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  Wednesday, 7 August, 2002, 11:44 GMT 12:44 UK
Paula's annus mirabilis

From "Plucky Paula" to "Queen Paula" in the space of six months, 2002 will be remembered as the defining year in Paula Radcliffe's career.

So often the tortured soul of major championships past, the present and future could hardly be brighter for Britain's distance-running queen.

Having emphatically shed her bridesmaid's tag by taking gold in the Commonwealth Games 5,000m, the sky is now the limit for the newly-crowned marathon world record holder and European 10,000m champion.

Radcliffe showed relentless determination and stamina to claim her time of 2:17:18 in Chicago, just two months after obliterating her rivals and Ingrid Kristiansen's old European record in Munich.

Paula Radcliffe is stunned after finishing fourth in Edmonton
Defeats such as Edmonton are now a distant memory

The valiant near-misses that for many years appeared to define Radcliffe's running have now inspired a stirring transformation in a truly world-class athlete.

The omens were always there before the 28-year-old won a gold medal at a major championships at the 10th attempt in Manchester.

Between 1998 and 2001, Radcliffe set four British records at both 5,000m and 10,000m, two at 3,000m and two at the half marathon.

She won the world half-marathon title in both 2000 and 2001, and has been crowned world cross-country champion for the past two years.

But on the major track occasions with the sporting world watching, Radcliffe appeared destined to be remembered for the medals that got away.

At the 1999 World Championships in Seville, she won plenty of admirers as she forced the 10,000m pace in searing heat.

Familiar ritual

But, in what was to become a familiar ritual, Radcliffe was passed on the final lap by Ethiopian Gete Wami and had to settle for silver.

A year later, her front-running tactics lit up the Sydney Olympics before she was passed by three African athletes after the bell to finish fourth.

A British and Commonwealth record of 30 minutes 26.97 seconds, which she shattered in Munich, was precious little consolation at the time.

Radcliffe was again pushed into fourth place at last summer's World Championships in Edmonton, after leading until the final lap.

A tearful slanging match with husband and training partner Gary Lough followed over her failure to implement their pre-race tactics.

Paula Radcliffe hugs husband Gary Lough after winning gold in Munich
There was no repeat of the Edmonton row in Munich

But since that heartbreaking setback, Radcliffe has been able to do no wrong.

A special weights programme devised for her by UK Athletics performance director Max Jones has started to reap spectacular rewards.

Allied to some quality warm-weather winter training and a more sparing programme of races, the Cheshire-born athlete has blossomed in the past six months.

Radcliffe had already returned to winning ways by retaining her world half marathon title in Bristol and world cross country crown in Dublin.

But her improved staying power was evident when, at her first attempt, she won April's London Marathon in the second-fastest time in history, smashing the UK and European records in the process.

Six months later, her head bobbing erratically in time-honoured fashion, she broke Catherine Ndereba's previous marathon record by 89 seconds in Chicago.

Remaining target

The extra stamina and training required to achieve her marathon potential has also dramatically altered her fortunes on the track.

Both in Manchester and Munich, Radcliffe systematically destroyed two world-class fields with awe-inspiring displays of physical and mental endurance.

Another World Championships looms in 2003, with the Athens Olympics to follow in 2004, occasions when Radcliffe can cement her new-found status on the biggest track stages.

Her achievements had already been recognised with an MBE in June even before her recent golden double.

The queen of the track may be taking another trip to the Palace come the new year, while the book is likely to be closed early on the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year award.

An annus mirabilis indeed.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Paula Radcliffe
"It was just me against the clock"
Medal ceremony
Paula Radcliffe collects her 10,000m gold

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See also:

28 Jul 02 | Athletics
28 Jul 02 | Athletics
14 Jun 02 | Athletics
14 Apr 02 | London Marathon 2002
14 Apr 02 | London Marathon 2002
23 Mar 02 | Athletics
Links to more European Athletics stories are at the foot of the page.


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