OLYMPIC steeplechaser Weynay Ghebresilasie, making his debut for Sunderland Harriers in the North Eastern Harrier League, stormed to the fastest time of the day at Jarrow on Saturday.
The 18-year-old Eritrean, who chose not to return home after the Olympics and is seeking asylum in Sunderland, was having his first race since competing in London.
Running in the popular league race with its unique handicap system, Ghebresilasie was giving away a 2min 30sec start to the slow pack, which contained about 300 runners at Bedewell Park.
He charged through the mud-splattered cross country course to grab third place, only seven seconds behind Elswick’s slow pack man Mark McLeod, the son of 1984 Olympic 10,000m silver medallist Mike McLeod, who was in the crowd to see his son win.
Clocking 30min 10sec, Ghebresilasie was nearly a minute faster than the next quickest runner on the course, Morpeth’s Matt Nicholson, who finished fourth in an actual time of 31.03.
Considering the trauma he has been through, the former army conscript was reasonably happy with his performance.
He said in broken English: “It was hard to get through. There was a lot of runners. It was stop, start all the way.
“I wasn’t running freely. I wanted to win, but I didn’t see the leaders until the race was nearly finished. I could have run a lot better, but this is new to me. I’m happy but disappointed that I was only third.’’
Ghebresilasie’s presence and performance in the race was just the stimulus the Harriers needed, as he steered the club to their first team win of the season, moving up to fifth in the first division.
In a close team contest, the Wearsiders packed their six counters inside the first 45 finishers to beat Durham by 27 points. Morpeth were third and Gateshead fourth.
Sunderland’s scorers behind Ghebresilasie with actual times were Noel Hitchcock in ninth (34.55), Steven Graham tenth (34.58), Nathan Reed 24th (33.08), Ian Dixon 29th (35.52) and Paul Redman 45th (33.43). Oliver James was 60th with the fifth fastest time overall (31.27).
Sunderland Strollers finished ninth team in the first division with Ken Maynard 36th (36.02) and Anthony Wilton 50th (38.18). Houghton Harriers finished fifth in the third division with Alan Foster in 88th (37.18).
League table: 1 Gateshead 9pts, 2 Morpeth 11, 3 South Shields 12, 4 Durham 13, 5 Sunderland Harriers 14, 6 Low Fell 16, 7 Heaton 20, 8 North Shields 22, 9 Sunderland Strollers 23, 10 Wallsend 25.
Heaton Harriers new recruit Lorna Young won the women’s race in 25.54. Sunderland Strollers were fifth team in the first division with counters Rachael Ball 17th (29.38), Alyson West 35th (30.27) and Ashleigh Thorpe 63rd (31.25). Houghton Harriers were seventh in division two, being led home by Kelly Bentley in 31st (30.14).
Sunderland Harriers were tenth with their top runner Caroline Kirsop in 89th (32.24) Sunderland Harriers shot to the top of the under/17/20 women’s league after finishing second to Shildon. The three team counters were Anna Robinson tenth, Alex Pearson in 13th and Amy Coulson14th.
Danielle Elliot was second in the under-15s race in the second fastest time (13.44) behind Gateshead’s winner Kate Waugh (13.00). Sunderland’s Sophie Burnett was third quickest (13.57). Houghton Harriers had Emily Herron in third in the under-13s.
Sunderland Harriers were third team with Sarah Bell seventh, Abbie Little 16th and Laura Hand 18th.