12 NOV 2000 General News

Radcliffe takes her first major gold in Veracruz

Radcliffe takes her first major gold in Veracruz
David Martin

12 November 2000 - Veracruz, Mexico - Paula Radcliffe needs no reminding that in the last three years she has won two World cross country silver medals and one for 10,000 metres on the track in Seville last summer when Gete Wami spoilt her gold medal ambitions.

Radcliffe makes no bones she has long wanted to add a senior success to the World Championships victory she achieved at the 1992 Junior Cross Country Championships. Certainly the sub-zero temperature and several inches of snow which existed in Boston on that occasion couldn’t compare with the humidity and heat of Veracruz on Sunday morning.

But conditions were just as harsh as both she and men’s race winner Paul Tergat predicted in the build-up to the 9th World Half Marathon Championships. But Radcliffe came properly prepared and duly achieved another ambitious step in her international athletics career.

Adapting to the Veracruz hotspot, Radcliffe after cruising across the line in 69 minutes 07 seconds admitted it had been as hard any road race she had contested, the intense heat and humidity troubling her just as much as every other contestant.

Indeed mindful of the damage the Mexican Gulf temperatures could inflict, it was a midrace touch of panic that spurred along Radcliffe, an asthma sufferer, who throughout the 21 kilometres contest was never outside the leading half dozen runners second placed Susan Chepkemei, Lidia Simon and Mizuki Noguchi being the other principal players.

Delighted to finish off her millenium season with a runaway victory - her time was restricted to exactly two minutes slower than the European record she set when winning the BUPA Great North Run three weeks ago - Radcliffe finished a huge 33 seconds in front of Kepkemei.

Kenya’s World cross country bronze medallist herself held off Romania’s Olympic marathon runner-up Simon who clocked 70 minutes 24 seconds, as both suffered at Radcliffe’s unexpected but immediate response to a panic attack which forced a change her race tactics.

The quartet remained together as 5K was navigated around the the magnificent Mexican seaport in 16:30 with Simon at the point of a 20 strong pack. By 10K (33:14) Radcliffe led the reduced field of four then after 15K (49:41), took total control ahead of her quartet of challengers.

But it was a scary run for Europe’s recently crowned No1. Before the start of the event, Radcliffe - she has suffered from asthma from childhood - taped her nose open with an elastoplast to allow herself to breathe more easily in coping with the intense heat and humid conditions around the 13.1 miles course.

But coming into the third and final 7,000 metres lap of the 13.1 miles race, the tape fell away and a slight suggestion of panic went through the mind of the pre-race favourite. "I suddenly felt dizzy and I had to tell myself to keep calm," said Radcliffe. "As a result I just found myself going faster."

That injection of pace with at that point, last year’s runner-up Noguchi also posing a threat, saw Radcliffe quickly drop the Japanese at eight miles with Simon surrrendering her gold medal interest just before 10 miles and Kepkemei shortly after that distance marker.

Although mastering the horrific heat with the breakfast time temperature almost 85 degrees, Radcliffe - after effectively sewing up the race and looking a lonesome figure over the last three miles - crossed the finishing line admitting she had to work extremely hard for the winner’s US40,000 dollars purse.

As welcome as the money will be, Radcliffe winner of the World Junior Cross Country eight years ago, admitted gaining her first ever senior World crown meant much more to her than the monetary reward.

Radcliffe said: "Ever since I won the junior gold medal in ‘92 I’ve wanted to win a senior one. I’ve collected three silvers, two for cross country and the 10,000 metres one last year in Seville. I’m absolutely thrilled to have finished my season with my win here."

The last - and only Briton - to have won the title was Liz McColgan victor at the inaugural Championships on Tyneside. Radcliffe said: "Liz has always been a hero and an inspiration to me. She won her gold medal in the same year I won the junior cross country.

"I’ve always looked up to her and during my career I’ve tried to emulate her times and achievements. I’ve done that again and now I want to continue by winning the 10,000 metres on the track."

Over a course lined by a crowd of 25,000 excited spectators, Radcliffe said:

"I’ve never ran on the roads in such an atmopshere. The crowd were brilliant. But they caused me a slight headache. I just couldn’t hear whether Susan and Lidia were coming back at me.

"They may have dropped behind - but it wasn’t an easy race and I didn’t know where they were. Running in those conditions was extremely hard. I took on as much water as I could and tried to keep cool by running in the shade - when I could find it."

Victory went to Romania whose trio recorded 3 hours 34 minutes 22 seconds ahead of Japan 3 hours 36 minutes 25 seconds and Russia 3 hours 45 minutes 41 seconds.

David Martin is the athletics correspondent for The Press Association (PA)