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."

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little