Athletics: 'No mental problem,' says Radcliffe as she takes a bite at the Big Apple

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The Independent Online

Paula Radcliffe faced the media at the Tavern on the Green in Central Park here yesterday, eyes as bright as the diamond studs that sparkled in her ears. She seemed to have moved on a very long way from the trauma of August.

Having decided just over a fortnight ago to take part in Sunday's marathon here ­ for a fee reputed to be $500,000 (£272,000) ­ the woman whose Olympics ended in traumatic failure was contemplating Life After Athens with something suspiciously close to cheerfulness. And insisting that the 26 and a bit miles she intends to tread this weekend will not be in any sense a road to redemption.

"I don't think I have to prove anything to myself," she said, as a predicted storm began to break over the city. "Once I found out what happened to me in Athens, that there were reasons for it, I knew that when I was healthy again I would go out and run just as well as I had before.

"I'm definitely coming here to win and race well. Athens was something that happened and I have to live with it. Nothing is going to make up for it, but at the same time it's not going to ruin the rest of my life."

The decision she took to bring forward her racing return, having originally scheduled it for the Nike 10-kilometre event in London on 28 November, received a critical response in some quarters from those who felt she may not have given herself sufficient time to recover, given that she has gone straight into training at Flagstaff, Arizona, and then opted to come here.

She begs to differ. "There is no mental problem. I can't just rest ­ that will destroy me." Her presence has also stimulated an adverse reaction from some of her rivals in the New York field, most notably Lorna Kiplagat, the naturalised Kenyan who runs for the Netherlands, who said: "When you sign up for a race you usually know who is running. You then decide your tactics and then you adapt your training for those tactics. To change tactics with only a couple of weeks left to the race is not possible. If you say the truth, people can hate you but I don't care. If Paula was preparing to break a world record in England and I turned up, she would be shocked too."

Kiplagat has accused the Briton of being "selfish". Radcliffe seemed bemused by the latter point yesterday ­ "I spoke to Lorna this morning and she seemed fine", she responded ­ but in terms of the general response, she was clear enough.

"I think I've got to the point now where I'm just going to get on with what is right for me and not worry about what everyone else thinks about what I'm doing," she said.

She has been well aware of the polarity of opinion in the wake of her failure to finish the Olympic marathon, and the subsequent abortive attempt to salvage something from the 10,000 metres.

"It's something you have to accept," she said. "It's something I never had to face before in my career, but then I probably never had a disaster of that magnitude in my career before.

"I haven't watched a re-run of the marathon. I don't particularly want to and I don't feel there's a need to.

"The public response since has been overwhelming ­ really, really kind. It's helped me a lot. It's really touched me and I'm really grateful for it. It's going to take a long time to finish all the thank-you letters."

Since the confusing events of Athens, when she arrived at the marathon start amid rumours that she had been suffering from a calf injury, she has been struggling to reconcile the factors which she felt caused her breakdown. In short, a belatedly diagnosed haematoma in her leg was troubling her in the run-up to the race, but it was the anti-inflammatory drugs she took to combat it which, she feels, most seriously undermined her.

"I was so worried, thinking about the injury and the race, I didn't give a thought to the fact that my stomach was really bad. There was a small awareness of the injury in the race, but not enough to stop me.

"I've never experienced anything like what I felt in Athens. It didn't feel like me, and I want to feel like me again. I've never felt that depleted before.

"It wasn't like the pain of an injury. It was like a numbness. I couldn't move, I couldn't pick things up. I felt like I was running uphill when I was running downhill. But I'm not going to have that level of depletion again. I know the signs now.

"It's definitely a sensible decision to run here. I'm not saying running the 10k in Athens wasn't a sensible decision, because I don't regret trying to run it. I'd rather have tried to get somewhere in it than watch from the sidelines. But it was my heart ruling. This is my head and my heart."