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"Radcliffe Wins Second European Cross-country Title"

"Senior and Junior women secure team gold"

"Charlotte takes the Junior bronze"

 

14th December 2003:

Rain lashing the Scottish capital, winds driving across the course and runners sliding down a treacherous hill. Yet Paula Radcliffe may look back on it in nine months' time and remember it as where her quest for a gold medal got back on track. Setting yet another record when she won the senior womenís race at the 10th SPAR European Cross Country Championship, and carving out a hard-earned victory over Elvan Abeylegesse, an Ethiopian now competing for Turkey, to become the first woman to win a second European cross-country title, Radcliffe reassured herself that her first defeat for 16 months, in Japan, had been just a blip.



She had complained of feeling listless after finishing third in that road relay last month. Tests showed it had been caused by a magnesium deficiency, quickly corrected. But Radcliffe admitted the reservations had continued to lurk. No more.
"It was playing on my mind because I felt terrible in that race," she said. "So I was having doubts. It's a relief to put it behind me."

Abeylegesse ensured she had to work for it. The tiny 21-year-old used Radcliffe as a shelter against the wind for much of the race and it was only when they were going up Haggis Knowe for the final time, 800 metres from the end of the 6,595m course, that she cracked.
Radcliffe, who won in a time of 22:04, was at the front from the start had to see off a strong challenge Abeylegesse and it wasnít until just before Haggis Knowe on the fourth lap that she was able to shake her off.


Even then there was a drama as Radcliffe twisted her ankle at the bottom of the hill and felt faint at the top - due to how much she had put into her effort - before regaining her composure to go on and win by 9 seconds.

"I didn't feel great on the hill on the last lap," she said. "I jarred my ankle at the bottom, which made me sprint to the top, and I felt a bit light-headed. On that last hill I didn't know how much of a gap I had. I then went a bit harder than I maybe should have.Ē

The excitement was so great that her husband and agent, Gary Lough ran into a tree while supporting her, which left him with a bloody nose.

Born in a blizzard, and having won the world junior title in a Boston snowstorm, Radcliffe claims an affinity for such arduous conditions. Sure enough, by the time the athletes were departing, the slopes of Arthur's Seat were shrouded in snow.


Her husband was one of thousands who encouraged her, racing anxiously from point to point on a course ideal for spectators, but he ran into a tree and badly skinned his nose. As Paula collected the Christmas present which she wanted, Gary looked like Rudolph!


It was only Radcliffe's second appearance in this event, having also won in 1998. 

Paula winning the event in '98

Radcliffe's preparations before the race had also been hit by a cold and sinus problems.
"I stayed away from the rest of the team yesterday and felt a lot better today," she said. "I didnít want to take a risk, but at the same time I really wanted to run. I just decided according to how I felt in the warm up."

Hungarian Aniko Kalovics took third place in a time of 22:26, with Irelandís Sonia O'Sullivan close behind her in fourth.

Thousands of spectators lined the course to cheer on the competitors and Radcliffe was given a fabulous reception as she crossed the line for yet another victory.

ďI couldnít have done this without the support of the crowd, it was great. The plan was to take it calm and push it on the last lap. There was brilliant support the whole way round, the crowd really pushed me up the hill."

All in all it was a great attempt by Radcliffe and made doubly rewarding because for the first time in the history of the Championships the Great Britain senior womenís squad also secured a team victory. They dominated the competition with five athletes finishing in the top 12. The other scorers were Hayley Yelling in fifth, her sister-in-law Liz Yelling eighth and World Championship bronze medallist, Hayley Tullett 11th as they beat Ireland by a record 53 points.

Sonia OíSullivanís fourth place in 22:36 helped secure the team silver for the Republic of Ireland. Portugal and France finished on the same points in the team competition but Portugal took the bronze medal with their fourth place athlete finishing just higher than that of France.

"It's a hard-work ethic," said Liz Yelling. "We've seen how hard Paula trains and that's spread through the ranks. It's taken a while but now it's showing."

The Radcliffe effect is set to benefit British athletics for years to come. The junior women retained the title they had won last year. They were almost as dominant as their senior counterparts with three in the top nine, led by Charlotte Dale who took the individual bronze.

In contrast the men failed to make an impression in either race. The best performance was by Peter Riley, finishing 16th in a senior event won by the Ukrainian Sergiy Lebid for the fourth time.



The victory capped another brilliant year for Radcliffe, during which she has set five world bests, including the marathon in London in what is regarded by statisticians as the greatest ever performance in the history of women's athletics. She also claimed the sixth world title of her career when she won the half-marathon.

An unprecedented year for any other athlete, but the word the Bedford athlete used to describe it was
"failure" because she missed the world championships due to a combination of illness and injury.

"If I looked back I should be pleased," she said. "But Paris was part of my plans and I didn't make it."

And what's next for Paula? 

ďIím away in January, taking a break. After that Iím going to start preparing for the Olympics.Ē

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