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Olympic and world champion keen to impress on banks of the Tyne
A 5,000-strong field of runners will have the chance to run alongside the reigning Olympic and world champion when he steps up his preparations for the Great North Run on Sunday – if anyone can keep up.
The Ugandan Stephen Kiprotich will headline the Bupa Great North 10k in Gateshead and he is not planning on taking things slowly in his bid to find form before returning to the North-East for the half marathon on September 7.
The 25-year-old struggled to a 12th placed finish at the London Marathon in April and it annoyed him not to reach his peak in the same city where he memorably stunned the athletics world by claiming Olympic gold in 2012.
But Kiprotich, speaking on the banks of the River Tyne he will be running by, is determined to return to his best and sees no better place to start than on his first visit to Tyneside.
Kiprotich said: “I’m hoping to run a quick time in a nice place in front of a good number of people. I have a personal best of 28mins 20sec for 10km and I’m looking to run 27-something while I am here. It will depend on the competition I have on Sunday. What matters is that I run well and we will see if it helps me prepare for the Great North Run.”
His brilliance at long distance running saw him follow up Olympic success in London with a second gold at the World Championships in Moscow the following year. In doing so he became only the second person, after Gezahegne Abera, to win the titles in successive years.
Understandably the success has changed his life, particularly at home in Uganda where he became the first athlete to win Olympic gold since his sporting hero John Akii-Bua won the 400m at the 1972 Games in Munich.
“Nobody had expected me to win the Olympics and even I knew it was a tough race because I was competing with a strong field of Kenyans and Ethiopians,” he said. “My life has become more interesting in so many ways since then.
“One of those is how I have become a celebrity in my own country having not really been known before. My people from my community, my parents, my country were at the airport when I returned with my gold medal ... I have been a celebrity out there ever since. It has pushed my profile to a new level, so I am looking at running well in big competitions like the London Marathon to keep my profile on the up.”
If he can follow up a victory in Sunday's Bupa Great North 10k with Bupa Great North Run success in a couple of months time then he will have achieved his short term goals. Last year there was an intriguing battle between long-distance greats Kenenisa Bekele, Mo Farah and Haile Gebrselassie and September 7 should see another memorable duel.
Kiprotich said: “I have seen the big names who have won the Great North Run and ran in it before. I am happy that if I win it raises my profile again. My big aim is to focus on the World Championships next year and the Olympics the year after.
“I will run the route on Saturday and I have always liked coming to England since London was the city I won the Olympics. I had been in Scotland, then Birmingham and I have been in London three times now, but this is the first time I have been in Newcastle. It’s great preparation for me because of the conditions.”
The Great North Run 10k starts just outside the Gateshead International Stadium before heading along the Tyne in a loop and ends up with the runners crossing the line on the track in the stadium.