London Eye: Russian red-hot in pursuit of Radcliffe

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The Independent Online

Liliya Shobukhova can only recall running against Paula Radcliffe once before. "It was the 5,000m at the European Cup in 2004," she says. "Paula was No 1. I was No 2."

Radcliffe was No 1 by a distance in that meeting in the Polish town of Bydgoszcz. She beat Shobukhova by 23 seconds, winning in a British record time of 28min 29.11sec.

The pair also toed the start line in the short-course race at the world cross-country championships in Ostend in 2001. Radcliffe finished second. Shobukhova – or Liliya Volkova, as she was at the time – was 64th, 1min 47sec behind.

So there will be some catching up to do on the part of the 33-year-old Russian when she next encounters the 37-year-old Briton. That will probably be on 5 August next year, when the Olympic women's marathon title is on the line in London. An intriguing prospect it promises to be too, now Shobukhova has pushed through the 2hr 20min barrier and become the second-fastest female marathon runner of all-time. Last Sunday the former world indoor 3,000m record holder won the Chicago Marathon in 2hr 18min 20sec. Radcliffe is the only woman who has gone quicker at the distance.

As it happened, the Briton was meeting Lamine Diack, president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, yesterday, lobbying for the preservation of the world record 2:15:25 she clocked in London in 2003. The IAAF plans to downgrade that to a "world best" – because it was set in the company of male athletes – and replace it with the 2:17:42 Radcliffe recorded in a women-only field in 2005.

Whatever the outcome of Radcliffe's "History Stands" campaign, the Bedford woman knows she will have to get back to something close to her best to stand a realistic chance of getting on to the rostrum at her fifth Olympics.

In Berlin three weeks ago she finished third in 2:23:46, an encouraging comeback given her injury-troubled build-up. The trouble is three women have now gone under 2:20 in 2011: Kenya's Mary Keitany in beating Shobukhova in London in April; Florence Kiplagat, another Kenyan, in winning in Berlin last month; and Shobukhova in Chicago last weekend.

Radcliffe has achieved the feat four times but not since 2005.