Athletics: Radcliffe targets new best in quest to double up

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The Independent Online

When Paula Radcliffe says she intends to run a personal best - and that is her intention in tomorrow's Norwich Union Grand Prix at Gateshead - it usually has consequences for the top end of the world rankings.

It will surely be no different on this occasion as the 29-year-old world marathon record-holder runs over 10,000 metres in what will be her first British track race since winning the Commonwealth 5,000m title at the City of Manchester Stadium.

Her last 10,000m race saw her take the European title in Munich two years ago in 30min 01.09sec, a time which caused her obvious frustration given its proximity to sub-half-hour territory. It was, nevertheless, the second fastest time ever recorded, and although it is not realistic to expect her to close the gap significantly on Wang Junxia's 11-year-old world record of 29min 31.78sec, Radcliffe is clearly seeking to reach 29-minute-something territory before putting together her final training block for the challenge of this summer's Olympics.

Strictly speaking, in order to give herself the option of doing the 10,000m or the marathon in Athens, she needs to run the qualifying time of 31min 45sec in the North-east venue. But she made it clear yesterday that that is the least of her ambitions.

"I will be going flat out," she said. "I would like to run a personal best, although it depends on the conditions. You don't want it too warm - it is nice when it is cooler." Gateshead should be able to manage cool at 6.15 in the evening, when Radcliffe sets off.

Following the hernia operation which left her on the sidelines briefly in April, Radcliffe has re-established her credentials with last Sunday's solo victory over 5,000m at the European Cup in Bydgoszcz, where she finished in 14:29.11, the third fastest time ever recorded.

With Portugal's Fernando Ribeiro the only other contender in the race, it is likely to be another long, lonely run for Radcliffe - that is, apart from the support of a home crowd always particularly attuned to middle distance achievement.

"After Poland, it has been a case of recovering for this weekend and making sure everything is on course for the Olympics," she said, confirming that she wanted to be entered in two events, although she would only contemplate doing one of them, given that they are only five days apart.

This week's latest revelations from the continuing investigations into the Balco laboratory in San Francisco, involving reports that the US Anti-Doping Agency, as a result of leaked federal evidence, is planning life bans for the sprinters Michelle Collins and Tim Montgomery, the world 100m record-holder, have clearly made an impact upon Radcliffe, who has always made a point of campaigning against doping abuse in athletics.

"In the short term I think this sort of thing is not good for the sport, but in the long term it has to offer something. We need to go forward. It has to come out and as athletes we have to believe in the system."

The news will have sat less comfortably with the other high-profile competitor booked for the Grand Prix, Montgomery's partner, Marion Jones. The three-times Olympic champion has also been embroiled in the Balco case, having given evidence alongside Montgomery to the federal inquiry. Although she has not been charged with a doping offence, she is continuing to help the authorities with their inquiries.

It is hardly an ideal background to athletic performance, but Jones demonstrated her strength of mind last weekend with a mark of close to seven metres in the long jump at the Prefontaine Classic.

She might need a similar effort to win tomorrow's long jump, which also features the Olympic champion, Heike Drechsler, the former world champion Fiona May, the world indoor champion, Tatyana Lebedeva, and the European champion, Tatyana Kotova, as well as Britain's European silver medallist, Jade Johnson, and the heptathlete pair of Kelly Sotherton, who needs to improve by only two centimetres to reach the Olympic A qualifying mark of 6.70m, and the Olympic champion, Denise Lewis.

Elsewhere in the programme, Britain's leading sprinters Mark Lewis-Francis, Jason Gardener and Darren Campbell take on the world 100m champion, Kim Collins, from St Kitts and Nevis.

Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele, who has deprived his compatriot Haile Gebrselassie of the world 5,000 and 10,000m records this season, is hoping to break Brendan Foster's 30-year-old stadium record of 7:35.10 for 3,000m.

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