TIRUNESH Dibaba made a dream start to her half-marathon career as she out-sprinted a top-class field to claim victory in yesterday's Bupa Great North Run.
Dibaba is widely recognised as the greatest female distance runner of all time on the track, with last month's triumph in the Olympic 10,000m final making it three gold medals and two world titles for the 26-year-old Ethiopian.
She intends to switch to the road ahead of the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, with yesterday's outing on the streets of Tyneside representing the longest competitive challenge of her career so far.
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Things could hardly have gone better, with Dibaba adopting her usual policy of sitting on the shoulders of the leaders before pulling clear of world marathon champion Edna Kiplagat and Olympic marathon gold medallist Tiki Gelana in the final kilometre to achieve a notable success.
“This was my first half-marathon, so I wanted to run carefully,” said the African. “The course is good, but I knew there were lots of challenges that a road race could have. I had to wait to make my move at the start of the last mile and that is what I did.
“I've run over 15km before, but 21km is a different territory. The biggest difference between running on the track and on the road is that you can see other people on the screens (on the track) and control things like that.
“It's a new experience for me, but I think I know how to run on the road as well as on the track now. I believe this experience will help me in the future. I'm testing the water and gradually stepping up in distance as I go.
Dibaba became the fourth different Ethiopian female champion in the last eight stagings of the Great North Run, and is set to make her full marathon debut next season.
She will continue to compete on the track and will contest the 10,000m at next year's World Championships in Moscow, but already looks capable of rewriting the marathon record books.
“I believe that she (Dibaba) can go on to achieve really great things,” said Gelana, who claimed the Olympic title but never looked capable of matching her compatriot's blistering pace in the final 500m of yesterday's race. “She is going to be a fantastic marathon runner and I believe she can eventually break the world record.”
The leading three Africans finished well clear of the rest of the field, but Britain's Jo Pavey completed an impressive season by becoming the leading domestic finisher in fifth position.
Pavey, who finished seventh in the both the 5,000m and 10,000m at the Olympics, forged the early pace through the opening three miles, but was dropped from the leading pack shortly after the halfway stage.
“I was disappointed I couldn't stay with them,” she said. “There were a couple of really quick miles around the halfway point and they did a little bit of damage. I tried to keep going, but to be honest I would like to have run a little bit quicker.
“It wasn't a bad time, and when you've got a world and Olympic champion in the field, it's always going to be tough. It was a solid run coming off a long track season and I really appreciate all the support I received as I was going round.”
Pavey will now turn her attention to November's Yokohama marathon as she attempts to gain more experience over the maximum distance ahead of next year's World Championships.
With Paula Radcliffe's injury problems showing no sign of abating, she is set to become the British number one in the marathon, although her future hopes in the event could well be impacted by Dibaba's continued development.
“I suppose that performance was to be expected because she's a phenomenal athlete,” said Pavey. “When she's so good at those long track races, it's almost inevitable that the half-marathon is going to be a fairly comfortable thing for her. It'll be interesting to see what she can do in the marathon in the future because she certainly looks capable of great things.”