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Radcliffe hunting for Cross gold in Ostend

Radcliffe hunting for Cross gold in Ostend
Steven Downes for IAAF

19 March 2001 - Nothing is being left to chance by Paula Radcliffe in her attempt to lift the women’s senior title at the IAAF World Cross-country Championships.

She’s even prepared to have people sent on a 12-hour round trip, in order to stand out in the cold, biting rain, with the wind wiping in off the North Sea, to check out the hurriedly arranged course at Ostend, in Belgium.

The World Cross-country has been a constant source of frustration for Radcliffe, who since winning the junior title in Boston in 1992, has won two silvers and a bronze in the 8km senior race.

Last year, at Vilamoura, Portugal, Radcliffe placed fifth in the 8km race on the Saturday, and then turned out on the Sunday to lead for all but the final 200m of the 4km race. At the finish, she collapsed exhausted after finishing fourth.

It was a similar tale for the woman from Bedford, north of London, when she led for 24 of the 25 laps in the 10,000 metres final at the Olympic Games in Sydney, only to finish fourth.

But a recent poll of the British public suggested that after rower Steve Redgrave’s fifth Olympic gold medal, Radcliffe’s gritty fourth place performance was the most admired achievement by any Briton at the Sydney Games.

It is that popularity which has seen Radcliffe, the IAAF world half-marathon champion, recently sign a new sponsorship deal with a major shoe manufacturer at a figure far in excess of the sort of deals which athletes who returned with medals from Sydney have been able to negotiate.

Radcliffe, 27, is so important a figure within British distance running, that a senior UK Athletics official was sent on the cross-Channel reconnaisance trip on Sunday, especially at the request of Radcliffe from her altitude training base in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The verdict was that the course awaiting the cream of the world’s distance runners on March 24 and 25 will be "very wet and very muddy".

With her main event, the 8km "long" race, coming on the Saturday, Radcliffe will be able to give her utmost in that race before deciding the following morning whether she has recovered sufficiently to bolster the British team over 4km.

"Paula will definitely run the 8km race," a source at UK Athletics said, "and whether she runs the 4km the following day will be entirely up to her. If she does it, it will be to try to help the team win a medal."

Radcliffe has a reputation for helping her fellow athletes – and even for discovering new talent.

Even her new sponsorship deal has a special clause that sees her backers, Nike, pledge $15,000 a year in grants to up-and-coming young women runners.

Under a special "Girls in Sport" initiative, Radcliffe will help to choose deserving causes among promising teenagers. "Girls in that age group need role models that they can identify with when they come into sport," Radcliffe said, pointing out that many good young women athletes tend to drop out of active sport between the ages of 17 and 22.

"Helping younger athletes is something that I’m very interested in," said Radcliffe. "I just hope I can make a difference.

"Something like this would have been a big help to me when I was 16 or 17, when I had a problem with anaemia and needed some back-up from sports science to sort it out. The money in the scheme won’t be just handed out, but will be distributed in a structured manner for specific projects."

Radcliffe had enjoyed an outstanding cross-country season on the European circuit this winter, including wins at Durham, Belfast and Tourcoing, before jetting off for her annual five-week spell at high altitude in New Mexico.

In fact, her only cross country defeat this winter came in Brussels – a statistic the Briton will be happy to put right when she returns to Belgium later this week.