Paula Radcliffe starts a year she hopes will culminate with an Olympic gold medal by seeking a third successive victory tomorrow in the 10km road race at San Juan, Puerto Rico.
A year ago Radcliffe took eight seconds off the 10km road world best with a time of 30min 21sec despite humid, windy conditions, and her latest appearance should provide an important marker to her fitness after spending seven weeks training at high altitude in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The 30-year-old Bedford runner, who went on to lower her own world marathon record to 2hr 15min 25sec at the Flora London Marathon, is said to have prepared well for this year's race, which will be her first since regaining the European cross country title in Edinburgh in December.
Radcliffe, who is inclining towards running the marathon in Athens but wants to keep her options open by being entered for the 10,000m five days later, is using the Puerto Rico race as part of a build-up that is scheduled to include an attempt to win a third World Cross Country title in Brussels on 20 and 21 March. Her main opposition on the road is likely to come from the leading Kenyan Esther Kiplagat, who finished third last year, Margaret Okayo, winner of last year's New York City marathon, and Berhane Adere, the Ethiopian who won the world 10,000m title last summer in the British woman's absence.
Meanwhile, the last woman to have defeated Radcliffe in a track race, Olympic 5,000m champion Gabriela Szabo, has announced that she will not defend her title and will be taking a long rest on medical advice. The 28-year-old Romanian complained last week of being "burnt out".
Christian Malcolm will warm up for next month's World Indoor Championships in Budapest with a 200m race in Lievin today against Namibia's Frankie Fredericks, who set the world record of 19.92sec on the same track eight years ago, and the man at whose expense he got his place for Budapest, Allyn Condon.