19 MAR 2000 General News

Dulecha takes the title at the last moment

19 March 2000The women's 4km produced the best finish of the weekend when Ethiopia's Kutre Dulecha overtook three tiring runners in the final straight to snatch the title - literally on the finish line. The first three finishers were given the same time, with Britain's Paula Radcliffe just a second behind in fourth, a day after she finished fifth in the long course race.

Coming into the last hill - about 300 metres from the finish - it seemed as if Morocco's Zahra Ouaziz was destined to win her first world cross country gold. She had successfully dropped her closest rivals - Radcliffe and Kenya's Margaret Ngotho - with Dulecha, who had made a lot of the early running seemingly way out of contention. Yet as Radcliffe tried to catch Ouaziz, both runners seemed to tire dramatically, encouraging their African rivals to make their own bids for glory.

By grabbing victory, 21 year-old Dulecha made a little piece of history as she is the first junior title winner to take an individual title at senior level. Afterwards, she said: "I am very happy and also surprised to have won. It was not so hard and I don't feel so tired now."

The pace was fast from the gun - with the first kilometre reached in 3:03 by a tightly bunched group including Dulecha, Radcliffe, Kenya's Rose Cheruiyot and Portuguese hopes Fernanda Ribeiro, and Carla Sacramento. Despite their exertions in the long course race yesterday, both Paula Radcliffe and Sonia O'Sullivan were keen to start again this morning. Both had been bemused - not by their performances - but because they had both been so powerless to cope with the scorching pace of their African rivals. The Irishwoman could afford to be philosophical, she is still edging her way back to race fitness after maternity leave, but the Briton, who was in the shape of her life, found it harder to accept her fifth place finish. What better way to exorcise the ghosts of defeat than to pull the spikes back on and have another go? But although Radcliffe was in contention throughout, O'Sullivan was never really in the hunt for medals.

With the clock showing 4:45, Dulecha began to wind up the pace, Ouaziz, Radcliffe and Cheruiyot were close behind and, as the bell sounded for the last lap, Dulecha edged into the lead. But it was the Moroccan who broke away on the blind side of the course - where two hills had been built in quick succession to produce a sort of switchback effect. After the attack, only Radcliffe tried to stay with Ouaziz, the other two Africans, conserving their strength for the final decisive sprint.

In the team contest, Portugal delighted the home crowd by winning gold, thanks to well grouped performances from Sacramento (7th), Ribeiro (10th), Helen Sampaio (13th) and Marina Bastos (16th) with Ethiopia second and France winning bronze after their gold medal performance of Belfast.

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