After 77 days, Radcliffe digs deep to score a winning return... and boost her bank balance

Paula Radcliffe renewed her reputation as the world's best female distance runner yesterday by winning the New York City Marathon just 77 days after the traumatic collapse of her Olympic ambitions.

Paula Radcliffe renewed her reputation as the world's best female distance runner yesterday by winning the New York City Marathon just 77 days after the traumatic collapse of her Olympic ambitions.

In one of the most dramatic marathon finishes ever witnessed, the 30-year-old world-record holder ran stride for stride with Kenya's Susan Chepkemei over the final five miles before producing a winning surge 200 metres from the finish in Central Park.

Having returned to action as soon as possible, Radcliffe, strongly criticised in some quarters of the media after failing to finish either the marathon or the 10,000m in Athens, was under extreme pressure to perform.

She had to finish. And, if she was to restore the standing she had established in winning her first three marathons, she had to win.

In achieving both objectives, she has re-established the conception of herself as a competitor who never knows when to quit; she has also created another chapter which will need to be added to her autobiography My Story So Far, published next Monday.

Radcliffe refused to accept beforehand that she had anything to prove in this race, and after finishing four seconds clear of her rival in 2hr 23min 10sec, she maintained her position.

"I don't know about redemption," she said. "But it was really important to win here in New York. It's been a long year, and now I'm going to have a good break and re-charge my batteries for next season."

Dave Bedford, race director of the Flora London Marathon, who had described her decision to race so soon after the Olympics as a "high-risk strategy", is already negotiating to bring Radcliffe back to challenge for a third title in the capital in April.

Nick Bitel, the London Marathon chief executive, said Radcliffe's presence at the 25th anniversary of the event would have been sought in any circumstances. "We have always said that we regard her as the finest female distance runner of her generation," he added.

After this win, Radcliffe will certainly not come cheap. New York organisers paid her a reputed $500,000 (£269,000) to appear, and she added another $140,000 in winnings, as well as a car.

Meanwhile her main kit sponsors, Nike, are expected to offer her a contract worth about £1.2m when her current one ends on 31 December. Victory in Nike's backyard will hardly have damaged Radcliffe's commercial value.

On an unseasonably warm day, Radcliffe negotiated the 26.2 mile circular route from Staten Island to Manhattan to voluble support and with numerous Union flags evident.

After staggering to a halt at the finish, she received her own Union flag, placed around her shoulders by her husband and manager, Gary Lough.

She revealed afterwards that she had felt sick as she and Chepkemei had passed the 24-mile mark, soon after entering Central Park for the first time.

"I just kept it going, kept it steady," she said. "I didn't matter if I was sick at the finish. I was reasonably confident I could out sprint Susan at the end. The time doesn't matter at all. What mattered was coming here and winning the race."

Bedford said Radcliffe's result had allowed her to "draw a line" under her unhappy experience in Athens.

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