Radcliffe runs into form

Mike Rowbottom, in Durham, sees a successful cross-country comeback
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The Independent Online
Like a football team five goals up with five minutes to play, Paula Radcliffe had time to enjoy her impressive victory in Saturday's Bupa International Cross-country Challenge here.

Having drawn away from her nearest challenger, Morocco's world 5,000m bronze medallist Zhara Oaziz, a quarter of the way through the 5,550m course, the 22-year-old Bedford runner confessed that she allowed herself the odd moment of satisfied reflection.

It was not only a good international field that was far behind her, but the memories of her lost year of 1994, lost to a foot injury which she thought, on occasions, might end her career. It was nearly two years since she had won a cross-country race, and she was entitled to savour the experience as she eventually finished 22 seconds clear on the frozen, snow-dusted Aykley Heads course.

The indications are good for the world cross-country championships in South Africa three months hence, and the Olympics, where she plans to contest the 5,000m.

"You could put me in the world championships now and I would be in better shape than I was for the last one," she said, referring to the race in Durham nine months earlier when she had finished an exhausted and distraught 18th.

The 1992 world junior cross-country champion looks in the kind of shape to challenge seriously for a senior medal in Cape Town, but she does not underestimate the difficulty of that task.

"You have to cope with the whole range of competition in the cross," she said. "You are up against 5,000 and 10,000 metres specialists and marathon runners. If you get a medal in the world cross, you are definitely capable of an Olympic medal."

Did she think that the Chinese would re-emerge in international competition next year to make the same impact in Atlanta as they did at the 1993 world championships?

"I think that's going to happen, I'm afraid," Radcliffe said. "But you can't do anything about it. I don't think this batch will be as much of a surprise as the last one because we know what to expect."

While Radcliffe addresses herself to the more immediate challenge of negotiating her final exams in European Studies at Loughborough University, Andrew Pearson is reflecting upon the gap that still exists between the best of Europe's runners and the best of the Africans.

Pearson, a European bronze medallist, eventually succumbed to Ethiopia's 17-year-old world junior champion, Assefa Mezgebu, who trains with the world 5,000 and 10,000m world record holder, Haile Gebreselasie.

John Ngugi, Kenya's five-times world champion, is back at his old racing weight after his early return from a four-year ban for refusing a drug test, but he has yet to regain his racing form and finished 15th. Rob Denmark began well, faded, but recovered to a determined seventh place.

The men's race over 2,175m was started by the local hero Jonathan Edwards, newly honoured as an MBE, and won in style by 20-year-old Neil Caddy, who lives eight miles from Penzance and could go a long way in his career if he continues the improvement he made last year, when he reduced his 1500 metres best from 3min 46sec to 3:39.