• Rewind to 2003

Radcliffe smashes women's marathon world record

Rob Phillips-Knight
April 21, 2010
Paula Radcliffe was in a league of her own in 2003 © Getty Images

Breaking a world record in any sport is an immensely tough task. Smashing a world record is quite another. On April 13, 2003 Paula Radcliffe bettered the marathon world record by a whopping one minute, 53 seconds. The fact the record she broke was her own, which she set seven months earlier in Chicago, makes such a feat even more impressive.

Arguably the finest female marathon runner of all time, Radcliffe was a star from the moment she first competed on the international stage. A glittering cross country career was followed by an initially successful move to the track. However, her promising 5000 metre and 10,000m form failed to produce results as she failed to build on the silver medal won in the 10,000m at the 1999 World Championships.

Back-to-back IAAF World Half Marathon wins in 2000 and 2001 demonstrated Radcliffe's clear talent and, in 2002, she made the move up in distance to the marathon. This decision paid off immediately as she won the London Marathon. Later that year she continued her rise and produced a stunning display to win the Chicago Marathon in a world-record time of 2:17.18.

The rate of the Plymouth-born runner's improvement was exhilarating and speculation abounded as to how fast she could go. Radcliffe remained characteristically tight-lipped and travelled to Albuquerque, New Mexico to prepare thoroughly for the defence of her London Marathon title.

Conditions in London on the day of the race could not have been more different to those in New Mexico, as a strong wind hurled its way across the course. Radcliffe was undeterred and began at a fierce pace, building up a visible lead within minutes of the start. By the time she reached Tower Bridge at the 12-mile mark she was already more than a minute ahead of her closest rivals. Six miles later the world-record holder had stretched that lead to two mins, 20 secs.

Despite suffering from cramp, Radcliffe set her second fastest split mile of the race of five mins, six secs after 22 miles on the road. She bettered that by three seconds two miles later.

News of Radcliffe's world record pace was making its way around the course almost as fast as she was and the vociferous reception which greeted her every step clearly provided a lift.

Radcliffe crossed the line in a time of 2:15.25 - more than four minutes ahead of Catherine Ndereba in second-place. Her record still stands as the quickest marathon ever run by a woman.

"I once said that London couldn't be a fast course but I knew from last year it was," Radcliffe said moments after her victory. "We got a good day. It was a bit windy but it seemed the wind was behind us more than it was in front of us.

"I was just trying to stay relaxed until halfway and then just keep it going but it was really, really tough for the last five miles.

"It was just a matter of keeping my head strong."

But it was not all positive for Radcliffe who pulled out of the Athens Olympics on 2004 through illness © Getty Images

The true pace of Radcliffe's record is bared out by its standing as one of the highest IAAF world ranking points performances of all time. Her total of 1307 points bettered Florence Griffith-Joyner's 100m and 200m records, Marita Koch's 400m best, and Michael Johnson's 400m record. This score would at the time have equated to a time of 9.75 seconds in the men's 100 m sprint. The current world record, held by Usain Bolt, stands at 9.58 secs.

Radcliffe won the London Marathon again in 2005 but a catalogue of illnesses, strains, fractures and operations have become a sour and recurring theme in her career since her well-documented failure to finish the marathon and the 10,000m at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. The broken leg which set off another rehabilitation race against the clock prior to the 2008 Beijing games, where she finished 23rd, again highlighted the fragility of her ageing body.

Now 36, Radcliffe plans to compete at the 2012 Olympic Games in London - the only event she has failed to win a marathon medal in - but recently pulled out of this year's London Marathon.

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