A towering performance by Paula Radcliffe provided the high point of an underwhelming second day for Britain at the European Cup in Bydgoszcz, Poland. The men's team finished fourth, losing their chance of victory following a collision in the concluding 400 metres relay, while the women were relegated from the Super League for the first time since 1967.
Radcliffe, making her first track appearance since winning the European 10,000 metres title in 2002, won the 5,000m in 14min 29.11sec, the third-fastest time ever recorded, after seeing off all opposition well before the halfway point.
It was a clear indication, a couple of months away from the Olympic marathon, that the world record holder is in excellent shape following the hernia operation she underwent in April. By the time she took to the track, the women were already down. But, as she pointed out afterwards, the whole event had been cast under a pall for Britain by the serious knee injury which Ashia Hansen had sustained on Saturday.
"Obviously we are disappointed about being relegated, but I am sure we'll come back up next year," Radcliffe said. "We were hit by a lot of bad luck and late withdrawals, and it's all been overshadowed by what happened to Ashia."
After 3,000m Radcliffe was a couple of seconds inside schedule to break the world record of 14:24.68 set earlier this month by Turkey's Elvan Abeylegesse. "I was a little bit annoyed that my pace slowed because I knew I was on target for the record," said Radcliffe, who will run the 10,000m at Gateshead this Sunday. "But I came here to ask some questions and get some answers, and this tells me I am in good shape."
That was more than could be said for the women's team, which lost the European 400m medallist Lee McConnell, the world indoor 800m bronze medallist Jo Fenn, the world 1500m bronze medallist Hayley Tullett and the 3,000m runner Jo Pavey to late withdrawals, and were also missing Kelly Holmes. Other than Radcliffe, only Kelly Sotherton, with a long jump personal best of 6.68m, did better than third in an event won overall by Russia.
First day victories by Tim Benjamin (400m), John Mayock (5,000m), Chris Rawlinson (400m hurdles), Chris Tomlinson (long jump), Carl Myerscough (shot putt) and the sprint relay team put the men's team into an overnight lead of 4.5 points, but yesterday provided only one more winner - Christian Malcolm taking the 200m in 20.56sec.
Even so, the men went into the climactic event only 1.5 points adrift of the leaders, France, and a point behind the eventual winners, Germany. After Benjamin had taken Britain ahead of their two main rivals on the second leg, hopes rose - only to fall along with Rawlinson as the two runners collided on the changeover. The hurdler picked himself up and set off in pursuit but by the end Britain could only finish fifth, and fourth overall, wondering how different it might have been if Mark Lewis-Francis had not false-started in the opening day's 100m.
* The world 100m record holder, Tim Montgomery, has accused Kelli White - who accepted a two-year ban for doping and offered to provide assistance to the on-going investigations into the Balco case - of giving anti-doping officials information against him. "They don't have anything on paper. It's all someone saying something... Kelli White. She don't live with me so I don't know how she would know," Montgomery said at the Prefontaine Classic meeting in Oregon on Saturday after finishing sixth in the 100m. Marion Jones also suffered an unexpected defeat finishing fifth in the 100m.