Athletics: Radcliffe runs into history books as Britain capture gold

By Mike Rowbottom
Monday 15 December 2003 01:00

Paula Radcliffe's aura of gold was fully restored in the grounds of Holyrood Park here yesterday as she became the only woman to win the European Cross Country title more than once, a performance which helped Britain's women earn their first team gold in this event.

In seeing off the tenacious challenge of Turkey's naturalised Ethiopian, Elvan Abeylegesse, the 29-year-old Briton, who has established herself as the world's best distance runner in the space of the last two years, confirmed that her relative failure in last month's Ekiden Relay in Chiba, where she finished third after feeling unwell, was no more than a blip.

"It was a relief to put that behind me," said Radcliffe, who was found to have been deficient in magnesium during her race in Japan. "It had been playing on my mind."

After finishing nine seconds clear of the 21-year-old former junior gold medallist, Radcliffe revealed that her previous race had not been her only worry. A cold she had picked up earlier in the week became worse after she had flown up to the Scottish capital on Friday, and according to her husband and manager, Gary Lough, she only made a final decision to enter the race 10 minutes before the start.

There was little time for Radcliffe to reflect upon her last race of a year which has seen her improve her world marathon record and earn four world road race records despite having to miss the World Championships through injury. Her second race of the day involved a mad rush to the airport in order to reach BBC Television Centre in time for the Sports Personality of the Year awards.

Before the women's race got under way on a course which wound around the base of the vast, volcanic aftermath that is Arthur's Seat, a rainbow appeared. It was no false omen for Britain as they dealt easily with the expected challenge from an Irish team led home by the former world cross-country champion Sonia O'Sullivan, who finished fourth.

As things turned out, the team gold would have been won by the home runners even if Radcliffe had not competed; with Hayley Yelling finishing fifth, Liz Yelling eighth and Hayley Tullett 11th, Kathy Butler would have secured the title as the fourth scoring runner in 12th place.

Having taken the lead halfway through the first of four laps which added up to 6,595m, Radcliffe broke free of her final challenger, a bronze medallist the year before, with half a lap left as she put in a final surge up the hill formed by the outcrop of Arthur's Seat known as Haggis Knowe.

Abeylegesse, who had trained at altitude in Ethiopia as preparation, did not fancy the Haggis; nor did she like the rain which drenched the runners from the halfway point. Not only were the crowd on Radcliffe's side, it seemed, but the elements too.

A highly satisfactory day for Team Radcliffe then, but for the accident which left Lough nursing a skinned, red nose. He had apparently collided with a tree while monitoring his wife's run. In fairness, Britain's golden girl is compulsively watchable.

* The injury-troubled Charlotte Dale went down fighting before relinquishing the European Cross Country junior crown in Edinburgh yesterday, though she did lead her side to the team title. The European junior 3,000m champion, Inna Polushkina, of Latvia, won the 4,520m race in 15 min 33 sec ahead of Serbia's Snezana Kostic, with Dale in third allowing Britain to retain the team title with 32 points ahead of Russia (53) and Germany (63).

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