Athletics: Radcliffe pulls clear in the rain

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The Independent Online
YESTERDAY'S defeat by Paula Radcliffe in the Mallusk international cross-country race seemed to come as no shock to the defending champion, Catherina McKiernan, of Ireland. 'This was no surprise,' she said quietly. 'Paula is a very good athlete.'

But the expression on McKiernan's flushed face as she gazed blankly down on the plaque she received for second place told a different tale.

Radcliffe, the 20-year-old from Bedford who beat Zola Pieterse and Olga Bondarenko in last weekend's televised race at Durham, looked thrilled, as well she might.

McKiernan, a 24-year-old from County Cavan, south of the border, has been one of the most consistent cross-country runners in recent years - runner-up in the last two world championships and twice winner of the World Cross Challenge, the International Amateur Athletic Federation's series of which the Durham and Mallusk races form a part.

What is more, the home favourite had won the last two races on this course. Last year she proved too strong for Radcliffe, who finished four seconds behind her. This year, with wind and rain whipping in from over the Black Mountain range, it was the younger runner who proved to have the greater stamina on a slithering surface.

Having made an early break with McKiernan, Bondarenko and Alison Wyeth, Radcliffe bided her time until the last stage of the 4,800 metres race, accelerating away from the Irish runner and pulling clear over the last 500 muddy metres.

'I could feel Catherina tiring and I decided to go for it,' Radcliffe said. 'The difficulty was in staying back. My natural tendency is to go into the lead. Coming down the final bank and into the straight, all I could hear was 'Come on, Catherina'.'

At the line, the winning margin was around 15 metres as Radcliffe clocked 15min 40sec, with McKiernan seven seconds adrift and Bondarenko taking third place in 15:51.

For all the rapidly rising expectations of her, Radcliffe, two years into a degree in European Studies at Loughborough University, remains unruffled. She is sticking to her plan of running the Southern cross- country championships on 29 January, followed by the world championship trials on 19 February. Her stated intention remains to improve upon the 18th place she achieved at the last world championships, in Amorebieta.

But on the strength of her recent performances she has revised that target to a place in the top 10 when the championships take place in Budapest on 26 March. You would not bet against her taking a medal.

The men's race was won, as expected, by last year's runner- up, the 18-year-old world 5,000 metres champion Ismael Kirui. But what was not expected was the way Dave Lewis, one of British cross-country's hardy annuals, closed the margin of victory to one second after the Kenyan had built a lead of 50 metres two-thirds of the way through the 8,000 metres race.

Lewis finished in 23min 45sec and will go away heartened by his performance. As will Justin Hobbs, the 24-year- old AAA 10km champion who featured strongly throughout to take fourth place.

Yvonne Murray will not be competing in the World Cross- Country Championships in Budapest in March. Bud Baldaro, the British coach, had asked Murray to consider running, but the Scot could not fit the championships into her programme for the season.