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Over a period of twenty years from 1981 to 2000, the Borough of Tameside hosted an unusual and ultimately unique athletic event. Six varying races over the course of a week – 52 miles in all – a distance which runners in particular will recognise as a double marathon. It was billed as “The Toughest Challenge in British Athletics”, a description which was rarely disputed.
The event was the brainchild of Olympian Dr Ron Hill MB, the Tour of Tameside.
You will see the event year by year, the leaders, the winners and indeed many of the also rans. You will notice the background changes, the still present 1970’s hair styles of several of the competitors, the transformation of the canal, and the “Dark Satanic Mills” re-emerging as “Status Abodes” for the aspiring professionals of the 2000’s.
During the events twenty years, literally hundreds of local athletes took part, but thanks to generous sponsorship it was also made possible to invite to Tameside a host of elite international athletes to join them.
Each year every athlete received a commemorative vest, many of which are on show, so too are some of the medals presented to the athletes who completed the event.
The Tour has of course spawned, and it can be said mutually encouraged many complementary imitations, though these were limited to three or so events. Nevertheless it can be claimed that “The Tour of Tameside” will in fact remain unique, unrivalled, unmatched and unrepeatable. Changes in legislation, for example risk assessment, traffic patterns and the policing logistics of such an event preclude such a repeat.
1981- Year One.
Six complex courses were chosen, measured, marked out and marshalled. Venues and accommodation arranged for the runners.
Daily registration, changing, security, after-race refreshments and prize presentation to be taken care of.
Athletes anticipate the event with curiosity and some apprehension. Maybe there was even some optimism, but everything was in place. One hundred and forty one men and six ladies went on to finish all six races.
Alan Sladen, a Salford school teacher, won from the popular Coventry based international runner Colin Kirkham. Barbara Abbott of Sale was first lady and Rochdale’s Colin Robinson won the veteran event.
Could this event ever be repeated??
The race sponsors, Chesters, were happy to continue. Paul Campbell of Bolton, with a time exactly 4 seconds different than the previous year’s winner won from Eric Williams of Sale. Maureen Hurst of Clayton-Le-Moors won the ladies event and certain Ron Hill was first veteran, improving one place on his 1981 placing.
Suddenly the race had acquired an international flavour. Two of the first seven men were from abroad and the ladies event was won by Wilma Rushan of the Netherlands. The total entry had almost doubled since year one. International marathon runner Tim Johnson came up from the south coast of England and put Ron Hill back into second veteran place.
Many of those who had taken part in previous years continued to enter and as word spread so the field increased. The winner was Eddie Hellebuych of Belgium and the first ten men included five internationals. The third lady was Rena Sorenson of Denmark with Angela Deegan of Sale first lady. Ron Hill was second veteran again, this time behind fellow Olympic runner Alan Blinston of Altrincham.
Cath Rooney of Ireland won the ladies prize whilst four of first ten men represented the RAF. A Dutch man and an American were also in the top ten but the outright winner was John Wild, a RAF officer. Saturday nights prize giving was enlivened by several choruses of the RAF march as the RAF collected their team prize. Colin Kirkham of Coventry again spent the week in Tameside with his family and managed to win the veteran prize.
A distinct flavour of local runners dominated the prize winners this year but Steve Brace of Bridgend in South Wales took the winners laurels.
Eddie Hellebuyck returned to push Steve Brace into second place. Lucinda Martin of Stretford won the ladies event. A certain Ron Hill was second veteran to John Bigham of Glasgow. Unusual weather for July made this one the wettest and coldest years but the waterproofs were out, the marshals stayed in place and everyone found their way round.
Local runners again contested a close men’s event. Peter Banks of Blackburn first by 1 minute and 28 seconds but Birgit Lennert of Germany won the ladies race. Harry Clague of St Helens celebrated his debut in the veterans by winning the event.
That man Eddie Hellebuyck again first by five minutes. Martin Peters of Salford was second with Eddie’s fellow Belgian I Damain coming third. Bulgarian and Danish runners also finished in the top ten. Cath Newman of Exeter held off German and Dutch competitors in the ladies race. Popular local runner Rob Taylor of Stockport was first veteran.
Ethiopian T Bekele made his Tameside debut and won. No less than six nationalities were represented in the top ten. Cath Newman repeated her 1989 win in the ladies event whilst Salford’s Stan Curren was first veteran.
By now six hundred runners were starting the race and with ten years experience the organisers were able to cope. Hellebuych again. By now as popular with his fellow athletes as he was successful, though Tony O’Kell of Stockport ran him a close second. Kath Drake recorded her first of two successive wins in the ladies race.
Tony O’Kell improved 2 minutes and 41 seconds to record his first win. Local favourite Stella Boam of East Cheshire Harries and Rob Taylor of Stockport featured in their respective classes.
Germans featured in the men’s race and B Schuckmann, also from Germany, won the ladies race. However, Sam Carey of Warrington prevented a German walkover by winning the men’s race.
Bashir Hussain of Stockport made his tour debut for a win, the start of remarkable sequence of three wins and one second place over a four year period. It was Stockport’s year. Top three men, first lady and Rob Taylor so close to taking the veteran’s prize. Unusually the foreign contingent did not feature in the top places.
Stockport again. Bashir Hussain supported by Tony O’Kell and Eric Williams. German runners featured, with Klaus Goldammer again winning the veteran race.
Good year for the locals. Ken Chapman of Salford had a great win in the men’s race and runners from the unpretentious Manchester YMCA club featured in the prizes, Tony Duffy winning the veteran’s event and Kerry Wood doing well to come third in the ladies race. A win for Jackie Newton held of Tricia Sloan of Salford into second place.
Bashir again but followed in by ‘Prince’ Graham Hill in his Stockport vest. Jackie Newton had to concede first ladies place to S Branney of Glasgow. A Carroll of East Cheshire was a popular winner of the veteran race.
The increasingly popular German contingent again came over in strength but David Lewis of Rossendale held them off on his tour debut. Bev Jenkins of Scotland held off Kerry Wood in the ladies race whilst veteran ‘favourite’ Klaus Goldammer was second to Alan Brocklehurst of Middleton.
Bashir again, to the crowds delight. Bev Jenkins and Kerry Wood first and second again whilst Ian Walker of Stockport had his first veteran’s win
Millenium year. The first five runners represented Kenya, Russia, Germany, England ( Bingley) and the USA. The Kenyon winner was E Kiplagat. Bev Hartigan of Birchfield won the ladies race and the first veteran was Vladimir Kotov of Russia.
So, the twenty year spell was concluded. Some score!
More about the Tour of Tameside part 2 to come soon.
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