Three years ago, Paula Radcliffe used the New York marathon to demonstrate her recovery from the debacle of her Athens Olympic failure just three months beforehand. Tomorrow morning she will set out again on the 26.2- mile course from Staten Island, but this time she will have her mind on a goal many miles from Central Park: Beijing.
In what will be her first marathon since she won the world title on the roads of Helsinki 27 months ago, the 33-year-old world record holder needs, as a bottom line, to register a qualifying time for next year's Olympics in China. But the key element for her will be to re-establish herself in the forefront of the event with less than a year to go until she is due to seek the only honour that has yet eluded her, namely Olympic gold.
Back in 2004, many observers felt she had returned too soon to the event after her traumatic drop-out in the sweltering heat of Athens. She was not at her best, but her determination saw her through to victory in 2hr 23min 10sec – almost eight minutes outside her world record – a margin of just three seconds from Kenya's Susan Chempkemei.
Her target this time around is simple. "I want to win the race," she announced yesterday. "I just want to get in there and enjoy racing again."
Radcliffe's main opposition is likely to come from the second fastest woman of all time and her successor as world champion this year, Chepkemei's compatriot Catherine Ndereba. There will, however, be a strong motivation for Jelena Prokopcuka, of Latvia, and Ethiopia's Gete Wami, twice a winner in Berlin, as this race will determine which of them takes the $500,000 (£240,384) on offer to the winner of the first World Marathon Majors title. The Latvian needs to finish third or better to have a chance of overtaking Wami in points gathered over two years in major marathons.
"With the quality of the women's field you have to be in shape to run under 2.20," said Radcliffe, whose first race back after giving birth to daughter Isla earlier this year saw her take second place behind America's Kara Goucher in the Great North Run on 30 September.
"I am not saying that you will run that time, but you need to be in that kind of shape," she said. "This is a great field and that was one of the factors in coming back here. I wanted to race against the top girls. I missed the whole buzz of the run-up to the marathon."
Asked to reflect upon her future prospects, Radcliffe responded: "I think here and Beijing will be the keys."
In the meantime, her rivals are coming to terms with the appearance in the Big Apple of the woman who has four of the five fastest times ever run to her credit. "When Paula announced to run in New York, it changed the tactics for all the runners," Prokopcuka said. "She likes running and she likes big races. And she likes winning."Reuse content