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Sunday, 28 July, 2002, 23:34 GMT 00:34 UK

Radcliffe's golden moment

By Tom Fordyce
BBC Sport Online in Manchester

You could see it written on Paula Radcliffe's face as she crossed the line to win 5000m Commonwealth gold: 'At last'.

This is a woman who, until this year, seemed destined to be everything the English like in a sporting hero - gutsy, smiling, and ultimately, a plucky loser.

But Radcliffe is not the sort of woman to be content with being a hit in her home country.

Don't be fooled by the smiles. She wants big titles, big records, and she has worked like an animal to get them.

All week she had been bullish. On the start line, hair pulled high in a ponytail, dark glasses covering her eyes, she looked utterly composed.

On her outside was Edith Masai, the Kenyan who was expected to pose the biggest threat.

Masai is a kicker. She can sit on the shoulder of the best all race and then sprint past them as if they were standing still.

What would Radcliffe do? We had our answer within 500m, when she surged to the front. Ominously, Masai followed, as did England's Jo Pavey.

The pace picked up. Soon it was just the three of them, Radcliffe head-bobbing in characteristic fashion, Masai looking cool, Pavey perspiring.

"It was distance running of awesome ferocity"

With seven laps to go, she turned up the pace. Pavey was dropped. It soon became clear why. Radcliffe had smoothly accelerated to world record pace.

After the disappointment of watching Mark Lewis-Francis and Dwain Chambers crash out of the 100m the previous night, the Manchester crowd desperately wanted an English victory.

But they were nervous. So many times in the past we have watched Radcliffe lead from the front only to be out-kicked by a West African rival.

At the Worlds last summer she led until the final lap and finished fourth. At the Sydney Olympics it was the same story.

Not here. With four and a half laps to go, as the thousands of St George's flags around the stadium were waved frantically, she exploded.

A vicious 69-second lap was followed by one of 67.50secs, and in the space of 600 metres Radcliffe had totally destroyed Masai. It was distance running of awesome ferocity.

The noise was deafening. People were on their feet everywhere you looked, screaming and shouting as she ate up the kilometres.

With two laps to go she had a lead of 160m. Typically, she pushed still harder and came down the home straight with a world record in her sights.

That slipped by. But no-one cared. The perpetual bridesmaid was at the altar and the rings were being exchanged.

In Edmonton last summer she crossed the line and staggered into a tearful slanging match with her husband and training partner Gary Lough, who was furious that she had failed to implement their carefully worked out tactics.

In Manchester, it was huge hugs and kisses and a lap of honour that had 38,000 fans on their feet cheering and clapping themselves sore.

On the podium, looking small and skinny set against the backdrop of a near-perfect blue sky turning purple as night set in, Radcliffe could do nothing but grin.

After ten attempts at a track title, a gold medal was hers.


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