The 24-year-old Bedford runner was distraught after finishing fifth in a race won by an unanswerable final sprint from the Irishwoman who beat her into second place in the World Cross-Country Championships five months ago, Sonia O'Sullivan.
As the delighted O'Sullivan bounded off on a flag-waving lap of honour with all the welling energy of a winner, Radcliffe collapsed like a discarded doll on the infield and was put briefly on to a stretcher before insisting on walking, dazed and pale, from the arena.
Initially too upset to talk, Radcliffe was baffled by her failure to produce a better run after a period of altitude training at Font Romeu in the Pyrenees that had left her in outstanding shape.
"I can't explain it," she said. "I'm devastated. I had rested and drank enough water. I didn't feel nervous beforehand. And I was in the shape to run much faster.
"My legs felt as is if they were running fast even though I knew I wasn't."
Her plan to break up the field by introducing a sustained burst of speed in the second half of the race never came to fruition. Despite taking the lead in the race's sedate early stages, and again with just over 2,000 metres remaining, she was never able to get rid of the lurking threat of Portugal's Olympic champion, Fernando Ribeiro, Lidia Simon of Romania, Olivera Jevtic of Yugoslavia - and, of course, her nemesis at the world cross-country, O'Sullivan.
"My fastest lap was 72 seconds," she said. "It should have been 69."
After alternating the lead with Ribeiro in the closing stages of the race, Radcliffe reached the bell in front - and in apparent agony, her head nodding and rolling with effort. It was a position she had found herself in too many times before in a career that has seen her finish fourth over 5,000m at last year's World Championships, fifth at the 1996 Olympic Games and fifth at the 1995 World Championships.
As they turned into the final 400 metres, first Ribeiro then O'Sullivan glided past her, the leading group of five who had contested the second half of the race bunched again in the back straight. Not until the final bend did the race find its final definition as O'Sullivan - who until that point had merely glided along behind whoever was in the lead - stretched her long legs and moved away from the others like a speedboat clearing a bunch of rowers.
In the space of 150 metres, she created a 40-metre lead, crossing the line with fists clenched in a time of 39min 29.33sec. Behind her, Ribeiro took silver in 31.32.42, with Simon beating Jevtic to the bronze. An exhausted Radcliffe took an all too familiar placing.
Asked afterwards if she thought O'Sullivan might have offered more help with the pacemaking, she replied: "No. This is a championship race and you can't expect people to help you. That's the way Sonia runs her races."
O'Sullivan, a jubilant figure afterwards, said: "It was easy when I did the last lap. But the rest wasn't that easy."
Christine Arron, of France, won the women's 100m title in a European record of 10.73sec, after overhauling Russia's fast-starting defending champion, Irina Privalova, who took the silver in a time of 10.83.
Solomon Wariso, who earned the third 400 metres place at the expense of Roger Black, came within hundredths of a second of what would have been an ignominious exit after he slowed too soon in his opening heat and failed to gain one of the three automatic qualifying places for today's semi-finals, for which Britain's other entrants, Mark Richardson and Iwan Thomas, qualified comfortably.
The misjudgement of Solomon occurred 50 metres from the line as, apparently secure in third place, he looked around him in exaggerated fashion and slowed, allowing Jan Podebradsky, of the Czech Republic, to pass him. Wariso had no time to respond, finishing fourth in 46.27sec to the Czech's 46.16.
Wariso settled down to watch his fate determined by the three subsequent heats, hoping to progress as one of the four fastest losers. Despite an uncomfortably fast final heat in which the fourth-placed runner matched his time, Wariso finally did get his run.
Wariso's fortune was not shared by his colleague, Nick Buckfield. The 25-year-old pole vaulter landed badly in the pit in the qualifying competition and injured his back. He was taken to hospital, where X-rays showed no serious damage, but he returned, shaken, to the British team hotel with severe bruising to his hip.