PAULA Radcliffe will make her eagerly-awaited comeback in the Great North Run later this month in a major coup for the event’s organisers.
Radcliffe, the marathon world record holder, has not raced in more than 18 months following the birth of her first child, Isla, and a series of niggling injuries.
But Britain’s leading female athlete has decided to launch her preparations for the Beijing Olympics next year by competing in her third Great North Run.
The 33-year-old, who will travel to the North-East from her high altitude training base in the French Pyrenees, won her last event, a 10-kilometre race in Madrid, in December 2005 and will be hoping to make an immediate impact on her return after the frustration of missing the London Marathon, as well as the Commonwealth Games and World Championships because of injury.
She said: “I was extremely frustrated to miss the Commonwealth Games and London Marathon with my foot injury, but the joy of having Isla helped to cope with that a little bit.
“I really missed racing through the pregnancy and the setbacks since have emphasised this even more. It has really underlined to me how much I want to carry on competing for a good while yet.
“I now feel that I am at that point and ready to come out and race well. I am really, really looking forward to it. It has been a really frustrating time recently, especially missing out on Osaka and watching the 10,000m, which seemed more open than it has been for years. I had to be patient until my body recovered and I have been able to get a good base of running and decent training in.”
British Athletics will have breathed a collective sigh of relief following yesterday’s confirmation that Radcliffe will return to competitive action in Newcastle. The Bedford athlete is one of the biggest draws in world sport and will be one Britain’s main medal hopes in next year’s Olympic games.
“I chose a half marathon because I wanted a good quality fast race to come back and blow away the cobwebs,” said Radcliffe, who will compete with another British Olympic hopeful Jo Pavey in the Great North Run.
“It is that time of the year and I have many happy memories of good races at the Great North Run, so it seemed a natural place to start back.
“I love the Great North, have many happy memories and always get such great support there.
“I love mass races where the atmosphere is so good at the start and all along the route. I also know I will get a big test on my comeback, but look forward to getting back to having fun racing.”
Radcliffe’s first GNR success came in 2000 when she smashed the course record set by Norway’s Grete Waitz. Then, four years ago, Radcliffe clocked 65min 40sec, still the world’s fastest half marathon.
Radcliffe’s inclusion in this year’s event is also a triumph for Nova International, the organisers of the Great North Run who have embarked on a lengthy pursuit of Radcliffe to persuade her to make her comeback on Tyneside.
Spokesman David Hart said: “It’s probably one of the biggest pieces of news in world athletics that she is making her comeback here in the North-East and we are absolutely delighted. To have her is great credit to the event and the region. It’s a real shot in the arm for UK Athletics. It’s her first step towards the Olympics and she wants a competitive race.
“She always said she was going to come back and she’s a very strong woman, but after almost two years you do start to worry that she might not take part again. It’s been a long time, she’s had a baby and a number of injuries, but she has got the glint in her eye again and she has never wavered in her determination to race again.”
The Great North Run is the world’s biggest half marathon and it is expected 50,000 runners will be taking part in the race on September 30.
I really missed racing. I now feel I’m at that point and ready to come out and race well