ABRAHAM TEWELDE had to pull out all the stops to retain his Ronnie Walker 10k road race title over a testing three-lap course in and around the outskirts of Saltwell Park.
The Saltwell Harrier just made it to the start line in time to defend his crown seconds before the near-500 strong field, who had observed a minute’s silence for the former Saltwell stalwart, set off.
Having had no time to warm up the Eritrea-born athlete settled in behind Gateshead’s Conrad Franks and by the completion of the first circuit the pair had a nine-second lead over Dan Jenkin (Durham City) with Tom Charlton (Tyne Bridge) and Nick Samuels (Sale) tracking them.
The leading positions changed on lap two with Twelede taking up the running and opening up a significant advantage over his main rival as the gaps behind began to widen.
Twelve months previously Tewelde, who had been living in Gateshead for just a matter of months, spreadeagled the field to win in 31min 55secs however, this time round the pace was much slower.
At one stage on the final circuit Twelede was leading by around 50 metres however, a determined effort by Franks saw the lead diminish considerably and then, with around 800 metres to go and rounding the park lake for the final time Franks hit the front.
However, it was only a momentary lead for Twelede battled back to regain control before coming home to win by just three seconds in 32:41.
Franks, who finished third in last year’s race, claimed the runner’s-up award after leading Jenkin across the line by 39 seconds.
Tyne Bridge Harriers, led by fourth-placed Charlton, won the team prize ahead of a delighted Low Fell trio.
While the men’s contest was a close affair the women’s race saw a comfortable victory for Loughborough-based Sonia Samuels.
The recently-crowned North East Counties cross-country champion, was contesting the race for the first time but despite that, she was confident enough to lead throughout.
After completing the first circuit Samuels was lying in 13th place overall with another former Wallsend athlete, Danielle Hodgkinson (Birchfield) in second place just ahead of North Sheilds Poly’s Charlotte Penfold.
With around 3k to go Samuels had moved up two further places into ninth, a position she would hold all the way to the finish.
Hodgkinson, who had dropped out of the NE Counties XC Championships at the midway point due to injury when lying in third place, showed no signs of discomfort on this occasion and crossed the line just 28 seconds behind Commonwealth Games-bound Samuels.
Despite slowing slightly on the final circuit Penfold hung on well to claim third place.
Samuels, who will be in action once more over 10k in Milan, Italy on New Year’s Eve, said after her victory: “It’s not a course for fast times but having said that I still enjoyed myself.
“I wanted a hard run today and while it was tricky at times with so many twists and turns and having to weave through the tailenders I’m quite happy with my time.
“I’m having a few days break here in the North East with my family before going to Italy and then it’s off to Kenya for altitude training in preparation for the Commonwealth Games.”
Report : Bill McGuirk
Pictures : Stephen Millan