Paula Radcliffe has warned the International Asssociation of Athletic Federations that their cross-country circuit will fold if they do not back it better. The 28-year-old, who will run her first race of the new year at the Great North Cross-Country event in Newcastle on 4 January, is concerned at the lack of top-class names in the discipline.
"I think that the IAAF really has to get behind the cross-country circuit or the reality is that it could disappear," she said. "Each year another meeting seems to fall from the list, but one of the major highlights of the cross-country circuit is the Great North Cross-Country. I won it as an under-17 in 1990 and finished second in 1988."
Her appearance over six kilometres at the city's Exhibition Park does not come as a surprise. The reigning IAAF world champion regards the event as the first piece in a jigsaw which she hopes will earn her the world championships 10,000 metres gold medal on the track in Paris next August.
A lack of further information about Radcliffe's race plans is prompting speculation as to where she will first figure in a marathon in 2003. Even before slicing 89 seconds from the world best with victory in October's Chicago Marathon, meeting directors round the globe were fighting for the signature.
Dave Bedford is determined to persuade her to defend the London title she won in a world-best women's-only race time of 2hr 18min 56sec on her marathon debut, while organisers of events in Chicago and New York are keen to get the Briton on board.
After the event in Newcastle she will escape to an isolated training regime in the United States, and chasing a third successive world cross-country title in March in Lausanne is not yet set in stone. "I will go to the US in January to Albuquerque and plan to stay there until late March," she said. "Races for that period – if any – are undecided."
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies