Athletics: McLeod: When we were the run kings

Great North Run's first winner 25 years ago is at a loss to explain the lack of home success

For 15 years now Britain's biggest road race has turned into an African procession at its sharp end. It is unlikely to be any different today, with Dejene Berhanu of Ethiopia expected to be in the vanguard of the 50,000 Bupa Great North Runners wending their way from Newcastle to South Shields.

There was a time, though, when Britons led the way in what has become the world's biggest half-marathon. Indeed, of the 660,357 runners who have completed the 13.1-mile route, the very first was a Geordie.

It is 25 years now since Mike McLeod - the Elswick Express - blazed a groundbreaking trail from the centre of his home town to the North-east coast. On the morning of 28 June 1981 he led the 12,000 inaugural Great North Runners from the start to the finish, blitzing the opening mile in a knee-trembling 4min 12sec.

"I was clear by then," McLeod recalled. "And I think I went through five miles in 22min 30sec, which equates to 28 minutes for 10,000m. It turned out that the course was flaming well long, which was annoying, because I think it would have been a world record."

McLeod crossed the finish line in 63min 23sec, 1min and 11sec clear of the holder of the world best time for the half-marathon, Oyvind Dahl of Norway. He finished four minutes ahead of Steve Cram, six minutes clear of Brendan Foster, his long-time rival and founder of the Great North Run, and 23 minutes in front of Kevin Keegan, who was captain of the England football team at the time.

McLeod won again in 1982 and is one of only two British winners in the quarter-century history of the race. The other was a Kenyon: Steve Kenyon of Salford Harriers. He won the 1985 race ahead of McLeod, who had won an international 5,000m track race at Gateshead less than 24 hours previously.

"I would have been the only British winner if I'd got my head together that day," McLeod lamented. "I'd run in that track race the previous day and I let Steve get too far ahead. He was in damned good shape, though. I was beaten by a better man on the day.

"It would be nice to have a British lad at the front in the Great North Run again. I can't really say why that's not happening. We've all got our views: people not training hard enough, not applying themselves. But the Africans are so bloody good now. They just seem to drift away at the front and our lads can't go with them. But I think it'll be a good race this year. The British lads will do well. They'll try to get as close as possible to the foreigners. There's not much else they can do."

At 54, McLeod's running days have been temporarily halted by a knee problem. Still, he is doing his bit to spark a Great British distance-running revival as coach to a group of talented young North-easterners.

His charges include his son, Ryan, 21, a former British junior international who ran in the Great North 3km event held on Newcastle's Quayside yesterday as an hors d'oeuvre to today's big race. He has also persuaded his elder son, Mark, a former basketball player, to join the group. The 26-year-old runs in his father's footsteps as a debutant Great North Runner today.

"He's got talent," M McLeod Snr said of M McLeod Jnr, "but he doesn't like pain. I just hope he has a steady run. He'll start off at about 5min 30sec pace and pick it up from there."

It is to be hoped that Mark's sense of timing has improved since he arrived into the world at 2am at the Princess Mary Hospital in Newcastle on the day his father was due to run in the televised IAC international cross-country race at Crystal Palace in December 1979. Mike attended the birth, missed his early-morning flight to London but caught a lunchtime plane. "I got picked up at the airport, got changed in the car, got dumped off at the course and ran to the start, got cracking and won the race," he recalled.

The Elswick Harrier always was a bit of an Alf Tupper - in his early days he fitted in his training and racing around his job as a motor mechanic. He now runs a thriving printing business at Pelaw, just off the roundabout at the four-mile point on the Great North Run course. At the peak of his track career McLeod won the IAAF Golden 10,000m race - effectively a world championship - in 1979 and 1981.

Uniquely, he also won two medals from the Olympic 10,000m final in Los Angeles in 1984. It ought to have been all three. He won bronze on the day and was belatedly presented with silver after Martti Vainio, the Finn who had come second in the race, tested positive for the anabolic steroid primobolin. He never did get the gold, though, even when Alberto Cova - the Italian winner - subsequently confessed that he had indulged in the practice of blood doping.

"When you know somebody's been blood doping, it would be nice to have the next medal handed down, to say, 'I'm the Olympic champion'," the original Great North winner mused. "I would have been the first one in the North-east. But it's gone now. What's done is done. I've got to be happy with what I have."

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths surrounding the enigmatic singer
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn