PAULA RADCLIFFE likes running in cold weather. Last March, in the slush and snow of Boston, she surprised everyone by winning the world junior cross-country title. On Saturday, in the fog and ice of Durham, she marked her first international cross-country race as a senior with a startlingly precocious display - following home Ethiopia's Olympic 10,000 metres champion, Derartu Tulu, and leaving the 10,000m silver medallist from Barcelona, South Africa's Elana Meyer, a distant third.
Perhaps the fact that this 19- year-old from Bedford was born in a blizzard has something to do with it. Whatever the case, her committed performance in the gathering North-east gloom, and that of her contemporary from Liverpool, Jenny Clague, fifth, enlightened the afternoon for Britain's selectors.
'I don't just run well in snow,' Radcliffe said with a smile afterwards. Just as well. She will not find much of the white stuff in Spain in March when the world cross-country championships take place.
Radcliffe's showing in Boston last year gave Britain solace for Liz McColgan's failure in the senior race; there were hints in her latest performance to suggest she might emulate the achievements of the Scottish world champion.
After a victory in which she had appeared increasingly at ease in utterly un-Ethiopian conditions, Tulu responded to a question about her young challenger by observing through an interpreter that she had been tough and looked like being the next British champion.
Radcliffe herself seemed taken aback by her success in an event which she had entered with the expressed hope of finishing in the top 10. 'I couldn't believe it,' she said. 'I kept finding a little bit extra.'
Her background work in the last few months has been low key as she has settled into Loughborough University, where she is reading modern European studies, a mixture of French, German and Economics. At 19, she is a pleasant, lively, flaxen-haired world champion with four A-levels at grade A. It must be enough to make some of her contemporaries spit.
It will be a long time before Radcliffe can fulfil Olympic ambitions, but there is much she can aspire to in the meantime. Durham, host to the 1995 world cross-country championships, may well witness another memorable performance from her.
Results, Sport in Short, page 23
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