have a break for one week and then we will decide what comes next.”
Britain’s Gemma Steel worked her way through to second place. She overtook Gelana just before the 15km mark and finished with a fine personal best of 1:08:13, her first half marathon faster than 70 minutes.
“I think this has brought me on the right track for a marathon debut,” said Steel. Gelana finished third with 1:08:45.
Sadly, the much anticipated appearance of Tirunesh Dibaba did not happen as the Ethiopian had to withdraw at short notice due to suspected food poisoning.
Jörg Wenig for the IAAF