Athletics: Paula's pride as she fires on all cylinders

Britain's women set the pace but the men struggle to avoid relegation from the Super League

It was back in 1989 that Paula Radcliffe took receipt of her first Great Britain vest. It arrived through the post, and such was her excitement the 15-year-old put it straight on and ran round her house in it. Sixteen years later, the pride of Bedford and County Athletics Club was wearing the red, white and blue of her national strip again yesterday, with a spring of excitement back in her relentlessly quick step.

The 3,000 metres on the opening day of the European Cup First League match here in central Portugal was the first glimpse of Radcliffe in a Great Britain vest since the night she stepped off the track in Athens last August with more than eight laps of the Olympic 10,000m final still remaining. Ten months on from her double nightmare in the Greek capital, where she also failed to reach the finish line in the marathon, the former golden girl of British athletics added momentum to her competitive rehabilitation with her first win on the track since June last year.

Already back in the winning groove after her sprint-finish success in the New York Marathon last November and her tour de force of a speed-endurance exhibition in the London Marathon in April, Radcliffe provided another demonstration of her supreme class. Hitting the front after 70 metres and pulling clear from the 1,000-metre mark, she finished comfortably ahead of the nominal opposition, clocking 8min 50.18sec. Her nearest rival, Alesya Turova of Belarus, a former holder of the 3,000m steeplechase world record, was virtually half of the home straight behind.

"It was hard," Radcliffe maintained, referring to her physical state rather than the competition. "My pelvis was a bit twisted after I fell in the 1500m race I ran in Eugene two weeks ago. I felt a bit of a dip because of that but I think the race will have done me good. I'll have an ice bath and an early bed and get ready for tomorrow."

Having contributed eight valuable points towards the promotion cause of the Great Britain's women's team, Radcliffe will be back on track in the Estadio Dr Magalhaes Pessoa this afternoon, looking to double her personal tally with victory in the 5,000m. The opposition includes a woman who happens to have an Olympic gold medal in her trophy cabinet, although at 35 Fernanda Ribeiro is not the competitive animal she was when she won the 10,000m for Portugal in Atlanta in 1996. She was lapped by the metronomic Radcliffe in a 10,000m race at Gateshead last summer and, like the ailing Briton, failed to finish in the 10,000m final in Athens.

This time last year, before injury and illness conspired against her, Radcliffe was showing the glint of a Midas touch on the track. Her winning time in the wind and rain at Gateshead, 30:17.15, survived as the fastest of 2004 at 10,000m. It came a week after a similarly stunning solo demonstration as the British women slumped to relegation from the Super League section of the European Cup at Bydgoszcz in Poland, where she won the 5,000m in 14:29.11, a Commonwealth record time.

"I was probably a little further on in my training at this stage last year," Radcliffe said, keen to dampen expectation of great things today. "Everything was going well for me. It was later in the summer that injury cropped up and caused me problems.

"At the same time, I'm not worried that I'm a little bit behind this year because I took a long break after the London Marathon and I've only been back in training for four or five weeks. I need a good four- or five-week block of hard training after this weekend to get me ready for the World Championships in August."

That block of hard training, which will take place at high altitude at Font Romeu in the French Pyrenees, will determine whether Radcliffe will chase gold in the 10,000m or the marathon at the World Championships in Helsinki.

The maximum points gleaned from the 3,000m yesterday were precious enough to the Great Britain team in the revamped stadium where, once upon a time, one Jose Mourinho plied his trade as head coach for Uniao Leiria Football Club. They were equalled in value by Janine Whitlock, who has been obliged to survive at the breadline end of the international athletics scale since returning to competition after a two-year ban for a positive steroid test. The pole vaulter, who won with a clearance of 4.40m, has no kit sponsorship and no Lottery funding. She claims social security and lives at the home of her coach, Egryn Jones.

The British women were in pole position at the end of the first day, leading by eight points from Belarus with 69 points. There were also victories for Liz Fairs in the 400m hurdles (in a personal best of 56.66sec), for Donna Fraser in the 400m (52.34), and for Goldie Sayers in the javelin (61.37m), plus an impressive second place by Jemma Simpson in the 800m and a commendable third spot for Phillipa Roles in the discus.

Fraser has been plagued by injury since she finished fourth in the Olympic 400m final five years ago. The Croydon Harrier can been seen in a new advert for Range Rover; this afternoon she will have a different 4x4 in mind - the 4x400m relay, by the end of which the British women will know whether they are back on track with the élite nations.

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: Multi Skilled Engineer - Electrical / Mechanical / Maintenance

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A multi-skilled engineer with a...

Recruitment Genius: Electronic Service Engineer - Television & HI-FI

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Engineers for field & bench ser...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Designer - Award Winning Agency

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity for a t...

Recruitment Genius: Project Manager

£35000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global provider of call ce...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada