Paula Radcliffe won Britain's first gold medal of the World Championships when she claimed a comprehensive victory in the marathon in Helsinki.

The 31-year-old produced an exemplary display of front-running after leading from start to finish and shaking off her rivals with a stunning injection of speed after the halfway point to set a new championship record of two hours 20 minutes 57 seconds.

Constantina Tomescu-Dita was the only athlete to offer any kind of challenge to Radcliffe, but was blown away by the Briton's turn of pace.

The Romanian ended up being overtaken for second place by defending champion Catherine Ndereba of Ethiopia, who was more than a minute behind the winner.

Although Radcliffe has not won a global title on the track, she has claimed three world half-marathon and two world cross-country crowns as well as three London Marathons and their equivalents in Chicago and New York.

It is a welcome contrast to Radcliffe's fortunes in Athens last year when she dropped out of both the marathon and the 10,000 metres and also vindicated her decision to use the track race last Sunday, in which she finished ninth, as a final training run.

There was an added bonus when the British team claimed third spot behind Kenya and Japan with Mara Yamauchi and Hayley Haining in 18th and 25th respectively although Debbie Mason did not finish.

Radcliffe said: "I am just really happy and happy the team took bronze. Very happy and very relieved. It was important. I knew I was in good shape and it was important to show that.

"It pretty much went according to plan. If somebody had been with me at the end I think I could have pushed it up a bit more.

"It is totally different to last year because I came in good shape and with no health worries."

Radcliffe was in control of the race throughout and immediately stretched the field by imposing a testing pace.

"The idea was to go out at a pace that was decent but comfortable. I was feeling good on the hills and enjoyed them. They were not big hills so I felt very comfortable."

Prior to Radcliffe's gold, only Britain's men's 4x100m team had secured a medal with last night's bronze but she denied this had added any extra pressure.

"Not really," she said. "The biggest pressure comes from myself because I knew I had worked really hard this year but had to go out there and prove it. It is very special."