Athletics: Steve plays his nowhere man record

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The Independent Online

This morning, Steve Kenyon will be far from the madding crowd of 40,000 Great North Runners. "I've booked a stall to sell records in Bolton town centre," he said. "I've got a hobby, buying and selling vinyl records. I've got a big collection from the 1960s. I'm a big fan of the Beatles. I'm showing my age there."

This morning, Steve Kenyon will be far from the madding crowd of 40,000 Great North Runners. "I've booked a stall to sell records in Bolton town centre," he said. "I've got a hobby, buying and selling vinyl records. I've got a big collection from the 1960s. I'm a big fan of the Beatles. I'm showing my age there."

It remains to be seen, but when he's 64 the former Salford Harrier could still possess the Great North Run record that has been running for 19 years now. In a race that has come to be dominated by Kenyans in particular and Africans in general, it has become a quirk of fate that the last British man to win was in fact a Kenyon.

That was on 30 June 1985. Steve Kenyon was 33 at the time. He turned 53 last week. "I've still got happy memories of the race," he said. "It was a high point in my career. I'd almost retired the year before, because of injury. I'd given up marathons. I just went up there to see what would happen, and on the day it went well for me."

It did indeed. Kenyon won in 62 minutes 44 seconds, equalling the course record held by Mike McLeod. After 23 editions of the Bupa Great North Run, Europe's biggest half-marathon, McLeod and Kenyon remain the only two male British winners.

Kenyon, who works as a sales assistant at the Regatta outwear-clothing store in his native Bolton, hopes that Jon Brown will become the third today. As someone who has himself suffered on the road from Marathon to Athens, he can identify with the great northern hope of British men's distance running, and with Paula Radcliffe, both of whom endured heartache in their Olympic marathons last month.

Kenyon failed to finish the 1982 European Championship marathon that was held on the original marathon course. Radcliffe, famously, did likewise in the 2004 Olympic women's race. Brown made it to the finish line in the Panathinaiko Stadium, but as the fourth-placed finisher for the second successive Olympic men's marathon.

"I did have a niggling back problem when I ran in 1982," Kenyon reflected, "but, to be honest, it was the combination of the conditions and the severity of the course that got to me. I didn't get as far as Paula Radcliffe. I only got to 10 or 12 miles.

"That was it for me as a marathon runner. I called it a day. I'm sure it will be different for Paula, though. She'll come back strong. I'm a big fan. As for Jon, it must have been terrible to finish fourth again. I wish him all the best for Sunday. I would love to see him win."

The sentiment would be echoed by anyone who saw the look of sheer despair on Brown's face as he glanced up to see the beaming Brazilian Vanderlei de Lima take the bronze medal a tantalising 80 yards or so ahead of him on the Panathinaiko track. "Yeah, I had probably a mile to think about that situation," Brown said, picturing the nightmare scenario, four weeks after the event. "At that stage it's all over. There's nothing you can do about it.

"I only saw the guy probably in the last two kilometres. I was catching him pretty fast, but that's how it goes. It's over and done with now. I mean, I ran very well. It almost went perfectly for me. It's just the outcome was enormously disappointing."

As a pragmatic Yorkshireman (born in Bridgend, a resident of Victoria, Canada, for eight years now, but raised in Sheffield), Brown knows the odds are against a winning outcome for him in the Great North Run today. Just four weeks after his 26.2 mile exertion in Greece, there is bound to be a question mark about the freshness of his legs. Then there is the challenge of Hendrick Ramaala, the South African half-marathon specialist who won on Tyneside 12 months ago.

He dropped out of the Olympic marathon after 12 miles, suffering from a hamstring pull, but proved his fitness and form by winning the Dam to Dam 10-mile race in Amsterdam last Sunday, clocking a nifty 45 minutes 59 seconds.

The great thing about Brown's presence in the Great North Run is that he is looking beyond his latest Olympic blow. The marathon at next summer's World Championships in Helsinki is already on his mind. "Helsinki's definitely attractive," he said. "If I got a medal at the World Championships next year I'd be quite happy with that - although fourth would give me the full set of fourth places."

It was good to see the nearly man of the marathon raise a smile. "You know the Japanese guy who finished fifth in Athens?" added Brown, the twinkle still in his eye. "He finished fifth in the last two World Championships. Three fifths! Imagine that."

Quite. There is always somebody worse off.

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