It is a fair assumption that Ed Warner will not be looking over his shoulder on the road from Newcastle to South Shields this morning. For one thing, in his capacity as chairman of UK Athletics the debutant Great North Runner has a vested interest in the return to competitive action of Paula Radcliffe, who sets off with the elite women 25 minutes ahead of the main 40,000-strong field in the 27th edition of the Tyneside half-marathon. "I'm a huge fan of Paula," Warner said, "but I hope I don't see her inthe race. I hope she's over the horizon and miles away."
That is likely to be the case. As well as her head start, Radcliffe has a best half-marathon time – a world best – of 1hr 5min 40sec, set over the Great North Run course four years ago. Chairman Ed has a best time of just outside 1hr 30min, a respectable PB. His dream scenario today would be to cross the finish line inside the 90-minute mark and to discover that the long-time golden girl of British athletics had taken an assured step back on the comeback trail, in her first race since the birth of her daughter, Isla, eight months ago.
No matter what unfolds on the road to South Shields, though, the most celebrated member of the Fittleworth Flyers running club has every reason to be happy with the state of the athletics world at present. Or with the state of his particular athletics nation, to be precise.
On the eve of the World Championships in Osaka last month, amid forecasts of doom and gloom, Warner said that the way forward for British athletics was to forget about trying to replicate the glory days and to build anew. The British team proceeded to bag five medals (their biggest tally since 1999), and achieved 12 top-six placings, so it would seem that the foundations for a Great British athletics revival have suddenly been put in place.
"When I arrived as chairman back in January, one of the very first things I said publicly was that I backed Dave Collins' programme," Warner said, referring to the performance director of UK Athletics. "I made it very clear to Dave that he had my complete support to show that the programme could work. We talked about green shoots then and we saw quite a few at the European Indoor Championships in March. The idea going into Osaka was to nurture more of those green shoots and we saw that happen with the personal bests the team produced. We happened to have got five medals, but it's the number of personal bests [18 in total, 18 more than at the previous World Championships in Helsinki in 2005] we got in Osaka that points to the future with a young team.
"Dave and his team have demonstrated good progress this year. Dave was meticulous in crafting the preparations to bring the athletes to a peak for the World Championships and it showed in the raft of personal bests. There was an attempt to crescendo the athletes for nine days, which maybe there hadn't been in the past. [In terms of attitude] I think the team is different to what it might have been in the recent past. That's what seasoned watchers like Seb Coe say to me, which gives me the reassurance that it is genuine."
It is the kind of keenly focused, fully committed attitude that the likely leading lady of the Great North Run would recognise and applaud. Radcliffe has always approached her running that way. Her career has been at a pregnant pause since the endof 2005, but now, at the age of33, she is ready to get back on to the treadmill of competition again, with next year's Olympic marathon in mind.
"I'm delighted to see her back," Warner said. "She's inspirational to runners and fans of athletics up and down the country,myself included. Her first marathon, London in 2002, happened to be mine too – although I was miles back while she was blitzing away at the front." Which could be the case again today when the chairman of UK Athletics and the chief inspiration of the sport in Britain both take to the streets of Tyneside.Reuse content