JONNY Hay will attempt tomorrow to do what only two Britons have managed in the last 13 years and lead home the field at the Vitality Bath half marathon.
Hay arrives in the West Country in outstanding form and striving for an Olympic Games debut in Rio this summer.
And if the Aldershot, Farnham & District AC star can make a successful transition onto the road after victories at the South of England and National Cross Country Championships, he is well capable of adding his name to the winner’s trophy in the 35th year of the race.
Nigel Gates’ victory in one hour, three minutes, one second at the inaugural Bath 13.1 miler in 1982 signalled an unbroken two decades of success for home runners.
Kenyan William Musyoki ended the British monopoly in 2002 before Lobb secured a familiar home win 12 months later.
That was the signal for a procession of African winners until New Zealand born, British international, Paul Martelletti left everyone trailing in his footsteps in 2015.
Hay, 24, has a half marathon lifetime best of 64 minutes 09 seconds set in 2014 though he will chase Olympic qualification over double the distance at next month’s Virgin Money London Marathon.
Gideon Kimosop, a winner of the Omagh and Belfast City Half Marathons last year and of last Saturday’s SSE Airtricity 10 miler, is set to provide the annual African challenge together with compatriots, Jonas Cheruiyot and Robert Mbithi of Run-Fast. All have quicker PB’s than Hay.
Aaron Scott of Notts AC, Gary Murray of Clonliffe Harriers / Ireland, Ben Fish of Blackburn Harriers & AC, Andy Maud of Highgate and Clapham Chasers and James Connor, winner of last month’s Worthinghalf, will also push for top 10 finishers in the 15,000 runner field.
Joyce Smith clinched the inaugural ladies title in 1982, clocking 71 minutes 45 seconds. It sparked unbroken British success, including a mid 80’s hat-trick from Veronique Marot, until 2004 when Miriam Wangari powered home for Kenya.
Cornwall’s Emma Stepto, then aged 44, was the 2015 ladies champion with a time of one hour, 13 minutes 48 seconds but she will not be defending her title.
Hayley Munn, 24, is likely to be one of the frontrunners for the British women’s crown this year after recently winning the Cambridge half as her build up to the Virgin Money London Marathon intensifies, with Tracy Barlow of Thames Valley Harriers also chasing a place on the podium.
Watch out too for Team Bath’s Rebecca Hilland while 27-year-old Lenah Jerotich and Lucy Liavoga of Kenya are among the pre race favourites.