Athletics: Radcliffe wilts as Dibaba leads Ethiopia sweep

World Athletics Championships » Briton finishes ninth in 10,000m as Africa's baby-faced assassin streaks to gold
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The Independent Online

As the comic once said, it was like déjà vu all over again. Having forced the pace from the front for the first half of the race, and returned to the lead fleetingly thereafter, Radcliffe's challenge finally capitulated with one and a half laps remaining.

Still, with next Sunday's marathon in mind, it was satisfactory preparation for the 31-year-old Briton's main event in Helsinki. Her finishing time, 30 min 42.75sec, augurs well for prospects of striking her first gold in a global major championship, at the distance at which she holds the world record.

"My goal was to run a fast race and to run it for myself," Radcliffe reflected. "I enjoyed most of it. I just didn't enjoy getting my arse kicked over the last five laps. I just didn't have the pace to go with it in the end but I'm in no way gutted. I didn't see many marathon runners in front of me."

As the fastest female marathon runner of all time, by some considerable margin, Radcliffe will start as the woman to beat in the 26.2-mile event on the roads of Helsinki, though it remains to be seen how she will react to the physical exertions of last night's punishing race. Standard training schedules for a marathon recommend a 10km road race with a week to go, the objective being to gain the physiological benefit of having forced the legs to sustain a speed that ought to make the race pace of the marathon feel easier. A 10,000m track race against the very best in the world, however, is rather more demanding than a 10km club race somewhere on the back roads of Britain.

Since the nightmare of the Olympics in Athens last summer, when she failed to reach the finish line first in the marathon and then in the 10,000m, Radcliffe has succeeded in getting back into the winning groove in the marathon. She prevailed in a sprint finish in New York last November and was then a class apart in London in April, clocking 2hr 17min 42sec, a time that only she herself has beaten - on two world record breaking occasions. As she lined up for the start last night, though, doubts remained about her form at the highest level on the track, having emerged victorious from just one of her previous three races this summer.

Hitting the front after 200m, Radcliffe pushed the pace with such zeal that just 11 of the 27 starters were still in the hunt after the first four of the 25 laps. The big question thereafter was whether she could drop any of the speed merchants who were following in her wake. At halfway, which she reached in 15 min 16.29sec, they were all still in tow, the younger Dibaba sister looking menacingly comfortable.

It was a lap farther on that Radcliffe relinquished the lead, initially to Kayko Fushi of Japan. She was down to eighth place when the Ethiopians made their first move of note, Werknesh Kidane leading a temporary charge approaching the 7,000m mark. With five and half laps to go, Radcliffe returned to the front but she was struggling to keep in touch when the Kenyan Edith Masai and Sun Yingjie, of China, swept past her just inside the final mile. She finally fell out of contention with 600m remaining, leaving the Dibabas and Adere to decide the medal positions with a last lap burn-up.

Tirunesh, a baby-faced assassin of a 20-year-old, gunned down Adere, the defending champion, with 230m to go, crossing the line with 1.39sec to spare in 30min 24.02sec. For the younger Dibaba, it continued a staggering run of achievements in 2005. A cousin and training partner of Deratu Tulu, Radcliffe's old nemesis, she has been a mistress of all surfaces this year - breaking Adere's 5,000m world record indoors, equalling Radcliffe's world record time for 5km on the roads, and winning the short-course and long-course events at the World Cross Country Championships. The youngest world champion in history when she won the 5,000m in Paris as an 18-year-old two years ago, she is now on course for another double here, with her global track crown at the shorter distance still to defend.

"When I won in Paris, everybody called me 'the little girl'," she said. "I am no longer that little girl. I am afraid of no one in competition." And, to think: she only took up running by chance, when her family sent her to high school in Addis Ababa and she missed the registration deadline.

As for Radcliffe, there is still a marathon task ahead. From 299th in the girls' race at the English women's cross-country championships, she has already fought her way to world record breaking heights as a runner. Getting from ninth in the 10,000m to first in the marathon is a World Championship challenge she will heartily relish.