Our series of flashbacks to memorable British moments in the sport since the year 2000 steps on to 2002 this week – and what a 2002 it was for one athlete in particular. Move over ‘Plucky Paula’, enter Paula the Great!
Entering 2002 Paula Radcliffe had amassed a nice collection of major honours during her career so far – World Championship 10,000m silver, every colour at the World Cross Country Championships and back-to-back titles at the World Half Marathon Championships.
But, despite all that, the public perception of her was arguably one of an athlete destined to play second fiddle when it mattered most – fifth at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, and heart breaking fourths at Athens 2000 and then the World Championships a year later ringing all too loud for some.
However that destiny changed in 2002 as Radcliffe wiped the floor with not only her rivals on all fronts but the clock too, ending the year as a world record holder, European champion, Commonwealth champion, world cross country champion again, IAAF World Athlete of the Year and BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
Radcliffe began 2002 much like she left 2001 by being crowned world champion. At the 2002 World Cross Country Championships in Dublin she once again demonstrated her incredible talent over long distances by retaining her title – the slight snag again being the failure of such an event to capture the public imagination.
Unbowed, from there the London Marathon dawned and a step up to the 26.2-mile distance in front of a huge audience on course and at home. The race could not have gone any better for Radcliffe as she won on debut in 2:18:56 – the world’s best time for a women’s only race and the second quickest women’s marathon in history, just nine second behind the world record.