Kenya's Stephen Sambu claimed top spot in the 2015 world rankings as he emerged victorious from the Morrisons Great Manchester Run, towing training partner Bernard Lagat to a new Masters Over 40 world record for 10km.
Sambu also had the satisfaction of completing a Kenyan double in Europe's biggest 10km running event, compatriot Betsy Saina having already secured victory in the elite women's race ahead of Britain's Gemma Steel before the 26-year-old University of Arizona graduate took the men's title in 27 minutes 30 seconds.
Sambu's time was the fastest 10km on the road in the world this year, 17 seconds quicker than fellow Kenyan Japhet Korir recorded for the distance in Wurzburg, Germany, last month.
It was the fastest winning time in the Morrisons Great Manchester Run for eight years and the third quickest ever in the prestigious IAAF Gold Label event – behind Micah Kogo's 2007 course record of 27 minutes 21 seconds, and the 27 minutes 25 seconds recorded by Haile Gebrselassie in 2005.
Sambu, a sub-27 minutes 10,000m runner on the track last summer, was one of six men who formed a lead pack in the early stages. At halfway, which he reached in 13 minutes 51 seconds, he and South Africa's Stephen Mokoka were pulling clear of Kenya's Olympic marathon bronze medallist Wilson Kipsang and Lagat, the former world 1500m and 5,000m champion, with whom Sambu trains in Tuscon, Arizona.
Mokoka hung on for as long as he could but with a mile to go his challenge started to fade. Still, the World Student Games 10,000m champion managed to keep the gap to eight seconds and was rewarded with a South African 10km record of 27 minutes 38 seconds – an improvement of 22 seconds on the near-historic national mark set way back in 1980 by Matthews Motshowareta.
Lagat, the Kenyan-born American who rewrote the Masters world record book during the indoor season, was overjoyed to cross the line third in 27 minutes 48 seconds – an outstanding time on the track specialist's 10km road debut and 12 seconds inside the Over 40 world best time set in Manchester in 2013 by Gebrselassie.
It just so happened that Gebrselassie was also in the race yesterday, the 42-year-old Ethiopian great finishing16th in the elite men's race in 30 minutes 05 seconds before setting off to complete the course again with one of the waves of the mass field.
“The fact that Haile was also running was one of the reasons I wanted to come here and run my first 10km,” said Lagat. “When I saw Haile and Wilson Kipsang coming in from the airport, I said to myself, ‘What have I done?'
“It was a tough race but I did the training and Stephen helped me a lot. He turned back to look for me after the first kilometre and encouraged me to move up and join the lead group.
“We train together in Arizona and have the same coach, James Li. When Stephen graduates from the 10km to the marathon he is going to have his name next to Kipsang.”
Kipsang, former holder of the world record for the marathon, found the effort of his second placed run in the London Marathon just a fortnight ago taking an inevitable toll in the second half of the race yesterday, fading to fourth in 27 minutes 48 seconds.
Remarkably, it was Sambu's first race in Europe. “I am happy with my run,” he said. “And I am happy that Bernard has broken the Masters world record. I told him not to worry about the pace.
“My aim now is to make the Kenyan team for the 10,000m at the World Championships in Beijing in August.”
Farther down the field, Andy Butchart won the battle of the Brits. The Scottish cross country champion finished seventh in 29 minutes 9 seconds, with Stockport's Ross Millington eighth in 29 minutes 11 seconds and Morpeth's Jonny Taylor ninth in 29 minutes 19 seconds.
“That was amazing,” Butchart said. “I found myself running alongside Haile Gebrselassie for the first 5km. I'm not sure where he dropped back but it was great to run with him.”
Steel, the Charnwood athlete who won the European cross country title in December, ensured there was British interest at the sharp end of the elite women's race.
Saina, the 2012 African Championship 10,000m bronze medallist, and fellow Kenyan Caroline Kilel forged ahead in the early stages but after reaching halfway in 15 minutes 41 seconds the latter started to fade – the effort of her sixth placed run in the Boston Marathon two weeks ago clearly catching up with the Commonwealth marathon silver medallist.
Steel, who was second to Olympic 10,000m champion Tirunesh Dibaba in last year's race, came through strongly in the second half, dropping world marathon champion Edna Kiplagat and passing the fading Kilel.
Saina finished a clear winner in 31 minutes 49 seconds, with Steel runner-up in 31 minutes 55 seconds, Kiplagat third in 31 minutes 57 seconds and Kilel fourth in 32 minutes 18 seconds.
“I just wanted to win my race so bad after racing on the track last weekend [finishing second over 5,000m in the Payton Jordan Invitational meeting at Stanford University in California] and making a last minute decision to run here,” said Saina, who studied in the United States and is based in Colorado Springs.
Steel was justifiably happy with her performance. “It was similar to last year – only this time I was closer to the winner,” she said. “I hung back and bided my time, then came through and gritted my teeth. I was catching Betsy and I never gave up on first place. I just ran out of time at the end.”
Sadly, European 10,000m champion Jo Pavey ran out of steam long before the end in her first race of 2015. The 41-year-old Exeter Harrier finished tenth in 33 minutes 21 second – the third Briton, behind Steel and Stockport's Jess Coulson, who was ninth in 33 minutes 15 seconds.
“I was disappointed today,” confessed Pavey, “but it's a starting point for me. It's something to build on. I went out there and tried my absolute hardest but I found it tough.”
It was a happier day for another British golden oldie in the field, the remarkable Angi Copson setting a new Masters Over 65 world best. The 68-year-old from Spratton in Northamptonshire finished in 40 minutes 30 seconds – 1 minute and 18 seconds inside the previous world best.
There was also British joy in the two wheelchair races, David Weir winning the men's event in 20 minutes 57 seconds and Shelley Woods the women's in 25 minutes 37 seconds