Athletics: Thugwane adds class to big race

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THE OLYMPIC marathon champion, Josia Thugwane, will honour a promise he made to organisers two years ago - by competing in Sunday's Bupa Great North Run.

That was the news received by elite athlete co-ordinator Peter Elliott when the South African confirmed he will fly in from Albuquerque for Britain's biggest road race.

Thankfully, times are totally different from 1996 when Thugwane pulled out of the race having received death threats from township gangsters, who were jealous of the amount of money and public exposure his Olympic success brought him.

The pressure and danger for the first black South African to win an Olympic gold medal became so intense he went into hiding - withdrawing from Tyneside's classic half-mara-thon where his appearance was eagerly awaited.

However, at the time his agent said Thugwane, now 27, would, even if it took a couple of years, make every effort to honour his commitment. A long transatlantic flight will see the former miner arrive in Newcastle today.

Elliott said: "We are delighted at Thugwane's participation and [will] be under no illusions. Apart from his Olym-pic success, he is a class athlete - I think he will offer a very real threat to Benson Masya, who is chasing a fifth title, and Paul Evans, who is spearheading the British challenge.

"I've said it before but Sunday's race will be one of the most intriguing for many, many years."