From the archives: when Bydgoszcz staged the 2004 European Cup

Paula Radcliffe
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Paula Radcliffe produced a vintage front running performance to win the 5000m at the 2004 European Cup in Bydgoszcz

When Bydgoszcz stages the European Athletics Team Championships a week today, the track will be blue this time and the name of the competition has also changed from 15 years ago. 

But those who will attend might just hear a little tale of an athletics superstar and a 5000m run for the ages.

Back in 2004, the SPAR European Cup was spread across a weekend, unlike three days now, with one division for men and one for women. And when the Polish city played host, the then-red track was the setting for a sensational individual performance from Paula Radcliffe.

It was one of the great displays on European soil - and one of the all-time great performances at the European Cup - as she obliterated the British and Commonwealth record, although it was not quite enough to keep her nation in the Super League of the competition as the Brits were relegated even before her race began. 

In the end, just five points separated the top four teams in the men’s division with Germany lifting the trophy with 107.5 from France (105), Poland (104) and Great Britain (102.5) while the women’s event produced another clear-cut win for Russia with 142 points from Ukraine (97) and France (92.5). Great Britain were last with 63 although they were duly promoted the following year with Radcliffe winning the 3000m and finishing second in the 5000m.

But Radcliffe stole the show in Bydgoszcz, displaying her track brilliance as she returned to this surface for the first time in almost two years at a time when she was at the height of her marathon exploits, having smashed the world record with her run of 2:15:25 in London the year before. 

It was her first track race since she had been crowned European 10,000m champion in Munich in 2002 and as BBC commentator Steve Cram said as she stormed away in the final 500 metres: “Paula Radcliffe being cheered on by the crowd here in Poland - she is a star wherever she goes now.”

Radcliffe had entered the race with a personal best of 14:31.42 but she took control from the start and broke away from the rest of the field, winning in 14.29.11.

From the gun she was chased by Russia’s Liliya Shobukhova but it became Radcliffe against the clock just before the two kilometre mark in 5:43.92. She was even on world record pace - at one stage four seconds inside Elvan Abeylegesse's time of 14.24.68 - and although the time slipped away in the latter stages, she told The Guardian: “It was important to me to come out and run well and show how I am going. I knew I was in good shape but there are always doubts in training. But once I got on the track, I felt much better.” 

Yet in front of a big crowd at the Zdzislaw Krzyszkowiak Stadium, there was despair for her teammate Ashia Hansen, who had broken the world record with 15.16m in winning European indoor title in Valencia in 1998. In the second round of the competition on the Saturday in Bydgoszcz, Hansen suffered a horrific injury, rupturing the tendons in her patella and would never compete at a major international event again.

The overall victory for the Russian women came during a spell of dominance in the competition as they were champions for 12 successive editions between 1997 and 2008, the final time before the competition was replaced by the European Athletics Team Championships.

The  men’s event was packed with drama of its own, and delight for the home crowd as Poland’s Lukasz Chyla won the 100m in 10.42 from France’s Ronald Pognon (10.43) and Germany’s Ronny Ostwald (10.49). It was one of two individual victories for Poland in the 25th European Cup with Szymon Ziolkowski taking the hammer with 77.27m. 

The great drama of the European Cup and the European Athletics Team Championships is that it is not all about winning individual events as Germany’s men proved. They were crowned champions on the men’s side despite only winning three events: the 3000m with Wolfram Muller (8:04.37), the discus with Michael Mollenbeck (64.42m) and the crucial 4x400m relay, winning in 3:01.78 ahead of Russia (3:01.88) and Poland (3:02.05) and with it the overall victory.

Final Standings

Men

1. Germany 107.5 points
2. France 105
3. Poland 104
4. Great Britain 102.5
5. Russia 99
6. Italy 72
7. Sweden 67
8. Netherlands 62

Women

1. Russia 142
2. Ukraine 97
3. France 92.5
4. Germany 92
5. Poland 86.5
6. Greece 79
7. Spain 66
8. Great Britain 63