By David Monti.
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

March 5, 2011

PARIS -- Although the results show a second place finish for Britain's Helen Clitheroe in the second heat of the women's 3000-meters qualifying on the second day of the 31st European Indoor Championships here, the versatile 37 year-old athlete may have won the race for control.  She led every one of the 15 laps, starting slowly (3:07 for the first kilometer), then gently increasing the pace until only three women were left in the lead group.  Just before the line she eased up, allowing Layes Abdulayeva of Azerbaijan to scoot past for the win in 9:00.80.  Clitheroe clocked 9:01.45 in second and Poland's Lidia Chojecka finished third, all qualifying tomorrow's final.

"It's just great to get through as unscathed as possible and feel relaxed," said the British record holder for the steeplechase.  "And, I felt comfortable at the front, not tripping over anybody.  So, just relieved really to get through.  It's really nerve-wracking; it wasn't an easy heat."

Clitheroe is enjoying her best indoor season.  She opened with a commanding win over 3000m at the Aviva International Match Trophy in Glasgow in January, then won the British trials for this meet, passing Gemma Turtle with 150 meters left to collect the 3-K victory there.  Most impressively, she ran a personal best 8:39.81 at the Aviva Grand Prix on February 19, the fastest by any European woman this year.  It was the first time she had broken 8:50 indoors during her career.  Has she been improving with age?

"Who knows?" Clitheroe said, smiling like a mischievous school girl.  "I hope so.  It seems my times, my PB for 3-K, is definitely better at this age than any other age.  So, yeah!"

Clitheroe spent most of her career as a 1500-meter runner, winning a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in 2002, and finishing fourth in those championships in 2006.  But she's never won a medal in these championships, twice finishing fourth in 2005 and 2007 at 1500m.  She clearly feels confident going into tomorrow's final where here top rivals will be Russia's Olesya Syreva, Turkey's Sultan Haydar, and Spain's Dolores Checa.

"I just think the last six months the training has gone very well," she said.  "I've just changed emphasis in what I've been doing a little bit, and it seems to be really working.   I've also been to altitude in Kenya a couple of times, and I think that's really helped me.  I feel great since I've come back from there."

When a reporters suggested that the simple food in Kenya might have made a difference, she laughed.

"It's the ugali, yeah," she quipped before heading for the recovery area.

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