Legendary Ethiopian comes out on top in “Queen versus Emperor” race at the Vienna Half-marathon
The organisers of the Vienna Half-marathon had attracted two of the biggest names in the business – Paula Radcliffe and Haile Gebrselassie – and faced them off against one another in a unique take on racing.
Radcliffe, the marathon world record-holder, was to set off first, 7:52 ahead of former marathon world record-holder Gebrselassie – the difference being based on the gap between their respective personal bests.
The Briton had tried not to raise expectations in the days leading up to the race, telling Athletics Weekly last week that she wasn’t expecting fireworks and would be happy with 68 or 69 minutes.
“I want to enjoy it as I haven’t raced for a while,” said Radcliffe, who recently came down with bronchitis and pleurisy. “I’s just preparation for the Olympics.”
But her condition affected her more than she thought it would and after a solid opening 5km of 16:13, Radcliffe’s pace slowed somewhat and she was passed by a sprightly-looking Gebrselassie after 15.3km.
The 38-year-old Ethiopian crossed the line in 60:52, while Radcliffe followed a few minutes later with an official time of 72:03 – a course record, but her slowest ever half-marathon run and the first time she has not broken 70 minutes for the 13.1-mile distance.
Radcliffe looked upset and frustrated at the finish, but soon got back on her feet and appeared to say “I’m sorry” to the race organisers at the finish line before being embraced by Gebrselassie.
“It was really concerning,” admitted Radcliffe after the race. “I knew I wasn’t coming into the race in personal-best shape but I didn’t expect it to feel that bad.
“I guess first of all I just have to allow myself to recover and see how things go in training. It’s not as if there are not reasons, but even so I couldn’t have expected it to make that much difference.”
In Radcliffe’s last outing over the full marathon distance in Berlin just seven months ago, she went through half way in an easy-looking 70:30 before completing the race in 2:23:46. But today she was some way off that pace.
“I didn’t feel great at all – the first six or seven kilometres were OK but then my legs started to feel really heavy. I didn’t feel like I was struggling to breathe. My legs just wouldn’t work much better.
“After that it was a kind of lonely run, not feeling great. I was just trying to mentally switch off and keep going.
“Haile caught me a lot sooner than I would have had hoped and I’m disappointed with the time. I knew I wasn’t on top form after the last two weeks but I didn’t expect it to be that bad.”
Radcliffe was using this race as part of her preparations for the London Olympics. Although it did not go to plan, she had enjoyed a solid winter of training and still has several months in which to recover from her illness.
“The winter training has gone well. Things were good in Iten with the other British athletes there, but then I got a hamstring problem in the third week and had to go home to get it sorted and stopped faster sessions for a month. I then went to Albuquerque and I had five good weeks of training there, but then picked up bronchitis on my return.”