Athletics: Radcliffe's invincibility threatened by Irish pair

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The Independent Online

Such has been the magnitude of Paula Radcliffe's achievements in the space of the last couple of years that she is now expected to win every race she enters. The world marathon record-holder's position will be no different in Edinburgh tomorrow as she seeks to add a second European Cross Country title to her list of successes. But there are good reasons why her habitual caution before competition should be heeded.

Radcliffe knows that her race over 6,595 metres in Holyrood Park should see her add a second gold to the one she won five years ago in this competition, but she is coming off the back of a less than totally successful appearance in the Chiba Ekiden Relay, where she could only finish third on her 10km leg after complaining of feeling unwell.

The 29-year-old Bedford athlete also knows that there are those in the field capable of spoiling British celebrations if she runs at anything short of her best - most notably the Irish pair of Sonia O'Sullivan, who won both versions of the World Cross Country title in 1998, and Catherina McKiernan, the winner of the Flora London marathon in the same year.

These two experienced runners will ensure that a British team seeking their first gold after three silver medals is kept under pressure. O'Sullivan believes this year represents Ireland's best chance of winning the team gold.

Last year's winner, Helana Javornik, is absent - the 37-year-old said she is too tired to defend the title she won in Croatia - but Radcliffe will need to be wary of the 21-year-old Elvan Abeylegesse, a naturalised Ethiopian who won bronze for Turkey last year. Abeylegesse, the winner of the 10,000m in September's World Athletics finals, has learned from her mistakes last year when she lost a lead after pushing on too strongly in windy conditions.

"I think it's one of the most competitive European Championships so far," Radcliffe said. "Every year the women's competition has improved in status and depth of competition."

Before her race in Japan, Radcliffe said she felt uncomfortable and suffered soreness in her legs, but put the problem down to jetlag. "It was making me dizzy and things like stress can also bump it up, although I don't have an explanation for it.

"I've had blood tests and they showed I was suffering from low magnesium in my body," added Radcliffe, who was treated with an intravenous injection. "I've never had problems with it before, but it's quite vital. You need it to metabolise your energy and get rid of lactic acid."

Radcliffe estimated that Ireland would be the biggest threat to Britain's women, but added: "If everybody runs to form I am confident we can beat them."

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