Open 5 History

In 1966, Victoria Park Harriers held its first-ever Open 5 race. It was run in conjunction with the Club’s Open Boys 3 x 1.5 mile road relay which had been established in 1959. In the first 5-mile event, John H. Roberts of South London Harriers led the 39 finishers in 23:23 with VPH’s own Mike Quanne running a fine 23:43 for 4th place.

The following year, Eton Manor AC produced the individual winner in the shape of Malcolm Absolom. Malcolm was the first of three runners to win the Open 5 on three occasions. In 1970, Tony Simmons of Luton AC gained first place, six years before finishing 4th in the 1976 Olympic Games 10,000m.

In 1976, S. Barr of Thurrock AC became the first runner to crack the 23-minute barrier with a 22:50 clocking. By 1977, the Open 5 was becoming a well-known annual race with 243 runners toeing the line. In 1980, women ran for the first time with M. Coleman of Cambridge Harriers setting Open 5 history with a time of 30:32.

In 1981, Basildon AC’s Eamonn Martin took the first of his three wins, with his second coming the following year. In 1983, D. Stevens of Hastings AC broke S. Barr’s 1977 course record by two seconds, while, on the women’s side, Glynis Penny of Cambridge Harriers ran a very impressive 26:17 which remained the women’s record until the new re-measured course was introduced in 1997. By now, the running boom was at its height with 300 finishers at Victoria Park being the norm.

In 1985, a year after competing in the Olympic 5000m final, Eamonn Martin won the last of his three Open 5 races in a new record of 22:36. From there, Eamon went on to compete in the 1988 Olympics, win the Commonwealth Games 10,000m title in 1990, and the London Marathon in 1993.

From 1989 to 1991, Rob Denmark of Basilson AC took a hat-trick of victories with his 22:31 in his third win reducing Eamonn Martin’s record by five seconds. Just a month or so earlier, Rob picked up a bronze medal in the World Indoor 3000m Championships. In 1992, he competed in the Olympic 5000m, won gold in the 1994 Commonwealth Games 5000m, and silver the same year in the European Games 5000m. His Open 5 record remained intact until the course was altered in 1997.

And so on to 1997 when the Club decided to go with an accurately measured 5-mile course, rather than the known short course that had been used for over 30 years. This decision was not without controversy and even led to a re-measurement the following year. This final measurement turned out to be 266 yards longer than the original Open 5 distance, but was absolutely a genuine 5-mile course and therefore accepted for records and rankings purposes.

As the course was now different, so the opportunity for new course records presented themselves. In that first year, Lyndon McKevitt of Wirral set the inaugural record with 24:54 while V. Edwards of Brunel establlished the new women’s record at 30:28. The following year, Kenyan runner Sam Mully of Ilford AC and Debbie Percival of Medway rewrote the records with 24:42 and 27:47, respectively. In 2000, Andy Coleman of Enfield AC put the course record at a more respectable level when winning in 23:42.

By 2002, the race seemed to be in decline. The men’s and women’s winning times of 26:13 and 29:44 were very slow and participation had dropped from 232 the year before down to 154. This was Tim Mitchell-Smith’s first year as the Open 5 Race Director, having taken over from Richard Newbold, and Tim learned the ropes very quickly. For the 2003 event, Tim went after top-level foreign runners and he got them. That year, in a field of 239 finishers, Julius Kibet of Kenya set a new record of 23:21, while Yelena Burykina of Russia reduced the women’s record by 36 seconds. The following year (2004), another Kenyan, Joseph Riri, won in another record (23:10) and another record was set in the women’s race, this time by Hawa Hussein of Tanzania in 27:11.

In 2005, it was a Kenyan clean-sweep taking wins in the men’s and women’s race, with Katherine Mutwa taking a healthy 23 seconds off the women’s record. And yet another double for the Kenyans the following year. The race was not held in 2007 but things resumed in 2008 with the Ethiopians getting in on the act by winning both the men’s and women’s races. That year saw a very useful 282 finishers but that paled in comparison with the 420 finishers the following year.

The 2010 reached new heights when 24-year-old Mumin Gala, formerly of Somalia and competing for Newham & Essex Beagles, brought the course record down to 23:01.