Athletics: Radcliffe sets new standard to send rivals clear warning

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The Independent Online

Paula Radcliffe surpassed herself yet again here yesterday in the BUPA Great North Run to confirm her extraordinary status as an athlete who not only sets world bests, but can do so even without meaning to.

When the 29-year-old Bedford AC runner set out on the half-marathon course from Newcastle city centre to the South Shields seafront, it was her intention to lower the course record of 67min 07sec she had set two years earlier. But by the time Radcliffe had sprinted across the finishing line with the excited roar of the crowd dinning in her ears, she had taken four seconds off the fastest-ever recorded time for the distance, finishing in 65.40 for her fifth world best performance in six races.

Hurricane Paula had arrived at the coast; in her wake a field of Olympic and world champions was reduced to flotsam and jetsam.

"I got a shock when I saw the clock with about 40 to 50 metres left and it said 65-something rather than 66-something,'' Radcliffe said. "That's when I started sprinting.''

Although the woman who has been rewriting the record books for the last year realised she was going well at the 10-mile mark, which she passed in a British record of 50.01, she believed she had slowed on the two-mile uphill stretch which followed, but any ground lost was made up on the swift downhill run which led to the seafront and her final push for the line.

Radcliffe's race had become a matter between herself and the clock well before the halfway point as she systematically demoralised her main rivals with opening miles of 5.01, 5.04 and 5.04.

Ireland's former world 5,000 metres champion, Sonia O'Sullivan, was the first to feel the pace, although she maintained a steady rhythm to finish fourth in the creditable time of 68.40. Derartu Tulu, Ethiopia's double Olympic 10,000m champion who was affected by a cold, fell away after two miles.

By the fourth mile, only two figures remained in touch with the pale, intense figure out in front - Berhane Adere, the Ethiopian who won the world 10,000m title Radcliffe so coveted this summer, and Kenya's Susan Chepkemei, who went into the race as the holder of the world's best half-marathon time, 65.44, recorded on a steep downhill course in Lisbon.

But as Radcliffe accelerated up a hill, the two Africans were unable to respond and the Briton was set for her third victory in as many weeks since returning from the illness and injury that prevented her from competing in Paris last month. Adere finished second in 67.32, 19 seconds ahead of the Kenyan.

"This doesn't make up for missing the World Championships, but it means I'm ending the season on a positive note," Radcliffe said.

She is still inclining towards seeking an Olympic gold next year on the roads rather than the track, but remains non-committal about whether she will run an autumn marathon. She did confirm, however, that she will now seek a third victory in the International Association of Athletics Federations World Half-Marathon Championships, which are being held in Vilamoura, Portugal in a fortnight's time.

She acknowledged that this commitment, and a possible advantage of running with something to spare yesterday, had been in the back of her mind as she toed the line. "I did think about that," she said. "But it was a nice Sunday morning and I thought it would be good to just get out and run. I would say today was just like a really hard training workout. I didn't expect to get away so early and if someone else had been with me in the middle section of the race I think I could have gone faster."

Radcliffe's performance will not be ratified as an official record because the course drops 30 metres from start to finish, exceeding the statutory limit of one metre per kilometre. But if the time does not count with the IAAF, it will already be imprinted into the psyche of every one of her major rivals.

The men's race, which saw the event founder, Brendan Foster, finish in a respectable 1.40, was won by Hendrik Ramaala of South Africa, whose time of 60.01 was the second fastest ever seen in the UK.

* Liz McColgan's 12-year-old daughter, Eilish, finished third in 18.04 in the Junior Great North Run on Saturday, 11 seconds behind the winner, the 16-year-old Chloe Rodham.