Athletics: Radcliffe triumphs in the long run

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The Independent Online
PAULA RADCLIFFE yesterday secured the first senior title of her career when she became European cross-country champion in Ferrara, Italy.

Radcliffe, who will be 25 on Thursday, was desperate to end her year on a high note after suffering demoralising defeat in the European Championship 10,000 metres final, where Ireland's Sonia O'Sullivan was a runaway winner.

She did so with a characteristically determined race from gun to tape, which proved too strong for a field which included Portugal's Olympic 10,000m champion Fernanda Ribeiro and Finland's former European champion Annemarie Sandell.

"This was one I really needed to win," said Radcliffe after finishing in 18 min 07sec, three seconds clear of Sandell. "I knew I would be under great pressure, but I kept my nerve and obviously I'm now delighted."

With 800 metres left, the British runner was still being shadowed, a situation which she experienced at the last two world cross country championships.

This time, however, Radcliffe had the measure of the situation, accelerating one last time on the double hill near the finish.

Sandell, who won the European title three years ago at Alnwick, in Northumberland, while still a junior, had no final response but finished a second clear of Yugoslavia's Olivera Jevtic.

"Winning here means a lot to me," Radcliffe said. "It wasn't a soft race and I needed the title. I've had a bad week, but I think it was because of nerves. I always planned to make my move on the double hill, and my plan worked out." Radcliffe's performance also answered a lingering question left over from her disappointing performance at the European Championships in Budapest, where she went from first to fifth in the last lap. That performance was blamed on a virus, and in going to Ferrara she wanted to assure herself her health was clear.

Yesterday's performance will send her in confidence to the world cross country championship in Belfast next March, where she will be hoping to be third time lucky.

Britain's junior men, led home by Sam Haughian, lost the team title to Spain by a margin of just two points.