Athletics: Radcliffe back on track for summer record campaign

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The Independent Online

Sitting alongside two runners who had set world bests 24 hours earlier, the London race director Dave Bedford yesterday described the 2002 version of the capital's event as the best marathon ever.

It was a characteristically bold claim from the flamboyant former world 10,000 metres record holder – this, after all, was the man whose ultimately misguided prediction of victory in the 1972 Olympics was carried in banner-size letters on the side of London buses.

But, when one reflects upon the spectacular return which Bedford received after busting his appearance budget, that claim holds together.

Veteran observers of the marathon struggled to identify another day in which similar deeds took place, with the 1985 race in Chicago emerging as a point of comparison. On that day in October, Britain's Steve Jones came within one tantalising second of Carlos Lopes's then world record of 2hr 7min 12sec, while the home runner Joan Benoit defeated the world record holder Ingrid Kristiansen in a time that was just 15 seconds short of the Norwegian's mark.

Sunday's race, however, offered still more. In the men's race there was the spectacle of Khalid Khannouchi accelerating away from the acknowledged middle-distance masters of recent times, Haile Gebrselassie and Paul Tergat, over the final mile to trim four seconds from his own world best.

The women's race saw an audacious debut for Britain's Paula Radcliffe, who broke away after just eight miles from a field including her old nemesis Derartu Tulu, Ethiopia's defending champion, and finished just nine seconds short of the world record for the event, way inside the previous best for a women's only race. This, truly, was Radcliffe's finest two hours.

"I can now call myself a marathon runner," she said with a touch of understatement yesterday morning, having indulged herself a little for breakfast as she and her husband Gary Lough celebrated their second wedding anniversary with champagne in their hotel room.

Her winning time of 2:18.56 was composed lopsidedly with a relatively cautious first half of 71 minutes followed by a murderously swift second half of 67. "I guess if I ran more event split times again I could go faster," Radcliffe said. "I believe I can run faster."

That was a view endorsed by Stan Greenberg, for many years the statistical expert at David Coleman's right hand in the BBC commentary box. "Paula's was the most remarkable run I think I've ever seen," he said. "And she can obviously go faster. She must be capable of a minute or more's improvement in the right conditions."

Radcliffe is undecided about when her next marathon will be, but her next clear target is a track season where she intends to run the 5,000m at the Commonwealth Games, swiftly followed by a 10,000 – and perhaps another 5,000 – at the European Championships. Somewhere along the line she wants to attack the European 10,000m record of 30min 13sec which Ingrid Kristiansen set in 1985.

* The Olympic 400m champion, Cathy Freeman, has been named in the Australia squad for the Commonwealth Games in July. Freeman, who missed the national championships and Games trials last weekend because of a thigh injury, has been included as a member of the 4x400m relay team, while places have been left open in the 400m and 200m if she proves herself before 5 June.

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