Athletics: Radcliffe's below-par run is cause for concern

Paula Radcliffe lost her first race since August 2002 yesterday when she was beaten into third place at the Chiba International Ekiden Relay, arousing concerns that she may not be in sufficiently good shape to represent Britain in next month's European Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh.

"Paula ran a very fast time, but by her own high standards was a little bit disappointed," the team leader, Bill Foster, said. "She said she didn't feel very good at all."

It is understood that the 29-year-old Bedford runner will undergo some medical tests before confirming whether she will seek a second European title. UK Athletics officials planned to speak to Radcliffe this morning before announcing their team later today for the race on 14 December.

In what was her first competitive outing since winning the World Half-Marathon title on 4 October, Radcliffe was expected to give Britain's six-strong team a commanding lead after completing the first 10km stage of Japan's annual marathon road race. But she was overtaken after 7km by Ethiopia's world 10,000m champion, Berhane Adere, and Kenya's Lucy Wangui. All three were inside the course record of 30min 50sec, with Adere clocking 30.12, Wangui 30.18 and Radcliffe 30.42.

Radcliffe's coach, Alex Stanton, did not speak to her after the run but a call made on the eve of competition gave no indication of concerns which might have influenced her relatively unsuccessful performance.

"She didn't mention any problems," Stanton said from his home in Bedfordshire. "We can't understand it because we knew she was up for a really good run."

Radcliffe's team-mates were left with more to do than they might have expected, but responded sufficiently well to earn Britain sixth place, two better than they managed last year. Kate Reed, a 21-year-old sports science student from Bristol AC, rose to the challenge in the second leg, taking 18 seconds off her 5km best with a time of 15min 47sec.

Ethiopia's men and women retained their titles, bettering their own course records with times of 1hr 55min 59sec and 2:11.22. The British women's time was 2:19.12.

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