Athletics: Paula alive to the extended Tulu shadow

Chip off the old block as little Ethiopian takes giant step forward to turn heat on Radcliffe

She did win a 10,000m silver medal at the 1999 World Championship in Seville and has earnt two world titles at cross- country and three at the half-marathon distance. At 31, though, Radcliffe's quest for gold at a major global track-and-field championship continues at the 2005 IAAF World Championships, which open in Helsinki on Saturday. As the world's fastest-ever female marathon runner by some distance, she may well find her Midas touch on the roads of the Finnish capital on the final day of competition, Sunday 14 August - despite the presence in the field of her old nemesis, the 33-year-old Tulu.

If the Briton is to open her attempted double with a victory in the 10,000m next Saturday, however, she will have to find a way of getting past and staying ahead of the young relative Tulu has been grooming in her own formidable image.

Tirunesh Dibaba was 14 when she moved from her family home in the Arsi highlands of Ethiopia to live with her sister, Ejegayehou, and study at high school in Addis Ababa. By chance, she happened to miss the school registration deadline and, rather than return home to be given away in marriage by her parents, she stayed in Addis and took up running, under the guidance of her elder sister and her famous cousin, Tulu. She joined the Prisons Corrections Athletics Club and within a year she was running for her country in the World Cross Country Championships.

While Radcliffe picked her way through the Ostend mud to claim her first senior world cross-country title ahead of another of her great Ethiopian rivals, Gete Wami, the 15-year-old Dibaba finished fifth in the junior race for under-20s.

Four years on, while Radcliffe has established herself as the pre-eminent female force in world marathon running, despite the bitter disappointment of failing to finish in the Olympics last year, Dibaba has emerged as the leading lady of distance running on the track. At 18 years and 90 days, she became the youngest ever track-and-field world champion when she sprinted to victory in the 5,000m at Paris in 2003. And, if third place in the Olympic 5,000m final last summer could be described as a backward step for someone who was still 19 at the time, the diminutive East African has taken a giant leap forward in 2005.

Dibaba has been not so much a cut above the rest as simply invincible. She shattered the world indoor 5,000m record in January, completed a short-course and long-course double at the World Cross Country Championships in March and equalled Radcliffe's world best time for 5km on the road, 14min 51sec, in April.

On the track this summer she leads the world rankings at 5,000m and 10,000m. On her debut at the longer distance, in the cold and rain at Sollentuna in Sweden in June, she clocked 30min 15.67sec - a time Radcliffe has surpassed just once, when she missed the 30-minute barrier by 1.09sec at the European Champion-ships in Munich in 2002.

Just a month past her 20th birthday, Dibaba has become the baby-faced assassin of women's distance running. At 5ft 1in and with a distinctive, upright carriage, she bears a striking resemblance to her cousin, the first black African woman to win an Olympic gold medal. "I train with Tirunesh, so I know how good she can be," Tulu said. "She is going to be a bigger star than me."

Radcliffe is going to have to be at or very close to her best next Saturday to have any hope of beating Dibaba - or, indeed, of beating the other three Ethiopians in the field: Berhane Adere and Werknesh Kidane, who were first and second in the 10,000m at the 2003 World Championships, and Ejegayehou Dibaba, Tirunesh's 23-year-old sister, the Olympic silver medallist at the distance in Athens last year.

"I know what the opposition is going to be in the 10,000m but I haven't really thought about it," Radcliffe maintained. "The biggest factors in making my decision to run the 10,000m as well as the marathon were knowing I was in shape to run well in it and knowing that running it wasn't going to affect me in the marathon in any way. It's more about how I'm going to perform. I can't control how anyone else is going to run out there."

Given the strength of the Ethiopian opposition, it is the boldest of challenges that Radcliffe has assumed. A 10,000m medal of any description would be a notable achievement for her. It would also be a timely fillip eight days ahead of her big shot at gold on a testing three-lap marathon course - a psychological booster after her recent mentally draining experiences on the track.

Not that Radcliffe is dwelling on her failure to finish the 10,000m in the Olympic Games in Athens, five days after grinding to a halt in the marathon, or on her surprise 5,000m defeat at the European Cup in Portugal in June, when she was suffering from a twisted back caused in a fall during a 1500m race in Eugene, Oregon, two weeks previously.

"I guess what happened last year has made me hungrier when I stand on the start line," she said, "but I'm a lot more relaxed and a lot more positive now than I was a year ago. Towards the end of my preparation for Athens, when I started to get injury problems, I was really worrying and getting stressed about it.

"I decided that the same thing wasn't going to happen this year. It was going to be a more relaxed build-up, even when I had the hiccup at the European Cup. I think this year I've been a tougher person and stayed calmer because of that."

The first test of that new-found resolve comes next Saturday night, against the younger Dibaba and the rest of the Ethiopians in the 10,000m. If Radcliffe were to emerge as the tough of the Helsinki track, she would be halfway to a famous double achieved just once before in a global championship - by Emil Zatopek as part of his Olympic 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon treble in the Finnish capital in 1952.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed