Athletics: Radcliffe records majestic victory

THE 3,000 OR SO spectators who had witnessed the first public sporting event to be staged within the grounds of Balmoral Castle were making their way home through swirling snow.

Inside a marquee, Paula Radcliffe, whose world best for five miles had brought the inaugural Compaq Road Races to an unexpectedly resounding climax, was awaiting a lift back to her hotel. Alec Stanton, her coach since she was an eleven year old, was shaking his head in wonder.

"She's never been so fit in all her life," he said of the young woman who has established herself as Britain's pre-eminent female runner and a major figure on the world scene.

Last month Channel 4's athletics magazine programme caught Radcliffe and her coach arguing about training. Radcliffe wanted to do more work, but Stanton insisted that she stop. "We had reached all our targets," he said. "Comparing her sessions with the previous year's programme, she was four days ahead of herself. She was ready."

Since that rare difference of opinion, the 24-year-old from Bedford has added a second world cross-country silver medal to her collection and taken up the place in British middle distance running that had previously been the domain of Liz McColgan, whom Grandstand viewers saw trailing in her wake on Saturday.

A week earlier Radcliffe had knocked seven seconds off McColgan's British 10,000m record with a time of 30min 48.58sec in Lisbon. And in taking 15 seconds off the five-mile mark held by Lorna Kiplagat of Kenya, with a time of 24min 54sec, she also dipped under McColgan's British eight- kilometre record with an unofficial timing of 24min 45sec.

"I knew about Kiplagat's time, but when I saw the conditions on the day I wasn't thinking about breaking any records," Radcliffe said.

Her assumption of a clear lead inside the first mile came partly through accident, after she accelerated away from Yvonne Murray when Scotland's former European 3,000m champion clipped her heels. "I wasn't intending to go so early, but I felt really good so I pushed on," she said. "But by the last lap I was sure I was going to blow up."

McColgan, for whom this was a highly satisfactory warm-up for the London Marathon on 26 April, finished a minute clear of her nearest challenger, but she could do nothing about the gap in front as her.

"It was a bit frustrating," McColgan said with a wry smile. "I'm so strong at the moment. I can keep that pace going all day but I can no go any faster."

The men's four km invitation saw Manuel Pancorbo of Spain gain a measure of recompense for last month's elbow-bumping defeat by John Mayock in the European Indoor Championships as he outsprinted his British rival to win in 10min, 59sec.

Plans to make this an annual event could hardly have had more encouragement. The shift in public opinion following last year's death of Diana, Princess of Wales, has undoubtedly helped the process. The idea was also championed by a man who has Prince Charles' ear - as it were - Sir Jimmy Savile, who took part in Saturday's two-km fun run in white-out conditions.

The royal image - and the BBC cameras - also profited from an unscheduled appearance by Princes Harry and William.

They spent half an hour making a snowman on the castle's front lawn - but only after asking permission from Sue Barker, who was established in a nearby BBC commentary position. People's Royals indeed.