Gemma Steels Herself For Tufa Challenge
European cross country champion Gemma Steel, Britain's number one road runner, will face London Marathon champion Tigist Tufa of Ethiopia in the Morrisons Great North Run on Sunday 13 September.
The 2015 edition of the world's leading half marathon will provide Steel with another chance to test her burgeoning road race talent against the global leading lights from East Africa.
The 29-year-old Charnwood athlete produced a stunning performance in the 2014 Great North Run, finishing runner-up to two-time London Marathon winner Mary Keitany of Kenya in 68 minutes 13 seconds.
Only two British women have run faster over the 13.1 mile half marathon distance: world marathon record holder Paula Radcliffe (65 minutes 40 seconds) and former world 10,000m champion Liz McColgan-Nuttall (67 minutes 11seconds), the wife of Steel's coach, John Nuttall and a valued mentor to the woman from the English East Midlands.
In claiming second place in the prestigious IAAF Gold Label event, Steel also took some notable scalps, beating Ethiopia's reigning Olympic marathon champion Tiki Gelana and Kenyans Caroline KIlel, the 2014 Commonwealth Games marathon silver medallist, and two-time world marathon champion Edna Kiplagat.
In Tufa, she will face a 28-year-old Ethiopian who beat Keitany by 18 seconds to win this year's London Marathon in 2 hours 23 minutes 22 seconds – and who boasts lifetime bests of 2 hours 21 minutes 52 seconds for the full marathon distance and 70 minutes 03 seconds for the half marathon.
In doing so, Steel also claimed the scalps of Olympic marathon champion Tiki Gelana of Ethiopia, who finished third in 68:45, Commonwealth marathon silver medallist Caroline Kilel (fourth in 69:10) and two time world marathon champion Edna Kiplagat (fifth in 70:37).
Steel – who won the European cross country title in Samakov, Bulgaria, last December – has become accustomed to mixing it with the best Ethiopians and Kenyans on the road, having finished runner up to Ethiopia's Olympic 10,000m champion Tirunesh Dibaba and Kenya's African Championship 10,000m bronze medallist Betsy Saina in the last two editions of the Morrisons Great Manchester Run.
“It's something that's given me a lot of confidence,” the Loughborough-based Steel confessed. “Not many British athletes can say they can mix it with the top Kenyans and Ethiopians on the road and it's not something I ever thought I'd see myself doing.
“There's the Kenyans and Ethiopians, and then there's me. It's a good position to be in.”
Steel's rising road running stock has been pointing her towards a future at the marathon and she is contemplating an autumn debut at the 26.2 miles distance.
“Everyone says the marathon is what I should be aiming at but I am still wary,” she said. “The marathon is a long way. It took me a few years to master the half marathon and the full marathon is a different animal altogether.”