2002 – Paula Radcliffe

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13-Oct-2002 – Chicago Marathon – 2:17:18 – Nike Air Streak Spectrum Plus
Date of birth: 17-Dec-1973
Nationality: English
World Record duration: 6 months

The athlete:                
Paula Radcliffe had already enjoyed success at shorter distances, leading to her competing in the 5,000 metres at the 1996 Olympics. She would make her half-marathon debut in 1999 at the Great North Run, setting the second fastest British time in the process. Radcliffe would again participate at the 2000 Olympics, making the final for the 10,000 metres. Taking victory at the half-marathon world championships, Radcliffe would go on to defend her title in 2001. It was somewhat inevitable that she would finally turn her attention to the marathon, and she would make her debut at the 2002 London Marathon.

She was dominant, winning in a time of 2:18:55, the new course record and less than ten seconds behind the world record at the time set by Catherine Ndereba. All eyes were on the newcomer as she took the start of the Chicago Marathon later that year. Despite forecasts threatening rain, competitors were met with cool and sunny conditions. For the first ten miles, there were only three other women in touch with her, including Ndereba. By the halfway mark Radcliffe was already two minutes ahead of her debut pace.

Ndereba continued pushing on, and was right behind Radcliffe by the time they reached the 15th mile. By the next mile, Radcliffe was able to start putting distance between herself and Ndereba. With each passing mile Radcliffe’s lead grew. By the 23rd mile the gap was 66 seconds between the pair. This was where Radcliffe was met with 15-20 mile an hour headwinds, with her escort (running alongside, instead of a pacemaker running in front) for the race advising her that her pace was 5:23 minutes per mile. Radcliffe responded by accelerating into the wind, and would finish the second half of the event faster than the first. She would eventually cross the line in 2:17:18, cutting nearly 80 seconds from the previous world record.

2002 was an overall spectacular year for Radcliffe, who would also win gold in the 5,000 metres at the Commonwealth Games, gold in the 10,000 metres at the European Championships, and gold at the World Cross Country Championships adding to her gold from the previous year’s event. She would round off the year by winning the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, recognition for her incredible achievements. It would not be her last time in the spotlight, and you can read about that next chapter here.

The shoes:                   

Her shoes were the distinctive Nike Air Streak Spectrum Plus, the latest evolution in the Nike Air Streak series that Nike had launched in 1995. Steven Smith was the designer of the lightweight runners, coming in at only 159 grams. They were targeted specifically at the Japanese market that had traditionally favoured racing flats for distance running.

Every element of the upper was dictated by performance, with mesh ensuring the shoes were breathable. The flames were apparently inspired by the Japanese marketing manager, who was enamoured with American hot rod culture. Accordingly, the Air Streak Spectrum Plus featured the distinctive flames that streaked down the side.

Nike collaborated with streetwear label Supreme to retro the Air Streak Spectrum Plus in 2018. It would come in several colourways, including some bolder versions, but not those that Radcliffe wore in 2002. They did however release the version she wore at the 2003 London Marathon, at which Radcliffe would set a record that would stand for no less than sixteen years. More about that here.