Paula Radcliffe demonstrated once again here yesterday that she is to women's distance running what Michael Schumacher is to Formula One as she secured her third IAAF World Half Marathon title with a sense of utter certainty.
The 29-year-old Bedford athlete, who has not been beaten since last July, was barely into the second of six scheduled laps around this Algarve golfing resort when Ethiopia's world 10,000m champion, Berhane Adere, her last remaining challenger, dropped away.
The only remaining question was whether Radcliffe would improve either the official world best of 66min 44sec, or the unofficial mark of 65:40 she had set in winning the Great North Run a fortnight earlier.
At 10km she was ahead of the game, running 12 seconds inside the required pace, but as the noonday sun beat down she relented in her quest, passing the 15km point almost a minute outside the necessary schedule before accelerating again to finish in 67:35, picking up another $30,000 (£18,000) to add to the piles of money she has accumulated in the last couple of years.
Radcliffe's winning margin of 1min 27sec from Adere was the biggest recorded in either the men's or women's race since this event began 11 years ago on Tyneside, when Britain's world 10,000m champion, Liz McColgan, became the first women's gold medallist. A global title on the track still evades Radcliffe, who had to miss this summer's World Championships with injury, but she has achieved virtually everything else possible in the last 18 months.
Having set five world-best marks in her last seven races - twice in the marathon and once at 5km, 10km and the half-marathon - she acknow-ledged afterwards that she had grown accustomed to running with that weight of expectation upon her.
"I know people are thinking that," she said. "I came here in shape to do it, but you have to have the right conditions on the day. I realised after 10k that the record wasn't going to happen today and I thought, 'What's the point in killing myself?' It was a great course in terms of the support I got, but it wasn't a record course because there were too many twists and turns, and it wasn't the right time of the day to run a record either."
Although she ran conservatively by her own standards, the measure of her effort was clear at the finish as she briefly buckled at the knees and pitched forward before recovering herself sufficiently to walk away, supported by her husband and manager, Gary Lough.
After the national anthem had boomed out across the marina, which staged the finish of the championships, there were spirited cheers from all around the harbour as a crowd largely composed of holidaying British golfers showed their appreciation of what, for many, was an unexpected treat. Radcliffe will now allow herself a couple of weeks off before deciding how best to proceed in preparing herself for next year's Athens Olympics.
"That won't be my last road race this year, no way," she said, adding that she was considering running in Japan, perhaps in the Ekiden road- relay event that takes place at Chiba on 23 November. Although it now seems certain that she will not run another marathon before Athens, she is clearly still inclining to compete at that distance in the Olympics.
"It's no secret I would love to run the marathon in Ath-ens," she said. "If everything goes perfectly that's what I want to do. But we'll have to see what shape I'm in come the Olympics. The 10,000 metres is still an option."
Asked how she was now coping with the experience of running alone in her races, she said, smiling: "It's nicer. It's more relaxing. I think sometimes you can run faster like that." Words to make her every rival shudder...Reuse content