IT was 35 years ago today that Steve Kenyon “slipped under the radar” to win the Great North Run.

Now 68 years old, Bolton-born Kenyon is still just one of three British runners to have won the race – regarded as the biggest half marathon in the world – in its 39-year history.

Mike McLeod, who won a silver medal in the 10,000m at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, won the inaugural race in 1981 and repeated the feat 12 months later while Britain’s most decorated distance runner, Mo Farah, has won on each of the last six occasions.

In between, the great and the good of long distance running have crossed the line first up in the North East – including the legendary Haile Gebrselassie.

So Kenyon, winner in 1985, is in exalted company but he possibly ranks as one of the event’s more unlikely winners.

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The former Bolton United Harriers member was an elite runner in his own right, winning the AAAs British marathon title in 1982 while he helped England to glory at the World Cross Country Championships in 1980.

He also finished in third place in the New York marathon in 1979.

But at the age of 33 and dogged by injury, Kenyon was on the verge of quitting for good let alone compete in one of the world’s biggest races which these days attracts more than 50,000 runners.

With this year’s race, which now takes place in September, already cancelled due to the coronavirus, Kenyon recalls his moment of glory on the last Sunday in June back in 1985 – a day when everything unexpectedly clicked in to place.

“I was an elite runner so it wasn’t a big shock or anything like that,” said Kenyon who ran for Bolton United Harriers until 1981 before joining Salford Harriers.

“I was capable of winning but just not expected to win.

“I had won some big races and had been a cross country champion with England and had represented my country a number of times.

“But I had been struggling with injury for some time, I missed the trials for the 1984 Olympics and I was on the verge of packing it all in.

“I was still running but not competing, just ticking over as we call it. But I gradually got back to fitness and decided to give it a go.

“As an elite runner, you would normally get an invitation but because I had been out of action and out of the picture, I had to phone up and ask if I could enter.”

Kenyon ended up running the perfect race, clocking 1 hour two minutes 44 seconds as he beat McLeod in to second place.

“It was all very low key and I suppose I slipped under the radar,” added Kenyon. “But everything just felt right and it went so right on the day.

“ I was tired towards the end but, by that stage, I had opened up a bit of a lead and held on to win.

“It is something I am very proud of and it was a great honour to win.

“That race is massive, the biggest half marathon in the world and my name is up there with some on the very greats.

“Of course it was very different back then, the day after I won, I was back in work selling ceramic tiles!”

Kenyon, who lives in Harwood, returned the following year and despite running over a minute faster, finished in third place behind winner Michael Musyoki from Kenya.

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He retired from top class running the following year although he continued to run at club level. Despite a string of impressive titles, Kenyon says not competing in a major competition still rankles with him.

He finished in fourth place in the marathon trials for the 1976 Montreal Olympics and was favourite to book a place at the Moscow games four years later but once again missed out.

Injury robbed him of the chance of going to Los Angeles in 1984 and while he qualified for the European Championships in Athens in 1982, injury once again robbed him of taking his place on the starting line.

“I have had a lot of highlights but not going to one of the major events is something that still rankles with me,” added Kenyon.

“Is it what any athlete wants to do. The year I qualified for the European Championships, I could have also gone to the Commonwealth Games but opted for Athens as both events were very close together but in the end it wasn’t to be.”

Despite the disappointment, Kenyon is not one to dwell or revel in past glories and says his Great North Run is now just part of his history.

“I don’t wait for the race to come around, watch it and say ‘I won that’,” said Kenyon, who is now a keen record collector. “I’ll watch the highlights but, put it this way, if there is a good record fair going on, I would rather go to that rather than sit in and watch the race!”