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  Tuesday, 6 August, 2002, 21:35 GMT 22:35 UK
Radcliffe outclasses sporting greats
Paula Radcliffe eclipsed second-placed Sonia O'Sullivan
Radcliffe leaves O'Sullivan trailing in her wake

What's the most brutal display you have witnessed in sport? Ali taking Sonny Liston apart, Lomu steam-rollering England, Tiger Woods destroying the field at St Andrews?

All were outclassed in Munich on Tuesday night by a skinny woman who would barely reach Lomu's chest and who weighs less than one of Ali's legs.

Paula Radcliffe butchered not only Europe's finest 10,000m runners but also the record that most critics accept as the unofficial world mark with a performance that was as punishing as anything ever witnessed at the Olympiastadion.


Radcliffe's form this year has been so good it suggests a deal was struck with the Devil himself

Forget England 5 Germany 1. This was the equivalent of thumping Brazil in a World Cup final.

In the space of 12 months Radcliffe has transformed herself from also-ran to how-did-she-run-that?

In bare stats, she took 24 seconds off her personal best and 13 seconds off Ingrid Kristiansen's 16-year-old European record.

Only the torrential rain and lack of a rival stopped her being the first woman bar the now-discredited Chinese of the early 1990s to break 30 minutes.

Poor old Sonia O'Sullivan, the reigning European champion smashed her own Irish record and still finished 46 seconds adrift.

On the start line O'Sullivan had crossed herself. You couldn't blame her for calling on divine assistance.

Radcliffe's form this year has been so good it suggests a deal was struck with the Devil himself as New Year broke.

This latest triumph was set against a very different scene from that of the Commonwealth 5,000m gold nine days ago.

Rain hammered down all afternoon, drenching the city and giving the impression that the athletics was taking place inside a giant cloud.

Where that Commonwealth gold came on a summer's evening so warm that the crowd were in t-shirts and shorts, Munich had the coats and hats coming out.

Where the City of Manchester stadium was packed to the beams with screaming English, the shouts of the British fans present in Munich echoed round a four-fifths empty Olympiastadion.

About the only thing that remained the same was Radcliffe, utterly crushing a field from the very top drawer.

Paula Radcliffe (left) embraces Sonia O'Sullivan after her win
O'Sullivan had to settle for silver
At the front of the pack from 600m, she began turning the screw at 800m, and those behind her were soon strung-out and suffering.

At 1,000m, only O'Sullivan could stay with her. At 2,000m, Ireland's great hope was also dropped, face set hard against the rain but still registering disbelief at what was being done to her.

A small contingent of British fans high up in the stands, surrounded by a moat of empty green seats, frantically waved their Union Jacks and bayed Radcliffe on.

German eyes in the stadium were turned elsewhere. In the corner of the infield, their man Ralf Bartels was in the process of taking shot put bronze.

Whoopee-do. On the track, Radcliffe was living every sporting cliché - re-writing the record books, tearing up the script, stamping her name all over the event.

In 20 years' time, we'll all look back at the past nine days and marvel at the two wondrous runs of a woman most had dismissed as "Plucky Paula".

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Five Live's John Rawling
"There were puddles across the track"
Paula Radcliffe
"I set off a little bit too fast"
Sebastian Coe
"She's running with so much more confidence"

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