Watching the Great North Run on TV it is hard not to spare a thought for the Southport based Kenyan, the late Benson Masya who dominated this race in the 1990's.
A virtually unknown former boxer, Benson Masya first won the race in 1991 in 61:28 seconds – the third fastest time in the world that year. The Kenyan, who went on to become the Great North Run’s most successful contestant, held off the challenge of Paul Davies-Hale by nine seconds. This was only days after Benson took part in the Southport Waterloo summer handicap race - two laps of the Marine Lake.
In 1992 the race incorporating the first ever World Half Marathon Championships, Masya won the race in a world record 60:24. Becoming both world record holder and world champion. Along with Paul Tergat and Joseph Keino, he also led Kenya to team victory ahead of Great Britain and Brazil. This was also the year I ran my fastest ever half marathon, reaching South Shields in 1.16.15
Masya returned in 1994 and ran even faster this time out to snatch victory ahead of Moses Tanui in a UK All-Comers record time of 60:02. Separating the pair of Kenyans proved an almost impossible task but a video replay found in favour of Masya.
in 1995, Tanui returned after the disappointment of the previous year to win in a time of 60:39 with Masya 80 seconds adrift this time. However in 1996, upset at his performance the previous year, Masya returned to win his fourth title with a time of 61:43.
However, despite his triumphs in the North East, Honolulu and the American race circuit, Masya died less than a decade later virtually penniless. At the end of September 2004, Paul Tergat, possibly the greatest of the great Kenyans, was obliterating the marathon world record in Berlin. Yet back in Kitui, in the Rift Valley, news was filtering out of the death of his contemporary, someone who dealt more than his fair share of defeats to the new world record-holder. Benson Masya was 33 when he died, leaving a wife and two young sons.