The Electronic Telegraph
Monday 15 December 2003
Tom Knight

Paula Radcliffe put a year of frustration behind her yesterday with victory
in the European Cross-Country Championships.

Her triumph in this relatively minor event will never compensate for the
disappointment she felt at missing this year's major target, the World
Championships 10,000 metres in Paris, but it at least went some way to erase
the memories of her defeat last month in the Ekiden Relay in Japan.

In her first cross-country race since last year's World Championships in
Dublin, Radcliffe won with a deadly combination of her own strength and the
variable Scottish weather.

Tracked by the 21-year-old Ethiopian-born Elvan Abeylegesse, of Turkey, for
most of the four laps around a cold, rain-swept Holyrood Park, Radcliffe
chose the final climb over the course's solitary hill, Haggis Knowle, to
make her kick for home.

Radcliffe admitted she felt light-headed after sprinting to the summit but
her surge down the muddy slope opened a nine-second winning margin. Only
after crossing the line did she admit that her participation in the race had
been in doubt until minutes before the start.

Radcliffe, an asthma sufferer, had been fighting off a cold all week.
"Luckily, it was only a head cold, but if the virus had been worse, it
wouldn't have been worth the risk to race.

"It was hard work because Abeylegesse was in good shape. She had been
training with the Ethiopians before coming here and I knew I had to be 100
per cent. I was confident of my finishing speed but I decided to attack
before it came down to a sprint."

Abeylegesse, a former European junior champion, admitted the wind and rain
had come as a bit of a shock. "If the rain had not started during the race,
I think I could have won," she said.

Radcliffe has set four world records this year, including her spectacular
2hr 15min 25sec in the London Marathon and, but for that blip in Japan,
underlined why she is the world's finest distance runner.

She enters the new year as Britain's only genuine gold medal hope for next
summer's Olympics and yet she regards 2003 as one of failure because she did
not compete in Paris. "I didn't achieve my major goal," she said.

Even so, the "Paula effect" on Britain's women athletes was evident again in
Edinburgh. With Hayley Yelling, Liz Yelling and Hayley Tullett also
finishing in the top 12, the senior women claimed their first team title at
these championships.

Liz Yelling, who finished eighth, acknowledged the influence of her Bedford
clubmate. Yelling said: "It's all about how the hard work ethic has fed
through the ranks. We've seen how hard Paula trains and how it brings

Earlier, the defending champion, Charlotte Dale, took bronze to help the
junior squad retain the team title they won last year in Croatia, making
this Britain's most successful European cross-country.

If only the men had a guiding light like Radcliffe. Their best showing came
in the junior event, in which the team finished fourth.

Eamonn Condon

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