Athletics: Johnson's cruise to victory helps ease Olympic pain

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The Independent Online

It was a great north run for the London club, Thames Hare and Hounds, if not exactly for British distance running. While Dejene Berhanu ran away with the men's prize and the course record as the first Ethiopian winner of the Great North Run yesterday, the club which sounds like the name of a public house, could take a measure of reflected glory in Benita Johnson's success in the women's section of the world's biggest half-marathon.

The Australian spends eight months each year living and training in London and has been a member of the Hare and Hounds for the past two years. Johnson also owns a flat at Hampton Wick and yesterday she made herself at home on the roads of Tyneside, breaking clear with a mile remaining to win in 1hr 7min 55sec, finishing 32 seconds ahead of Kenya's Edith Masai.

Johnson was never a threat to Paula Radcliffe's year-old women's record, a phenomenal 1hr 5min 40sec, but with her victory over a world-class field, the 25-year-old took a significant step forward from the wreckage of her own broken Olympic dream - something that Radcliffe has yet to do.

Unlike the leading lady of British distance running, Johnson managed to finish the 10,000 metres final in Athens, placing 24th. That, however, was scant consolation, after starting the track season with high medal hopes in the wake of her victory in the long-course race at the World Cross Country Championships in Brussels in March.

"It was tough getting lapped by the leaders," Johnson reflected, "but I'm not the sort of athlete who gives up. I had blood tests the next day and they discovered that I was suffering from anaemia."

An autumn marathon debut, possibly in New York in November, is now on the agenda for the former Australian junior hockey international, before she returns to Melbourne for the winter. For Jon Brown, a good rest is probably in order, the Yorkshireman having followed his excellent fourth place in the Olympic marathon last month with sixth position in the men's race yesterday, despite losing ground while having to make "a pit stop" at the 10-mile mark.

Berhanu, fifth in the Olympic 5,000m final in Athens, was a clear winner in 59min 37 sec, 21 seconds inside the course record set by Kenyan Paul Kosgei two years ago. Farther down the field, the former 5,000m world record holder Sir Chris Chataway completed his first half-marathon in a time of 1hr 39 min - not bad for a 73-year-old member of Thames Hare and Hounds.