Paula Radcliffe in front of the leading pack at the 1998 IAAF World Cross Country Championships
Paula Radcliffe put behind her the disappointment of being outsprinted for a silver medal at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Belfast two weeks ago to strike gold at the European 10,000 metres challenge event in Barakaldo on Saturday.
Radcliffe posted the best ever women’s performance seen in the three years of the event to stop the clock at 30:40:70 and become the second fastest European women ever with a new British national record.
She also leapt several places up the world all-time rankings to seventh place, only headed by five Chinese women and the phenomenal Norwegian Ingrid Kristiansen, whose European and former world record of 30:13.74 has stood for nearly 13 years.
Radcliffe was in her element at the track near the Spanish city of Bilbao, where the first race in the Challenge was staged in 1997 after the European Cup was restructured.
Helped by pacemakers in the early stages, she otherwise ran on her own for virtually the whole of the race. So often beaten by faster finishers, like in last year’s race when she was outgunned by Portugal’s Fernanda Ribeiro, however with Ribeiro concentrating on preparing for next Sunday’s London Marathon this time around there was no one to disturb the metronome-like rhythm of the British girl.
A distant second behind Radcilffe was Germany’s Irina Mikitenko who finished nearly a minute and a lap adrift in 31:38.68, although Mikitenko did have the satisfaction of clocking a new personal best.
Portugal may have been missing Ribeiro but they still managed to retain the team title for the third year in succession.
The men’s race was much more of a contest, with Spain’s Alberto Garcia winning the five man last-lap duel on his debut at the distance.
Garcia, the Spanish 5,000 record holder with 13:04.46 to his name, won in 27:46.12, ahead of his compatriots Bruno Toledo and Javier Cortes, who finished in 27:49.06 and 27:49.58 respectively.
With three to count, not surprisingly Spain took the team title to break the Portuguese stranglehold on the team contests after their Iberian neighbours had taken the men’s team gold medal on the first two occasions.
Both Garcia and Toledo also won automatic selection to the Spanish world championship 10,000 trio that will compete in front of a home audience in Seville this summer although Garcia may yet opt to concentrate on the 5,000.
Portugal’s Paulo Guerra showed the after effects of his tremendous run in the World Cross Country Championships, where he became the first European to lift a senior men’s individual medal for a decade, and could only finish eighth in 27:55.43.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF