Radcliffe rewrites the record book with great show

With a world record that marked a quantum leap in women's distance running, Paula Radcliffe graced London Marathon with a performance that had even her biggest fans shaking their heads in disbelief.

TOM KNIGHT

Paula Radcliffe crosses the line, in a world record time, to win the women's event of the London Marathon. — Pic. REUTERS-

With a world record that marked a quantum leap in women's distance running, Paula Radcliffe graced London Marathon with a performance that had even her biggest fans shaking their heads in disbelief.

Radcliffe crossed the finish line near Buckingham Palace in 2hr 15min 25sec. It was an astonishing display of running.

Her time slashed 1min 53sec off the world record she set in Chicago in October and brought her home 4 1/2 minutes ahead of Kenya's Catherine Ndereba in second place.

It was the biggest winning margin in this race since Ingrid Kristiansen won the last of her four London Marathon titles in 1988. That, though, was the least of Radcliffe's achievements on a day when not even the superlatives could keep pace with the 29-year-old from Loughborough.

The greatest marathon performance by a woman earned her $255,000 (164,500 pounds) in prize money and time bonuses — but that was only the published figure.

Add the amount she was paid to start the race, performance bonuses from her kit sponsor, Nike, and from the event itself and Radcliffe will have more than a million dollars richer.

It is the most any female athlete has earned in a day and means that since she won this race a year ago, a runner who used to be considered one of Britain's plucky losers will have amassed an estimated four million dollars in prize money, bonuses and commercial sponsorship.

Her commercial clout was not lost on Carey Pinkowski, race director of the Chicago Marathon. "She's turned everyone else into also-rans," he said. "I'd have to offer her a million dollars just to start a race now."

Deena Drossin's 2hr 21min 16sec in third place was an American record, slicing six seconds off the mark set by Joan Benoit in 1985. Those were the days when 2hr 20min was considered a magical barrier, but in three marathons over 12 months Radcliffe has exploded the myths surrounding what women are capable of achieving.

Gerard Hartmann, the Limerick-based physical therapist whose care for Radcliffe has included up to four hours of treatment and massage every day since January, said she was "one in a million" and added: "This was a quantum leap in women's marathon running which made even the men's world record look soft."

It was Hartmann who put Radcliffe back together following her accident last month, when she clashed with a young cyclist during one of her long training runs in Albuquerque.

Contrary to what she wanted people to believe before the race, Radcliffe set about attacking her world record from the start in an east London suburb, Blackheath.

Tucking in behind Samson Loywapet and Christopher Kandie, two of the 10 male pace makers controversially brought in by the race organisers, she raced away from one of the best women's fields assembled in London.

With Ndereba, Drossin, Susan Chepkemei and Ludmila Petrova left to settle into a pace that best suited their more conservative race plans, Radcliffe charged through the opening miles.

Wearing sunglasses and white gloves to compliment the flesh coloured, knee-length socks which have become her trademark, Radcliffe was clocked at 5 min 10 sec for the first mile and 5 min 8 sec for the second.

She already had a substantial lead, and if members of the Radcliffe camp were worrying about her enthusiasm, they were beginning to get concerned when her third mile was timed at 4min 57sec.

Alec Stanton, the Bedford Athletic Club stalwart who has coached her since she was a youngster, admitted he was "a little surprised," but there were also genuine fears from seasoned marathon-watchers that Radcliffe was overdoing things.

It later transpired that she thought the same.

She said: "I was running with the pace makers until I saw that the third mile was too fast so I backed off." There followed the slightest of adjustments but Radcliffe was still travelling at 2 hr 14 min pace and by the fifth mile had a 20 sec lead. The race was over. It was a case of just how fast she could cover the distance.

She passed 13.1 miles in 1 hr 8 min 2 sec, quicker than any woman managed in a half-marathon last year, and still found the energy to run faster still.

Only when she clocked 5 min 3 sec for the 24th mile did her grimaces and head-bobbing reveal the extent of her pain. But she ran the second half of the race in 1hr 07min 23sec and, with one final effort, the final 385 yards in 59sec. Her finishing sprint into The Mall was the equivalent of a 68 sec final lap in a track race and 15 sec quicker than she managed in Chicago.

Across the line, she bent double and then wobbled as if to faint before grabbing a water bottle and remembering to pose for the photographers on the finish gantry.

The perfect end to a perfect day for Radcliffe came when Carlos Cardoso, the Portuguese official sent by the International Association of Athletics Federations to monitor London's pace-making experiment, professed himself satisfied. The record will be ratified soon.

Zola Budd-Pieterse, running in her first marathon and hoping to qualify for South Africa's World Championship team, failed to make the grade.

The 36-year-old dropped out after 20 miles, complaining that her blood sugar levels were low.

In what amounted to a sideshow after the main event, the men's race was won by Gezahegne Abera in 2hr 07min 56sec.

The World and Olympic champion produced his trademark sprint finish to cross the line ahead of Italy's Stefano Baldini, though both men were given the same time.

The results (26.2-mile - 42.2-kilometer):

Men: 1. Gezahegne Abera, Ethiopia, 2 hours 7 minutes 56 seconds, 2. Stefano Baldini, Italy, 2:07:56, 3. Joseph Ngolepus, Kenya, 2:07:57, 4. Paul Tergat, Kenya, 2:07:59, 5. Samson Ramadhani, Tanzania, 2:08:01, 6. Abdelkader El Mouaziz, Morocco, 2:08:03, 7. Lee Bong-ju, South Korea, 2:08:10, 8. Hendrich Ramaala, South Africa, 2:08:58, 9. Ian Syster, South Africa, 2:09:18, 10. Javier Cortes, Spain, 2:10:39.

Women: 1. Paula Radcliffe, Britain, 2 hours 15 minutes 25 seconds, 2. Catherine Ndereba, Kenya, 2:19:55, 3. Deena Drossin, United States, 2:21:16, 4. Susan Chepkemei, Kenya, 2:23:12, 5. Ludmila Petrova, Russia, 2:23:14, 6. Constantina Dita, Romania, 2:23:43, 7. Jelena Prokocuka, Latvia, 2:24:01, 8. Elfenesh Alemu, Ethiopia, 2:24:56, 9, Michaela Botezan, Romania, 2:25:32, 10, Derartu Tulu, Ethiopia, 2:26:33.

Copyright, Telegraph Group Limited, London, 2003