Radcliffe vital to Brits in Chiba
Even if Paula Radcliffe is fit enough to compete, the Norwich Union GB side even faces an awesome task in this year's Chiba Ekiden Relay on November 23. Ethiopia winners of the Japanese race for the last three years have despite resting many of their top stars, chosen one still good enough to win a fourth successive title. And Kenya their arch-African rivals have also named a much stronger side than in previous contests, led by Catherine Ndereba the Olympic marathon silver medallist.
Ndereba who was beaten by Radcliffe for the World Championships marathon gold medal in August will add plenty of strength to a side which was outpaced for victory a year ago. The announcement of the African nation's contingents show their eagerness to win again the prestigious title, while Great Britain is hopeful of a good showing. But much of their hopes hinge around Radcliffe being fit to run one of the vital 10 kilometre stages in the relay which in varying legs covers the marathon distance.
Radcliffe who on Thurday withdrew from the Seven Hills Race in Nijmegen for the present remains in the British side, which includes experienced internationals Charlotte Dale and Birhan Dagne. Backing them will be the steeplechaser Jo Ankier, Kate Reed and 39-year-old Kate Ramsay who will be representing her country for the first time in seven years. Whether Radcliffe feels she is fit enough to run what will be a hotly contested stint will be a decision only she and her advisors can make.
But the world marathon record holder who withdrew from Nijmegen feeling a fast 15K time wasn't viable given a recent bout of bronchitis, might feel a world-class 10K perormance will also be difficult. Radcliffe knows from past experience the opposition will be top notch. Two years ago she surrendered an unbeaten 15-months record in Chiba, when beaten into third place on her opening leg stint. Ethiopia's Berhane Adere and Lucy Wangui brought her downfall although in fairness, Radcliffe was suffering from a virus and felt unwell throughout the race.
Now the British selectors will be crossing their fingers the British Number One feels she is healthy enough to undertake a very tough assignment. "We haven't made a decision," said Gary Lough her husband and manager when asked if Radcliffe planned withdrawing from the GB side. "For the moment we're just taking everything day-by-day."
Meanwhile the Kenyan's eager to wrest the prestigious crown from their northerly neighbours will apart from Ndereba field only one other athlete - Onesmus Nyerere in the men's race - who is home-based. The remaining 12 athletes all live and train in Japan, but even their local knowledge and acclimitisation to the weather, is unlikely to give them any great advantage.
Ethiopia have made major changes to their squads particularly in the women's competition, but they still have the ability with their up-and-coming athletes to thwart their challengers. Tirunesh Dibaba the reigning World 5000 and 10000 metres champion and double World Cross Country champion, will be an absentee. So too will be her sister Ejegayehou the Olympic 10000m runner-up and Meseret Defar the Olympic 5000m gold medallist plus Worknesh Kidane the former World Cross long course champion. But the Ethiopian's with Meselech Melkamu last year's World Cross junior champion and Gelete Burika who succeeded her in St Galmier this year in the side, rate their chances highly.
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