Athletics: Radcliffe ready to satisfy Britain's great expectations

By Mike Rowbottom
Friday 15 November 2013 06:05
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Paula Radcliffe breezed into the Olympic Stadium here yesterday looking outrageously relaxed for a runner upon whose shoulders, if reports are to be believed, rests the mental equilibrium of Britain's European Championships team.

If Radcliffe can win the opening track event here tonight over 10,000 metres, it will send a message to the team-mates who, like her, have moved directly on from the Commonwealth Games, that they too can succeed in swift succession.

Darren Campbell, who left his native city of Manchester tired but happy with a gold and bronze to his credit, says so. Max Jones, UK Athletics Performance Director, also says so.

So no pressure then, Paula. Just make sure you get the Brits off to a winning start.

Judging by the composure of her appearance, the young woman who earned her first major track title to such huge acclaim last week is in ideal shape to maintain what is turning into an annus mirabilis.

Five months ago she retained her World Cross-Country title in Dublin. Four months ago she won her debut marathon in London, recording the time of 2hr 18min 56sec, the second fastest recorded by a woman and a record for a women's-only race.

Now she is turning to her fourth main goal of 2002, beyond which lies the challenge of chasing a world best time at the Chicago marathon in October. And she appears perfectly at ease with the weight of expectation.

"The biggest pressure is coming from me," she said. "I want to do well for the team, but it's really for me that I want to do well. We are all tired after the Commonwealths but we had some good performances there. The reception I got in Manchester was something I'll never forget and I am going to try and take that atmosphere out there in my head."

Following her near misses at World, Olympic and European level, Radcliffe's rapturously received Commonwealth 5,000m win in 14 min 31.42 sec, just over three seconds off the world record, served to confirm that she is now operating at rarefied levels not just at her regular training base in Font Romeu, but in competition too.

"It was a form of redemption," she said. "I didn't have the strength to run the way I wanted at the Sydney Olympics, but I've moved on from there."

Part of the reason for that progression is a weight schedule set out for her by Jones, who has a throwing background.

Radcliffe has followed the performance director's regime for the last two years, lifting two thirds of her bodyweight three days a week. "Max always said it would take two years to get into it properly and that's what seems to have happened," said Radcliffe's husband and manager, Gary Lough. "It has helped her move onto a different level in terms of power and strength."

The other factors which have enabled the 28-year-old Bedford runner to operate at peak efficiency are the expert physiotherapy she has received from her specialist, Ger Hartmann, whom she visited in Limerick last week, and a relatively sparse track racing programme.

"Last year there was only one month when she didn't race," Lough said. "That is very tough mentally. It's a burden thinking all the time: 'I should be doing this because I've got a race coming up'."

Accordingly Radcliffe ran a 3,000 metres last month in Monaco, where her sprint finished shocked Romania's world 1500m champion Gabriela Szabo and almost earned her a surprise victory.

And she has run, momentously, in Manchester.

Although there will be no African runners here to track her Radcliffe pinpoints two obvious dangers as she prepares for the 10,000m, and, perhaps, the 5,000m later in the week – Ireland's Sonia O'Sullivan, winner of the 5,000/10,000m double at the last European Championships in Budapest, and Fernando Ribeiro of Portugal, Olympic 10,000m champion in 1996 and bronze medallist in 2000.

"I'm looking at them as the dangers but probably Ribeiro as the bigger danger over 10k," Radcliffe said.

The Portuguese runner has had a quiet season so far, but she has recorded a time of 31 min 40.80 sec this year, which puts her fourth in the European rankings.

O'Sullivan, who had her second child in December, has made another swift return to top-class competition and stands a place above Ribeiro in this season's European 10,000m rankings with the 31.33.19 she produced to win in Manchester two months ago.

The 32-year-old from Cobh indicated that she is in good form at the weekend by running 14 min 57 sec for the first 5,000m in a mixed road race in her regular training haunt of Bushy Park, near Teddington.

O'Sullivan's partner, Nick Bideau, who expects the first 5,000m here to be covered in a similar time, sounded a warning note to the British runner.

"Sonia is very fit right now and the thing about championship races is you don't know what's going to happen," he said. "If you just went on people's reputations you would have given Tiger Woods the Open trophy before he turned up, but that's not the way it is. You have to go out and win it."

True enough. But Radcliffe is giving a convincing impression of a woman who is about to do just that.

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