An email conversation with Paula Radcliffe: 'I refuse to let the events of last year make me bitter'

The day when my legs could hardly carry me; Athletes' right to prove they are clean; Don't be afraid to go after what you want in life; Inspiration from Kelly Holmes for Beijing
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The Independent Online

Running is a bit boring, isn't it? You once said you counted when you ran. Which number are you up to now? I've lost count long ago! I don't find it boring, though. When I count it is to help maintain concentration in a race. I find cross training, and especially exercise in confined spaces like gyms or pools, boring though.

The BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards take place on Sunday. What was your most vivid memory of your win in 2002? It was such a big honour just to hold the trophy and look at the names on its side and know that my name was going to be there too.

When can we expect to see you in Strictly Come Dancing? Never ever! I have two left feet, no co-ordination and no sense of rhythm and this is almost my ultimate nightmare.

When you stopped running in the Olympic Marathon in Athens, why did you try to start again before finally coming to a halt? I couldn't believe that I couldn't keep going. I thought I must be able to but when I tried my legs could hardly carry me and my whole body felt really bad. I was scared and didn't understand what was happening to me and why my body wasn't working.

Did the ferocity of the criticism you received from some sections of the media during the Athens Olympics take you aback? At the time it was very hurtful and, yes, it hit me hard. However, in the long term, it helped me to toughen up and not to waste time and energy worrying about what critics think and say. I've accepted that I can never please everyone and there will always be someone who doesn't understand or has a different opinion of things. What matters is that I know that I've always given all that I can and will continue to do so. I refuse to let the events of last year make me bitter and prevent me from getting the most from the rest of my career.

You have taken a hard-line stance on doping in the past, but after your successes of 2002, when you won the Commonwealth and European titles and broke the marathon world record, there was a piece in L'Equipe implying that you had to be on something illegal. Can achievement in athletics ever occur now without such an undertow of speculation? I hope so and this is what I'm continuously campaigning for. Athletes deserve the right to be able to prove their performances are clean and the result of hard work. The testing system is improving but we all need to work together more. It is sad that we have to face such speculation but the important thing is that in our hearts we know we are clean and we can believe and be proud of our achievements.

Which win in your career has given you the biggest kick? Winning the World XC in 2001 because it was in a sprint finish and I outkicked one of my biggest rivals in Gete Wami. No one believed I was going to do it but me and I could hear the swell of support from the stands as I passed her in the straight.

Remind us what main events are you running in the new year. The Commonwealth Games 10,000m and possibly also the 5,000m, and the London Marathon on 23 April.

Would it be fair to say that you are frighteningly well organised? Did your mum ever have to tell you off for leaving your room in a mess? Constantly! I always have been organised in terms of fitting everything into my life that I want to do. However, there are more fun and important things to do than cleaning and tidying. I don't live in a mess but my room can be pretty cluttered, although I do always know where everything is!

Do you have a favourite saying? Live each day to the full and don't be afraid to go after what you want in life. Always treat others as you would wish to be treated and be the best that you can be.

Are you very rich? Do you think you deserve to be? I think I'm very rich in terms of experiences and self-fulfilment! Financially, to be honest, I don't know exactly how rich I am, but think I do work very hard at what I do and put in huge levels of time, energy, commitment. It's way more than a full-time job to me.

What has been your biggest mistake? Wasting too much time and too many tears worrying what other people thought of what I did.

If you weren't an athlete, what do you think you would have been? How about a swimmer, like your great aunt Charlotte, who won an Olympic silver in 1920? Not a swimmer - I have huge admiration for people who can spend all day working hard going up and down a pool staring at a black line! I can't really think of any other sport I am good enough at to have done. If I wasn't an athlete I'd have to get a proper job! I studied French, German and economics so maybe something in international business.

Which three words best describe your character? Persistent, dedicated, loyal.

Of what are you most proud outside athletics? My family and marriage. The way I've lived the rest of my life. Maybe encouraging others to take up sport and a healthy lifestyle.

When will you allow yourself to start actively planning for the 2008 Olympics? Or is it in the back of your mind all the time? It's at the back of my mind now planning-wise, but there are other closer targets first.

What are you reading at the moment? The Black Angel by John Connolly.

Do you wish you'd lied about why you had to make an unscheduled 'pit stop' en route to winning this year's London Marathon? Are there any circumstances in which you would tell a lie? No point in lying when it was shown live on TV to millions!! No I'm not good at lying - it shows in my eyes. I think lying takes more energy and causes more problems in the long run than telling the truth in the beginning and taking the consequences. However, I am pretty good at keeping a straight face and telling wind-up lies. People always fall for it.

When you won the World Marathon title in Helsinki this year, you were miles clear by the end. Running in to collect a certain gold, with people cheering you - how nice was that? It was very nice. That day I would only have been happy with the gold but it felt great for things to go according to plan and to finally win the world title and have the time to savour the experience fully in the closing stages.

How do you get on with Kelly Holmes? How does she get on with you? We get on well. We've spent a lot of time together on teams and at events and also gone through some trying injury times together. I was really happy for her in Athens - she had fought through some rough times to get there and I take inspiration from her for Beijing. She was also great in finding time to text me after Athens in the midst of all that was going on for her.

How important is fashion to you? How much would you spend on a dress? I like to look good and follow fashion trends but don't live and die by them. If I loved a dress I might spend a lot on it if I would wear it more than once but not thousands as I'd find it a waste and be afraid to wear it.

Do you watch football, or support a team? What about Gary? I do watch it but not consistently. My family and I support Liverpool. Gary watches it quite a bit but doesn't really support a particular team.

When was the last time you got drunk? I never really go past merry but I was pretty merry in Helsinki after the marathon. I should have been a lot worse, given the state of Gary and the fact we'd drunk similar amounts!!

Attachment: The Paula Radcliffe lowdown

* Born: 17 December, 1973, Northwich, Cheshire.

* Club: Bedford and County.

* Married: To ex-international runner Gary Lough (2000).

* Coach: Alex and Rosemary Stanton.

* 1996 Olympic 5,000m 5th.

* 1997 World Championships 5,000m 4th, World Cross-Country Championships 2nd.

* 1998: European Champion-ships 5,000m 5th, World Cross 2nd, European Cross 1st.

* 1999: World Championships 5,000m 2nd, World Cross 3rd.

* 2000: Olympics 10,000m 4th, World Half-Marathon Championships 1st, World Cross 5th.

* 2001: World Championships 10,000 4th, World Cross 1st, World Half-marathon 1st.

* 2002: World Cross 1st, Commonwealth Games 5,000m 1st (C'wealth record), European Ch'ships 10,000m 1st (Euro-pean record), London Marathon 1st (women's only world best), Chicago Marathon 1st (world record), BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Awarded MBE. IAAF World Athlete of Year.

* 2003: London Marathon 1st (world record), World Marathon 1st, European Cross 1st.

* 2004: Olympic Marathon did not finish race, 10,000m did not finish race, New York Marathon 1st.

* 2005: London Marathon 1st (women's only world best), World Championships Marathon 1st.

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