Athletics: Radcliffe moves into world title running: Absence of leading cross-country runners devalues Beamish event but Britons improve their status

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The Independent Online
THERE was a lower profile assignment yesterday morning for the winner of Saturday's televised Durham international cross-country race. Paula Radcliffe, whose bold performance confirmed her status as a runner capable of following where Yvonne Murray and Liz McColgan have led, was up early for an 11 o'clock run round Bedford Park with her club-mates. No airs and graces for this 20-year-old.

Radcliffe finished second to the Ethiopian Olympic 10,000 metres champion, Derartu Tulu, at last year's event. The leading foreign challengers this time on a course that wound through the maintained colliery village within the Beamish Open Air Museum were two whose outstanding successes came in the 1980s - Olga Bondarenko, Russia's 1988 Olympic 10,000m champion, and Zola Pieterse, formerly Budd, late of these isles.

But Radcliffe ran with such confidence after taking the lead halfway through the race that she would certainly have given a hard race to the two leading women originally scheduled to compete with her - Lynn Jennings, America's three-times world cross-country champion, and Sonia O'Sullivan of Ireland, the world 1,500m silver medallist.

Having won the world junior cross-country title two years ago, she is now seeking to make an impact in the senior event. It did not happen last year - she was an uncomfortable 18th - but this March, in Budapest, it might.

The summer presents two opportunities for track success. After placing seventh in last year's World Championship 3,000m final, the successive Commonwealth and European Championships should see her come even closer to the medals.

The Beamish event, which was part of the International Amateur Athletic Federation's World Cross Challenge series, fell two short of the required minimum entry of leading runners in the women's event - 10 of the world's top 50 in middle distance events are required before points can be awarded in the overall Challenge series.

The failure of two qualified Romanian runners to obtain visas did not help in the planning - indeed, of the 17 qualifiers originally lined up for the event, six of the first 10 dropped out. The placement of the event on New Year's Day, to fit in with BBC Grandstand, was also unhelpful in terms of recruiting runners because of the large number of races on the Continent the day before. But, given the generous budget for the event, it was still a significant oversight. Radcliffe's overall points total will suffer. And runners such as Lynne Robinson and Angie Hulley, whose placings on Saturday would have given them sufficient points to obtain qualified-runner status for future events in the series, are now back to square one unless the IAAF relent.

The day the World Cross Challenge lives up to its name will be the day when Chinese runners start to appear regularly. They declined an invitation from Beamish.

Pieterse, renowned as a tireless trainer in her precocious youth, estimates that the Chinese runners are training a third as much again as she was. She admits to being 'very surprised' by their emergence.

'I think time will tell if they are doing something very right or very wrong. If they are doing the right thing we must find out what it is. If they can do it, so can we.'

Results, Sporting Digest, page 25

(Photograph omitted)