Paula Radcliffe and Paul Tergat launch at Veracruz
their conquest of a new future in athletics
10 November 2000 - Veracruz Athletes from forty five counties are arriving in this ancient city of the Americas to contest on Sunday the 9th IAAF World Half Marathon Championships. It was here, in what has since become the most important port of Mexico, that Hernan Cortes landed in 1523 at the start of his conquest of a land that was already home to great civilisations: the Olmec on the coast and the Aztec in the interior.
Kenyas Paul Tergat and Great Britains Paula Radcliffe who are among the favourites for the conquest of the mens and womens titles will not have a lot of time to look for the signs of this rich history. If anything, looking at the sea which they will run alongside for the 21.095 kilometres of the course, they might imagine the fatigue and dangers that explorers have always had to face on their expeditions of discovery.
In some ways, athletes too are explorers. They discover daily, at the cost of hard training, the possibilities of conquest of the human body and mind: a peaceful conquest that aims to unite and not to divide, to build rather than destroy.
It is only a couple of weeks ago, for example when she won the Bupa Great North Run, in England that Paula Radcliffe discovered that she had sufficient stamina to become world champion in the half marathon. This wonderful distance runner whose determination when she runs recalls her illustrious compatriot David Bedford is a splendid example of the meaning of will power and the desire to progress. At twenty-seven, she has already attempted and achieved much in the field of sport and also in her studies at university; now she is determined to go further still, unperturbed by her fourth place in the 10,000 metres in Sydney. For Radcliffe, Sundays race could well symbolise the start of a new voyage of discovery: to determine whether she can make the move to the marathon in the near future.
For Paul Tergat too, this race in Veracruz will be an important step towards a career as a marathon runner. The Kenyan, who is already recognised as one of the greatest distance runners of all times, has now decided to leave the track and concentrate on road running. The challenge that he has laid down for himself is to transform a machine that has been built and calibrated for speed on the track where he has had all his successes in the 5000 and 10,000 metres into something more patient and enduring. If Tergat is successful, he could well revolutionise the world of the marathon.
These are two of the highlights of this 9th IAAF World Half Marathon Championships which, in addition to putting up a total of $194,000 in prize money (from US $40,000 to the winning man and woman down to $5,000 for the sixth place in both mens and womens races), could well decide the competitive future of these two champions.
What an interesting coincidence that this is going to happen in a place Veracruz where an ancient civilisation that of Europe and Spain started five centuries ago the conquest of another world and other civilisations.