Taylor favourite to be king of the hill in the Ernie Johnson Memorial Penshaw Hill Race

The late Ernie Johnson with the 2002 winner of the Penshaw Hill race, Terry Wall.
The late Ernie Johnson with the 2002 winner of the Penshaw Hill race, Terry Wall.

Liam Taylor will be the favourite to take the title in the Sunderland Harriers 29th running of the Ernie Johnson Memorial Penshaw Hill Race tonight.

The race is in Johnson’s honour after he came to the rescue of the event when his company North East Vending became long-term sponsors.

The course is exactly the same as the one used in the first staging of the challenging race in 1991.

Sunderland Harrier Taylor has won the event once before when defeating Penshaw kingpin Brian Rushworth in 2011, but lost out to the 49-year-old the next year.

This would be Rushworth’s final victory, the international having won the popular event an amazing 18 times, with Taylor having his only win eight years ago.

The Springwell athlete came close to winning over the last two years when finishing runner-up twice.

He suffered defeat to North Shields athlete Scot Ellis and last year to Kurt Heron.

Now the path looks clear to notch up another win after showing improved form.

He won the recent Pier-to-Pier race from South Shields to Roker just a couple of weeks ago and has recently finished runner-up in three 10km events in the Valentines 10km, Dalton Park 10km and the City of Sunderland 10km.

The Penshaw course record is held by Rushworth (15.04) from 1996, and 16 minutes has not been beaten since 2003 when Rushworth won in 15.41. Taylor recorded 16.52 when defeating Rushworth.

Other Sunderland Harriers with a chance of a place in the frame are Michael Barker, Steve Rankin and Callum Thom. Nikki Woodward is the club’s leading woman.

The race starts at 7.15pm and the prize presentations will be in the Monument Pub, Penshaw Village at approx 8.45pm.

A field of over 4,500 will be “Gannin Alang the Scotswood Road” and on their way to Blaydon in celebration of the famous song in the 38th Blaydon Race on Sunday.

This is a favourite event for many, as the long list of individual and team prizes attracts a class field of both club runners and internationals for the 5.4 mile race.

Last year, the race ended dramatically when long-time leader Chris Parr (Gateshead), now with Jarrow and Hebburn, finished in a collapsed state and lost two positions within sight of the finish.

He then staggered to the finishing line as first John Beattie (Newham and Essex Beagles) flew passed him followed by the fast finishing Carl Avery (Morpeth).

All three athletes are down to compete again and also on the elite entry list is other notables in Sunderland 5km winner Dom Shaw (New Marske) and former winner Johnny Taylor (Morpeth), who returns to the sport after a long absence.

Sunderland Harrier Kevin Jeffress is also down as an elite entry.

Wallsend Harrier Danielle Hodgkinson defends her title and she will face Sunderland Stroller and twice winner of the famous race, Alyson Dixon, who missed last year’s race through injury, and Sale’s Sonia Samuels.

Hodgkinson recorded a creditable 4.24.76 for 1,500m at the British Milers Club meeting at Chester-le-Street on Monday.

The race assembles in Grey Street and the field will be walked to the start on Collingwood Street for the 7.15pm start.

The overall distance is 5.4 miles and goes from Newcastle City Centre, along Collingwood Street and Scotswood Road, passing Armstrong’s factory, over the Scotswood Bridge, along Chainbridge Road to finish in Morrison’s car park in Blaydon.

Houghton Harrier Cameron Allan chopped nearly one minute off his previous best to take the bronze medal in the 5,000m (14.54.14) in the Northern Athletics Championships at Sport City in Manchester.

Chris Parr won the A race in the Milers’ Club 1,500m (3.53.95) at Chester-le-Street ahead of Birtley’s Adrian Bailes.(3.55.37).

Under-17 Houghton Harrier Henry Johnson finished sixth in 4.03.51. Clubmate Sam Gibson won the C race (4.07.46) and Under-13 Joseph McGinley triumphed in his event with a PB (5.09.46).

In the second North East Masters Track and Field League at Monkton, Sunderland Harrier Julie Sullivan scored a sprint double in the Over-55 100m (16.00) and 200m (32.8).

Clubmate Christine Elliott won the Over-60 discus (20.30). Houghton Harrier Steve Todner won the Over-65s 200m (29.5).