Radcliffe Answers the Challenge

Paula Radcliffe wins in 2:23:09 after outkicking Gete Wami.
Paula Radcliffe wins in 2:23:09 after outkicking Gete Wami. "I wasn't taking anything for granted," Radcliffe said. (By Kathy Willens -- Associated Press)
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 5, 2007

NEW YORK, Nov. 4 -- She trailed Sunday's New York City Marathon for approximately six seconds, and that was, apparently, six seconds too long for Britain's Paula Radcliffe. All morning, Radcliffe had coped with what she described as a "nerve-racking" threat from Ethiopian Gete Wami, who stuck persistently and maddeningly to Radcliffe's back, refusing to fall behind, take the lead or even move to within Radcliffe's field of vision.

And then, with the finish line around the corner, the outcome shrouded with uncertainty and Radcliffe's head bobbing wildly from exertion, the Ethiopian suddenly made her long-awaited charge in Central Park. For the first time all day, Wami pushed past Radcliffe's shoulder and stole the lead, producing gasps and shouts.

Was this it? The notorious finishing kick that had allowed Wami to outsprint Radcliffe in two gripping world championship 10,000-meter races?

Wami didn't get two steps ahead before Radcliffe summoned a defiant retort, storming past and sprinting the last quarter-mile to a deceptively easy victory in 2 hours 23 minutes 9 seconds. Wami, already battling stomach pain, faced plain demoralization, too. She faded badly for the first time all day, crossing the finish line in 2:23:32.

"I don't know whether that was a last-ditch attempt, but I wasn't taking anything for granted," Radcliffe said. "There were 500 meters to go, and I wasn't letting her get any further away. She made a move and I responded to it as fast as I could."

Radcliffe's victory was her first since she gave birth to her daughter, Isla, in January. It also gave Radcliffe her first marathon title since 2005, when she won the world championship in Helsinki, while extending her road-running legend: She has now won all seven marathons she has completed, upholding her stance as arguably the best female marathon runner in history.

"I tried to pass her at that moment, but she was just too strong," Wami said through an interpreter. "I just can't second-guess myself at that point, why I attempted to pass her. She responded, and I was unable to catch up to her."

The men's race unfolded much like the women's, at least after a lead pack of as many as 11 whittled itself down over the race's late stages. During the final miles through Central Park, Kenya's Martin Lel ran shoulder-to-shoulder with Moroccan Abderrahim Goumri in what looked to be a dynamic duel. But just 400 meters from the finish, as fans wondered whether they might just cross the finish line as a pair, Goumri dropped back as Lel made a move, and the Kenyan sprinted triumphantly to his second New York marathon win, this time in 2:09:04.

Goumri finished in 2:09:16 and South Africa's Hendrick Ramaala claimed third in 2:11:25.

Radcliffe approached Sunday's race as she did her pregnancy: by taking charge from the start. While pregnant, Radcliffe never stopped training. She ran twice daily until she was five months along. From five to seven months she ran once daily and thereafter, until the day before she gave birth, she ran every other day. She took only 12 days off after Isla was born, a period Wami, who has a 4-year-old daughter, Eva, found remarkable.

"When I had my child," she said, "it took me three or four years to recover."

Radcliffe immediately bolted to the lead on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge as Wami tucked comfortably in her shadow. The pair left the rest of the field behind, creating a sizable gap on the bridge itself. By 13.1 miles, it was a race between only two. The second pack trailed by more than two minutes. Latvia's Jelena Prokopcuka eventually claimed third place, more than three minutes behind Radcliffe in 2:26:13.

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