4th May 2020


Our series of flashbacks to memorable British moments in the sport since the year 2000 enters its fourth week as we look to 2003 where it’s all about superhuman Paula Radcliffe again, although Kelly Holmes makes substantial progress as the Olympics draw ever closer.

The whole of 2002 could have scarcely gone better for Paula Radcliffe as she transformed from ‘Plucky Paula’ to ‘Paula the Great’ with a world record, European, Commonwealth and World Cross Country titles and some prestigious honours including BBC Sports Personality of the Year and IAAF World Athlete of the Year.

How would 2003 compare? Well, two world records this time – one arguably the greatest ever at the time – and the regaining of her World Half Marathon title and double European cross country gold after injury and illness unfortunately ruled her out of a shot at the World Championships in Paris. So, not bad at all.

As 2002 made way for 2003 Radcliffe’s golden glow could still be seen shining – a 2:17:18 world record at the Chicago Marathon in October of that year was followed by that coveted BBC Sports Personality of the Year and her bid for a second successive win at the London Marathon in another history defying time was made abundantly clear in February.

San Juan in Puerto Rico was the scene as Radcliffe lined up for a 10km road race – her last race over the distance a British record 30:38 before Chicago – a time which she absolutely smashed in a dominant run at a venue she had clearly grown to favour.

She took eight seconds off the previous best mark in clocking a world record 30:21, which would stand for some time, and quickly stated she could’ve gone quicker. The World Cross Country Championships in Lausanne at the end of March were dropped and her next outing was that famous London Marathon in April.

Radcliffe’s run was a thing to behold as she yet again took women’s marathon running into territories it had never been before. Just her third career race over 26.2-miles, she was well clear of her rivals after an opening mile of 5:10.

The time at halfway was 68:02, Radcliffe bettering that during a breath-taking second half of 67:23. With the clock ticking over to 1:36:36 by 30km, she was 64 seconds better than she was in Chicago and the victory parade really kicked into gear.

A sprint home saw her stop the clock at 2:15:25 – the first woman to break 2:16, almost two minutes faster than Chicago, almost a mile ahead of the former world record holder Catherine Ndereba in second, enough to qualify for the men’s marathon at the World Championships that year, and one of the greatest world records of all time.

It should be noted that, because Radcliffe’s pacers were male, it’s technically a world best and not world record. Semantics aside, Radcliffe was undoubtedly now an athletics great and should be given immense credit for how she approached the rest of the year.

Unfortunate injury and illness prevented her taking to the start line on the track at the World Championships in Paris in August but she would be back out on the roads in the autumn lowering her own British half marathon record to 65:40 before regaining the world title over the distance with ease in the Algarve.

Nobly, after taking the top prize in 2002, Radcliffe raced at the European Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh on the day of the 2003 BBC Sports Personality of the Year show. In Scotland, she would win the women’s title and lead the British team of herself, Liz Yelling, Hayley Yelling and Hayley Tullett to gold while in the evening she finished third in the SPOTY show, beaten only by the World Cup winning heroics of rugby players Jonny Wilkinson and Martin Johnson.

The World Championships in Paris would prove a difficult hunting ground for the British team as injury to not only Radcliffe but proven performers including Dean Macey, Ashia Hansen, Jonathan Edwards, Chris Rawlinson, Phillips Idowu and others too.

After her maiden outdoor title at the Europeans in 2002, Hansen won back her world indoor triple jump title early in the 2003 season on home soil in Birmingham, Marlon Devonish would also take gold in the 200m. While Hansen suffered injury heartache to be ruled out of Paris, the other British female medallist at those World Indoor Championships would have a significant moment in Paris.

Kelly Holmes took 1500m silver as the British team won seven medals at the world indoors in Birmingham and would go on to secure her best World Championship performance outdoors since her breakthrough silver and bronze double in 1995.

Holmes eased her way through the rounds of the 800m and the final would become a three-way race between herself, Maria Mutola and Russian Natalya Khrushcheleva. Holmes was just pipped by Mutola but silver would boost her confidence ahead of what would be a memorable Athens Olympic Games a year later.

Holmes’ silver was one of three medals for the British team in Paris with the other two intriguing and interesting in equal measure. Darren Campbell, with a European title individually and an Olympic silver medal, is used to delivering on the biggest stage and would do so in Paris.

He claimed bronze in the 100m in an enthralling race won by Kim Collins in 10.07 with thousandths of a second needed to separate Darrel Brown for second and Campbell for third. Attempting a 100m-200m double, Campbell would return for double the distance and suffer heartache. Running a great race, he would miss out on a second bronze by 0.01 to Shingo Suetsugu of Japan.

The third and final medal came in the form of a fantastic effort from Hayley Tullett. By no means an international newcomer, having won Commonwealth silver in 2002, Tullett although rarely mentioned, looked in good form in progressing to the 1500m final.

In the medal showdown, she kept her composure and timed her break to perfection with a great finish down the home straight giving her third in 3:59.95 – shock written all over her face at a personal best and then just one of three British women to go sub four minutes. She rode the wave to another bronze at the World Athletics Final two weeks later. Holmes would also do the same and take second at that event.

Of those athletes that just missed out in Paris, Jade Johnson recovered form but had to settle for fourth by seven centimetres with a best of 6.63m in the long jump final. The men’s 4x400m relay team of Ian Mackie, Sean Baldock, Chris Rawlinson and Daniel Caines also missed out a medal, by less than half a second in fourth.