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Keitany, Farah defend North Run crowns

Mary Keitany breasts the tape to defend her Great North Run crown on Sunday. PHOTO/IAAF/AFP

Mary Keitany breasts the tape to defend her Great North Run crown on Sunday. PHOTO/IAAF/AFP

LONDON, September 13- Mo Farah and Mary Keitany successfully defended their titles at the Morrisons Great North Run, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Sunday.

Britain’s double world champion produced another thrilling performance with a sprint finish, winning in 59:22 to beat Kenya’s Stanley Biwott by just two seconds. Mike Kigen of Kenya took third in 1:00:10, followed by Stephen Mokoka of South Africa in 1:00:40. Uganda’s Thomas Ayeko was fifth in 1:01:14.

The point-to-point course of the Great North Run is not eligible for records, so while Farah’s time is the fastest of his career, it will not count as a European record. Farah broke that mark earlier this year in Lisbon with 59:32.

The pace of the men’s race was moderate in the first 10km with five runners – Farah, Biwott, Kigen, Mokoka and Kenya’s Stephen Sambu – passing that checkpoint in 28:45, indicating a finishing time outside 60 minutes.

However, when Biwott started to push the pace, first Sambu, then Mokoka and finally last year’s runner-up Kigen lost contact.

From 14km onwards, Biwott and Farah were on their own. The pace had increased and Biwott continued to press, leading Farah behind by a stride. The pair passed the 15km mark in 42:29 and a sub-60-minute finishing time seemed possible.

Biwott kept the pace high and twice managed to open a small gap on Farah, first shortly after the 15km point, then again with three kilometres to go. But on both occasions Farah managed to close the gap relatively quickly.

“With two miles to go and Biwott pressing so hard, it really hurt,” Farah said afterwards. “I thought, oh my god, if he continues like that I will not make it.”

But the Olympic champion managed to hang on and took the lead for the first time with a mile to go. Farah waited with 250 metres to go before he kicked and Biwott was beaten immediately.

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“I really wanted to win this race in front of a home crowd, and I knew that if I could stay with Biwott, I could beat him in the sprint,” said Farah after finishing his last race of the season. “But I thought maybe a 60-minute time would be enough, so I am really exhausted now.”

-Unchallenged Keitany-

In good weather conditions, Kenya’s Mary Keitany produced a solo run to win in 1:07:32, her 12th consecutive victory over the distance.

Britain’s Gemma Steel repeated her second place from last year with a time of 1:11:00. Jelena Prokopcuka of Latvia took third with 1:11:52 while Britain’s Alyson Dixon and USA’s Adrianna Nelson followed in fifth and sixth with times of 1:12:07 and 1:12:29 respectively.

Kenya’s Priscah Jeptoo, the 2013 winner of the Great North Run, had to withdraw because she caught malaria. Ethiopia’s London Marathon winner Tigist Tufa decided not to run because she had not recovered from the World Championships marathon in Beijing, where she placed sixth just two weeks ago. Ethiopia’s world 10,000m silver medallist Gelete Burka also withdrew.

Following the withdrawals, Keitany took the initiative from the start. She built a big lead on her way from Newcastle to the seafront in South Shields, passing 5km in 16:01 and 10km in 32:16, putting her on course for a sub-68-minute finishing time.

All her rivals were soon out of sight, but Britain’s Gemma Steel went ahead of the chasing group between 5k and 10km and was then running on her own as well.

With no one to challenge her throughout the 13.1 miles, Keitany was always going to be hard-pushed to better her 1:05:39 course record from last year. Instead, she switched her strategy and decided to save herself for her next marathon, cruising to victory in 1:07:32.

Steel managed to held on and repeat her second place from last year in 1:11:00, nearly three minutes down on her time from 2014.

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“I would have run different if there would have been stronger athletes pushing me,” said Keitany, who will now return to Iten. “I was ready to run a 65-minute time. I’m very happy to have come to Newcastle twice now and on both occasions was able to win the race. Next year my big goal is the Olympic marathon.”

Farah and Keitany became the fifth and sixth runners in the history of the event to achieve back-to-back victories.

Great Britain’s Mike McLeod (1981 and 1982) and Kenya’s late Benson Masya (1991 and 1992) both won twice in a row, as did Australia’s Lisa Martin Ondieki (1986 and 1987) and Britain’s Liz McColgan (1995 and 1996) in the women’s race.

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