Radcliffe strikes Gold for Great Britain
Steven Downes for IAAF

24 March 2001 - Ostend - The victory was only secured in the final 200 yards, but for Paula Radcliffe, this was a title that she had been chasing for nearly a decade.

Radcliffe produced another magnificent display of courage and determination, but unlike so many times in the past, when she has been pipped at the post by faster finishing athletes, the 27-year-old Briton this time prevailed, winning the women’s senior title at the World Cross-country Championships here in Ostend, Belgium.

"This is the one I’ve always really wanted," Radcliffe said, "ever since I won the junior title in 1992. For me, winning this is as good as winning the Olympics."

Yet going into the final 400 metres of the eight-kilometre race through a bog of a course, with Ethiopia’s Gete Wami looming on her shoulder, it seemed that the familiar, frustrating story was about to unfold for Radcliffe once more.

At the track World Championships in Seville in 1999, Wami had sprinted past the Briton on the last lap, just as her compatriot, Derartu Tulu, had done in the 1998 World Cross in Turin.

And last year, the two Ethiopians watched Radcliffe set the pace for 24 of the 25 laps in the Olympic 10,000 metres final before leaving her struggling home in an agonising fourth place.

Here, it seemed history was about to repeat itself.

The day’s two earlier races had made these boggy Flanders fields even more of a quagmire by the time of the main event of the day. In neither the junior women’s race nor the men’s "short", four-kilometre event, had the runners set off at the sort of recklessly paced charge normally seen at these events - the gruelling conditions demanded a steady start.

It meant that forward progress for Radcliffe and her early rivals, Wami and Merima Denboba, both from Ethiopia, and Kenya’s Lydia Cheromei was often difficult, as they weaved across the course, sometimes slipping sideways into one another as they negotiated the tight corners that looped around the Wellington Hippodrome.

Radcliffe managed to resist her usual tendency to lead from the starter’s gun. "To win the World Cross-country if you’re leading all the way is impossible," she said.

"On this course, you didn’t need to do too much, the mud was sapping enough as it was. So I waited until after halfway before I tried to put in some surges. I didn’t want to do to much too early on."

The lead group was duly whittled down, until the race was between Radcliffe, Cheromei and Wami going into the final 1,800-metre lap. Radcliffe clearly made an effort at the start of the lap, and the Kenyan - winner of the world junior title in Belgium 10 years ago - was first to yield. Still Wami loomed, menacingly.

Into the strong headwind into the long, finishing straight, Wami moved aside to launch her trademark finishing kick.

"When Gete went past, she didn’t get away," Radcliffe said.

"The mud meant that my finishing sprint was not so good," Wami, a bemused silver medallist, said.

"I knew I still had a little left," said Radcliffe, so I just tried to relax and go again. The crowd was so much behind me, I felt I couldn’t not win this time.

"I was just thinking when I overtook her again, ‘Keep going, keep going, all the way to that tape’, because I didn’t want what happened to me in Turin to happen again."

Thus Radcliffe became the first British winner of a senior World Cross-country title since Zola Budd in 1986, winning $30,000 and a lifetime satisfaction guarantee. In so doing, Radcliffe, "relieved and excited", may have finally nailed the myth that the Africans cannot be beaten over the country.

"I think it’s great to win a race with a sprint finish," she laughed.

The opinions and content of this article are those of the author and are not attributable to the IAAF, nor do they reflect or represent any official position of the International Amateur Athletic Federation.