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Page last updated at 16:16 GMT, Tuesday, 10 February 2009

'New Paula' targets gold in 2012

Steph Twell
Twell was a convincing 1500m winner at the 2008 Junior Worlds in Poland

By Matt Slater

Steph Twell, the brightest distance-running prospect to emerge from Britain since Paula Radcliffe, has set herself a simple goal for London 2012: gold.

Twell is entering her first season in the senior ranks after a 2008 that saw her become world junior 1500m champion.

That victory helped propel her into Britain's team for the Beijing Olympics, an learning experience she intends to build on come 2012.

"I want to win the women's 1500m," the 19-year-old starlet said.

"To medal would be outstanding but to win the gold in front of your home crowd would be spectacular. I am definitely aiming towards that."

But Twell's Olympic ambitions do not stop in 2012, when she will be only 22. In fact, the supremely-talented teen has a clear view of how her career will progress: 5,000m champion in 2016, marathon winner in 2020.

Twell on how she got started, her amazing 2008, Paula Radcliffe and London 2012

"I have come from a big distance background," said Twell, who was speaking at the launch of "Here I am", a Nike-backed campaign to encourage more women to play sport at British universities.

"I would definitely like to step up in distance as I get older. I enjoy getting out and running so much I wouldn't see (the marathon) as too difficult a challenge. I'm very excited about the prospect of stepping up."

With sentiments like this, and a glittering collection of junior titles already on her mantelpiece, it is easy to see how the Radcliffe comparisons started.

Like Radcliffe, whose first big win came at the 1992 World Junior Cross Country Championships, Twell has enjoyed great success in cross country.

It's an honour to be mentioned in the same breath as Paula - she's been an inspiration to me from a very young age

Steph Twell
A three-time European junior champion (the most recent win coming in December when she led home her five team-mates to claim an unprecedented British sweep of the top six), Twell has already run four senior cross country races this year, winning two and finishing second and fourth in the others.

That fourth-place finish came at last month's Great Edinburgh International, a race won by another 19-year-old sensation, Kenya's Linet Masai.

But losing a 5.6km race to the world junior 10,000m champion was no disgrace and Twell, who was named European Athletics' Rising Star of 2008, showed she has what it takes to mix with Africa's best over a range of distances, something that has not been said about many Brits since Radcliffe burst onto the scene.

Twell, a good-natured mixture of self-confidence and humility, seems comfortable with the parallels being drawn by others between her and a woman she clearly has the utmost regard for.

"It's an honour to be mentioned in the same breath as Paula," said Twell. "She's been an inspiration to me from a very young age."

Steph Twell
Twell missed the final in Beijing but proved she belonged on that stage
But Twell, who was born in Colchester and raised in another garrison town Aldershot, is comfortable enough with her own abilities to point out that the comparisons with Radcliffe can be overdone.

Much has been made of the fact Twell was quicker than the future marathon world record-holder over 3,000m at 17, but by 18 their paths had already diverged, with Radcliffe's focus on the longer distances starting to tell.

Twell, on the other hand, has speed over the middle distances that Radcliffe never had, and that is where most experts want to see her progress.

Brendan Foster, who won Olympic bronze for Britain in the 10,000m at the 1976 Games, was hugely impressed by Twell's Edinburgh display.

"I cannot remember ever seeing a British woman 1500m runner displaying - not just here but also in the past - such cross country endurance," the 61-year-old Foster said.

"I'm 100% certain that Steph, if she sticks with the 1500m and doesn't rush too early into becoming a 5,000m runner, will come good by the time London comes around."

Steph is great at taking everything in her stride and she has already made a major championship, so things are looking very good

Jo Pavey
Foster's sentiments are shared by Twell's Beijing team-mate and relative veteran of the British women's distance-running scene, Jo Pavey.

The 35-year-old, who finished fourth in the 10,000m at the 2007 Worlds, has nothing but praise for her young compatriot.

"I've been really impressed with Steph," Pavey said. "She's so young but she's also so determined and professional.

"It's exciting to have somebody with her talent coming through. She's a great ambassador for British athletics."

Pavey, who is second only to Radcliffe over 5,000m in the all-time British lists, is also certain Twell can handle the "New Paula" tag and the grand expectations associated with London 2012.

"Steph is great at taking everything in her stride and she has already made a major championship (the 2008 Olympics) so things are looking very good," added Pavey.

Twell's Olympic debut ended in the heats but her time was the 11th best overall and more than eight seconds quicker than the time she recorded a month earlier to win the junior crown.

So it is hardly a surprise to learn her goal for 2009 is to break into the world's top eight, a feat she hopes to achieve at the world championships this summer.

Steph Twell and Jo Pavey
Twell and Pavey teamed up to boost the profile of women's university sport
That will be music to the ears of her coach Mick Woods, who works with Twell at UK Athletics' (UKA) endurance centre at St Mary's University in Twickenham, and it will delight the governing body, which knows how important 2009 is for the sport after a mixed showing in Beijing.

UKA will also be pleased to hear Twell's prediction for Team GB's athletics performance in 2012; third in the medals table, up from ninth in the Bird's Nest.

If that is going to happen, the new golden girl of British athletics will have to deliver. But that is not something that appears to weigh heavily on Twell.

"I like to exceed expectations so I probably shouldn't really put a boundary on things," she said.

"But in the lead-up to 2012 I want to make all the major finals so when I get to London I'm ready to cross that finish line, very, very fast."

see also
Twell targets 2012 Olympic gold
09 Feb 09 |  Athletics
Masai upstages Twell in Edinburgh
10 Jan 09 |  Athletics
Twell claims Greenmount victory
03 Jan 09 |  Athletics
Twell thrilled with Olympic place
21 Jul 08 |  Athletics
Twell wins to boost Beijing hopes
13 Jul 08 |  Athletics
The new Paula?
14 Jun 07 |  Athletics

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