London Marathon: Radcliffe swats away rivals and doubters alike

Paula Radcliffe secured her third London Marathon title here yesterday in a world record for women's-only racing despite having to make an unscheduled toilet break five miles from the end which - for a few panicky seconds - recalled the traumatic circumstances of her Olympic failure.

Paula Radcliffe secured her third London Marathon title here yesterday in a world record for women's-only racing despite having to make an unscheduled toilet break five miles from the end which - for a few panicky seconds - recalled the traumatic circumstances of her Olympic failure.

Having seen off all opposition in the 25th running of this event more than an hour earlier, Radcliffe's performance appeared to have reduced itself to statistical considerations. Would she manage to beat the time of 2hr 18min 56sec she had set here on her marathon debut in 2002 when, as yesterday, she ran without the presence of male pacemakers? How close would she come to the overall world record of 2:15.25 she had set here two years ago?

Clad in blue, she was Chelsea, assured of her prize. It was as if Athens had never happened. But her sudden diversion from the course halfway down The Highway provoked a sharp intake of breath from all those who had watched her stagger to a beaten halt at a similar stage of last summer's Olympic marathon.

The reaction from spectators was the same, as Radcliffe, who finished in 2hr 17min 42sec, herself attested. "When I stopped, I could hear people all around me going 'Oh', she recalled.

"I apologise to the nation, but I had to stop. It wasn't anything like the problem I had in Athens, but I had been suffering from stomach cramps after about 15 miles and just needed to go. Once I went, I was fine.

"Obviously it's something I'm going to have to sort out," she added. "I must have eaten too much. I probably should have gone earlier, but I didn't want to have to in front of however many thousands of people..."

Such difficulties are far from unprecedented. Catherina McKiernan was similarly afflicted in the course of winning this title in 1998, and 20 years ago, Britain's Steve Jones had dealt with the same problem en route to setting a course record by picking his moment to dodge behind a sentry box near the Tower of London. No such amenity was available for Radcliffe, who squatted down in the shadow of advertising hoardings alongside the course.

Asked if she had considered waiting until she could see a passing Portaloo, she responded with a grin: 'I didn't see one. In any case, it might have taken me ages to get through the crowds, and I would probably have had to sign autographs on the way back.'

As it happened, Radcliffe would probably have had time to do just that and still secure victory, given that her nearest challenger, Constantina Dita of Romania, finished more than five minutes adrift in 2:22.50, with Kenya's Susan Chepkemei, whom Radcliffe outsprinted to take the New York title in November, a further 1min 10sec behind that.

But Radcliffe maintained that she was only certain of victory in crossing the line. "I had no idea about the gap at any point of the race,"' she said. "I don't look behind me in the race. It was only when I finished and I was doing the BBC interview and I said to Sue Barker, 'Who was second?' and she said, 'They haven't come in'.

"In past Londons the crowd have shouted out that I was however many minutes ahead, but even though the support was incredibly loud today I didn't get any of that information."

Radcliffe's intent was clear from the start as she moved to the front and recorded successive miles of 5min 03sec, 5min 12sec and 4min 57sec, prompting the Marathon's computer to the rational lunacy of a 2:11.52 predicted finish time.

Even the world record holder wasn't going to be able to maintain that kind of pace, but by the fifth mile she had despatched the two hapless pacemakers charged with taking the race to halfway in 68min 30sec back into the pack.

The Briton's two main rivals, the defending champion Margaret Okayo and her Kenyan compatriot Chepkemei, had managed to close the initial gap by this point. But by the time Radcliffe rounded the Cutty Sark after six and a half miles, to applause she said was loud enough to make her "dizzy", she was clear.

The venerable tea clipper, which once held the record for the fastest loaded voyage from Australia to London carrying wool, is undergoing a £10m restoration to remove heavy corrosion. For London's latest record-breaker, victory on home territory demonstrated a restoration of the confidence which had been widely called into question in the Olympic aftermath.

"People said that after what happened in Athens I was never going to be the same again," she said. "I had a bad run in Athens because I was injured. But today my body was strong enough to run with my mind."

Although the unscheduled pitstop had an impact on her time, Radcliffe said the wind - far stronger than it had been on her last London outing - had been a more inhibitory factor on a day when she had been prepared to challenge her outright world record.

Now she will turn to this summer's World Championships in Helsinki, and the question of whether to go for the 10,000 metres or the marathon. Her only problem now is that she seems capable of winning either.

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