Athletics: Radcliffe's chance to atone for missing title

Mike Rowbottom on the British athlete who hopes to go one better at this weekend's world cross-country championships
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The Independent Online
PAULA RADCLIFFE has been a world champion for six seconds. She hopes to discover in Marrakesh this weekend what it feels like to hold that distinction for a longer period of time.

At last year's world cross country championships in Turin, the 24-year- old thought she had done enough to secure a senior title to add to the junior version she won in the snow of Boston seven years ago.

As she drove towards the finishing line, she allowed herself to believe that she had won - until Derartu Tulu, Ethiopia's Olympic 10,000 metres champion of 1992, sprinted home to take the gold.

Radcliffe, by her own admission, is a perfectionist. Her academic career - four A level passes at grade A, and a first class honours degree in European Studies from Loughborough University, hint at the diligence and intelligence she brings to her running.

It is an attitude she says she has inherited from her mother Pat, a deputy headmistress. "I like to do things properly or not at all," Radcliffe says.

For such a character, the experience in Turin was hugely frustrating, even if it did reflect huge credit upon an athlete who, three years earlier, had been told by a medical specialist that a foot injury might prevent her ever running again.

But it at least gave her a tangible reward for the talent which has been developed with such painstaking care by her coaches at Bedford and County Athletics Club, Alec and Rosemary Stanton. In her last two major championships on the track, the Olympics and the worlds, she finished the 5,000m a tantalising fifth and fourth respectively.

This weekend, the Stantons - who have coached her since she was a 12- year-old also-ran - will be with her in Morocco as she seeks to go one better than she did in Italy last year.

That task has been complicated by the new format which has been introduced by the International Amateur Athletic Association, which has split the race into longer and shorter versions, over eight and four kilometres, which will be run today and tomorrow respectively.

Radcliffe, who recalls how exhausted she was after Turin, is likely to concentrate on today's longer race, where she may or may not be facing her nemesis. Tulu is injured, but the Ethiopians have left a place open just in case she recovers.

Although the Briton feels the IAAF's action has diluted the strength of this event, she still faces the possibility of strong challenges from former champion Gete Wami, of Ethiopia, and Ireland's former world 5,000m champion Sonia O'Sullivan.

British athletics, which saw its main administrative body collapse last October, is on something of a roll at the moment following the success at the European indoor championships, where Jonathan Edwards won an expected gold and Ashia Hansen - also in the triple jump - and 3,000m runner John Mayock won unexpected titles.

Further success from Radcliffe, who has been training at altitude in Albuquerque, would maintain a welcome high profile for the sport.

She is unlikely to be surrounded by other British medallists. The men's team - from which the former European cross country champion Jon Brown has remained absent as he concentrates on preparing for this year's London Marathon - is not likely to make any impact upon the African nations who have virtually adopted this event in recent years.

Paul Tergat, Kenya's world 10,000m record holder, is expected to lead his team to their 13th consecutive team title as he himself seeks a fourth individual title.

In the shorter men's event, Daniel Komen, who broke the 5,000m world record in Brussels last year, is overwhelming favourite.