Tirunesh Dibaba paid tribute to the ‘unbelievable’ Portsmouth crowd after making a triumphant Great South Run debut in yesterday’s elite women’s race.
The three-time Olympic champion from Ethiopia is widely recognised as the greatest female distance runner of all time.
And on a glorious day on the south coast, Dibaba thrilled thousands gathered in attendance along Southsea seafront – with a victory time of 51min49sec.
The 31-year-old controlled the race on her eagerly anticipated 10-mile bow, finishing more than a minute ahead of team-mate and runner-up Senbere Teferi (52.51).
Elizeba Cherono of the Netherlands completed the podium places, coming third in 53.54.
All eyes, though, were on Dibaba who made light work of the competition to claim an emphatic win.
That’s before admitting she would like the opportunity to return to Portsmouth after being touched by the passionate Southsea support and beauty of the city.
Dibaba said: ‘The crowd was unbelievable – they gave me a lot of support and energy, which was beyond my expecation.
‘I just want to say that the city is very beautiful and I have enjoyed my time here.
‘And with good health, I would like to come back and run the Great South Run again.’
Dibaba’s emphatic victory was made all the more remarkable by the fact she was not fully fit, after being forced to pull out of the Great Scottish Run earlier this month with a hamstring strain.
But having worked her way back into race condition, the overwhelming favourite ran within herself to guarantee victory and avoid another injury in what proved to be her final event of the athletics season.
That meant ignoring the intriguing possibility of beating Sonia O’Sullivan’s course record time of 51 minutes dead, which has stood since 2002.
Dibaba said: ‘I was happy with the run, despite the fact I was injured two weeks ago.
‘It was a bit windy but still, winning was my aim.
‘And I have achieved that.
‘This is my 10-mile debut and I am satisfied.
‘I didn’t want to risk running a very fast time because of my situation.
‘I had no other plans like having the fastest time.
‘I was careful but winning was my aim and so the race went as planned and the way I wanted it to.’
In what proved a stellar field of athletes, Lily Partridge was the first British runner across the line – finishing in fourth place in a time of 54.41.