Athletics: Radcliffe is redeemed by triumph in epic struggle
Monday 08 November 2004
Start spreading the news - Paula Radcliffe is not a quitter.
Start spreading the news - Paula Radcliffe is not a quitter.
Whether the 30-year-old marathon world record holder will achieve the global title she yearns for in the wake of her traumatic failure at the Athens Olympics remains to be seen.
But the nature of her victory in the New York City marathon here yesterday demonstrated that, contrary to some reports, she has not lost the drive that has established her as the world's leading distance runner.
For the last five miles, she ran stride for stride with Kenya's Susan Chepkemei before producing a winning surge over the last couple of hundred metres to the finish line in the autumnal glory that is currently Central Park, crossing four seconds ahead of her rival in 2hr 23min 10sec.
In terms of drama, it brought to mind the epic struggle between the last Briton to win this event, Liz McColgan, and Joyce Chepchumba in the 1997 London Marathon, when the Briton lost her title to the Kenyan by a single second.
Asked if her victory made up for the disappointment of failing to finish either the marathon or the 10,000 metres in Athens, Radcliffe responded cautiously.
"It's very difficult to make up for it," she said. "It happened. It's over now. It's time to move on, and I was pretty determined today. Athens was certainly the biggest disappointment I have suffered in my career, so it was important to come back and run well."
Having put her Olympic trauma down to a severe stomach upset brought on by anti-inflammatory tablets she was taking for a thigh injury, Radcliffe revealed that she had briefly feared a similar fate at the 24-mile marker, when she began to feel very sick.
She explained that the previous evening she had eaten a spaghetti bolognaise which was reheated for her, and had woken up in the night with severe indigestion.
"I was struggling, but I kept it together," she said. "It didn't matter if I was sick after the finish."
As she passed the 22-mile marker, the point at which she had dropped out of the Athens marathon, she confessed that she had been briefly tempted to "give a little wave". Instead, she maintained her concentration on a race in which she felt a growing confidence about her ability to outsprint a rival whom she had beaten twice before in London.
The comments of America's Olympic bronze medallist, Deena Kastor, set into perspective Radcliffe's achievement in returning to winning form so soon after Athens. Kastor, who dropped out after 16 miles, complained that the Games had left her weary and struggling with tiredness in her legs "day after day".
Radcliffe, too, felt weariness in her legs during yesterday's race - but only what she described as "normal tiredness", adding: "There was nothing of the dead and empty feeling I had in Athens. I think the marathon is still my future."
Radcliffe's three previous marathon victories - two in London, one in Chicago - had all been achieved with crushing, early breakaways. The perceived wisdom about the New York course, a view concurred with by Britain's 1988 winner here, Steve Jones, was that success was best achieved by starting cautiously and striking at the halfway point.
But as the field passed the 13.1 mile mark yesterday, there were still four runners in contention - Radcliffe, who had run wide of the jostling fray for many of the early miles, Chepkemei, her fellow Kenyan Tegla Loroupe, a winner here in 1994 and 1995, and the Kenyan-born naturalised Dutchwoman Lornah Kiplagat.
The latter runner had complained beforehand that Radcliffe's decision to race here, with just over a fortnight to go, had been "selfish", in that it had disrupted her rivals' strategies. Until she dropped away from the two leaders at 21 miles, it seemed Kiplagat might be on the brink of making her point to the British runner.
But, as she followed Loroupe in losing touch, it came down to an enthralling, elemental challenge. Who would prevail?
"Maybe I could have gone sooner but it was all about winning the race, not times," Radcliffe said. "I didn't even know what time I finished in."
The finale to the women's event was described as "a race director's dream" by the man who fills that position for the New York event, Allan Steinfeld.
"I think her performance was probably the equivalent of the silver medal in the Olympics," he said. "Certainly not gold. But she has won the ING New York marathon, which is unlike anything else in the world except for the Olympics. She showed she's ready to take on the world. She did today and she will again in the future."
That, above all, is the result which Radcliffe most needed. Before the race, she had insisted: "I just want to feel like me again." Now she can.
Radcliffe's great races
1998 European Challenge (Lisbon, Portugal)
Fastest debut at 10,000m, clocking a Commonwealth record of 30min 48.58sec.
2000 Great North Run (Newcastle)
Smashed Liz McColgan's European half-marathon record at the Great North Run, clocking 1:07:07.
2001 World Cross-Country Championships (Ostend)
Captured world title with win over arch rival Gete Wami.
2002 London Marathon
Made marathon debut and broke world record by three minutes. Clocked 2:18:56.
2002 European Championships (Munich, Germany)
Destroyed Ingrid Kristiansen's long-standing 10,000m European record by clocking 30:01.09 to take gold.
2002 Chicago Marathon
Set world record with time of 2:17:18.
2003 London Marathon
Broke her earlier world record by coming home in 2:15:25.
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