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ALTITUDE GIVES MUTAI ATTITUDE

Coventry-based Kenyan John Mutai was the surprise package of the BUPA Great North Run

The 32-year-old, although runner-up last year, had done little in the 12 months since to suggest he could add his name to the Great North Run roll of honour.But, following three months altitude training in Kenya, he knew he was in top form and raring to go."I was confident and determined to make it hard from the start," said the 32-year-old."Last year I led for the first 50 minutes until Thugwane caught me and he eventually beat me by 18 seconds."That wasnt going to happen again. I was going to keep going until I fell over. Nobody was going to pass me."Mutai certainly maintained his front running momentum to keep South African Thys Gert, the worlds second fastest marathon runner, at bay.Mutai clocked a personal best of 60.52 to beat Thys by 29 seconds and land the 19th Great North Run title.Mutais ambition is to break 2hr 10min for the marathon, his fastest is 2.13.38 from Seville in 1998.He moved to Coventry five years ago so that he was handily placed to visit other European countries for athletic events. He joined local club Bromsgrove and Redditch and after yesterdays race was asked if he would consider competing for Great Britain.He said: "Its a possibility. Kenya has too many very good marathon runners and it would be difficult to get into the team."Maybe I should just go for a good marathon time, possibly London next April."British distance running received a welcome boost as Mutai and Thys were followed by Blackheaths Mark Steinle (62.23) in third and Swindons Matthew ODowd (62.38) in fourth. Rob Denmark was eighth (63.34)."I was surprised to have beaten so many good runners," remarked Steinle. "It must be all the hard training Ive been doing".European and former world marathon champion Martin Fiz, of Spain, could only manage sixth (63.00), while Portugals Antonio Pinto, twice London marathon winner was 14th (65.62) and last years champion Josia Thugwane was 17th (65.42).Britains Richard Nerurkar is finding it hard to get back to his best form and could only finish 12th in 64.43.Paula Radcliffe, in her half marathon debut, clocked the second fastest time by a UK female athlete when finishing a creditable third behind the mighty Kenyans in the BUPA Great North Run.Although she had to give way to the formidable African pair of Joyce Chepchumba and Tegla Loroupe, the Bedford runner recorded 69.37. Liz McColgans 68.54 in the 1992 Great North Run is the British best.It was no surprise that London marathon champion Chepchumba became the third Kenyan to win the womens race. Loroupe was the first, striking gold in 1993.Radcliffe, after a superb season, which has seen her improve all her times from 3000m upwards and clinch world 10,000m championship silver, has now shown that the full marathon distance holds no fears."Ive no intention of moving up to the marathon yet, but it is something to think about after next years Olympics," she said."Im definitely going to stick with the track. I want to run quicker and improve on my world 10,000m silver at Sydney."Radcliffe had found it difficult to focus on the BUPA Great North Run, as it came at the end of a very busy, successful year. She was excited about coming to Tyneside, but the increased training load needed to get herself in shape for the half marathon proved hard to get into.In favourable conditions, condusive for fast times from Newcastle to South Shields, Radcliffe, last years winner Sonia OSullivan, European marathon champion Manuela Machado and the three-pronged Kenyan attack of Ester Kiplagat, Chepchumba and Loroupe, quickly separated themselves from the rest of the womens elite field.But, before six miles, Kiplagat and Machado were already off the pace, leaving Radcliffe, OSullivan, Chepchumba and Loroupe at the head of the race.Not surprisingly, OSullivan, competing just three months after the birth of her first child, Ciara, was the next to fall by the wayside.Radcliffe, who spent three weeks training at altitude at Fort Romeau in France and came back to sea level on Monday in preparation for the race, was beginning to suffer as Chepchumba churned out a furious pace.The London marathon queens aggressive tactics along John Reid Road at South Shields saw Loroupe and Radcliffe, unable to respond to the surge.After a 4.57 mile, Chepchumba passed the ten-mile marker in 52.43 to establish a healthy lead, with Loroupe also inching away from the dogged Radcliffe.But Radcliffe had managed to get back in contact with Loroupe before accidentally being winded by a course marshals elbow."It certainly took the wind out of my sails, but it didnt make any difference to the result," she said.Chepchumba, was well clear and heading for victory, as she was nursing a 22 second lead. But the crowds hopes were raised as Radcliffe recovered from her collision to sprint down Marsden Bank to lead Loroupe by a dozen yards.Along the sea front to the long run-in to the finish, Loroupe quickly closed Radcliffe down and was now back in front and determined to reverse the 10,000m Seville result where she finished third.And, despite Radcliffes valiant attempts to get back on terms, it was the amazing Loroupe who claimed the runners up spot, recording 69.35 to finish 28 seconds behind worthy GNR champion Chepchumba.This was the pocket-size Loroupes fourth long distance road race in as many weeks. The series of startling performances has amazed the world of endurance running. It included last weeks world half marathon title and the world best for the marathon in Berlin the previous week.Now Loroupe and Chepchumba will go head-to-head in next years London Marathon, where no doubt the Berlin mark of 2.20.43 will come under threat. But, before then, Chepchumba defends her Chicago marathon title in two weeks.