Athletics: Radcliffe runs high risk in comeback race

The mirror-tiled walls of the Tavern on the Green, deep in Central Park, provided a suitably reflective setting for Paula Radcliffe here as she looked ahead to tomorrow's New York Marathon.

After the trauma of Athens, the 30-year-old world record holder has followed her instinct in seeking the first available opportunity to restore not just her reputation as the best female distance runner in the world, but her very sense of herself. Running is what she does; winning is what she does - or did, until her body and will collapsed on the long, scorched road from Marathon. And according to two athletes who have travelled the same metaphorical route as Radcliffe, there is no other option for her when she toes the line on Staten Island. She has to return victorious.

Most drinkers sheltering from Thursday night's downpour in Rosie O'Grady's Bar, a block away from Times Square, would have been unaware of the place held in their city's history by the straggly-bearded character in the blue peaked cap who sat sipping Guinness in a corner.

But those who nodded respectfully to him or shook his hand knew this was Steve Jones, the former world marathon record holder, a winner in London and, 16 years ago, a winner in New York. Like Radcliffe, Jones knows what it is like to fall from the heights - as the leading marathon runner in the world, the former RAF technician staggered in last at the 1986 European Championships in Stuttgart after taking insufficient liquid during the race. Two years later, having failed to gain Olympic selection, he returned to the top of his sport via the streets of Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan.

"Mine and Paula's careers have run very parallel," Jones said. "From being successful in the World Cross Country Championships and winning our first three marathons by kicking ass, and then coming unstuck in our fourth. I didn't come back right away after Stuttgart. I didn't run another marathon until the following spring.

"Paula is the greatest female distance runner of her generation. But she has to win here. It's all about Sunday morning, when she wakes up and looks in the mirror and decides whether she really wants to be here. If the runner says no, she should get back into bed. She has a long life ahead of her, having children etc. I think her plan was to win the Olympics and that would have been it. But now she needs to be successful here, and she can be. But to do that she has to study the course. The best way is to sit in and kick at halfway. That's how I did it in '88. It's not about how fast she can run, but whether she can win the race. She'll have to be patient, otherwise she'll come unstuck."

Patience has not been conspicuous among Radcliffe's virtues since Athens. Barely had she recovered from the leg injury and subsequent stomach upset which she believes undermined her Olympic challenge than she was training again at the high altitude of Flagstaff, Arizona. Having sought a place in the New York field just 17 days before the event, she was made to feel very welcome. She is reputedly getting $500,000 (£270,000) to run here.

If Dave Bedford, the race director of the London Marathon, was hoping Radcliffe would save her long-distance return for the capital he was making a decent effort at hiding it on Thursday night. Bedford, a colourful character, has also experienced the roller coaster effect. Widely expected to win the Olympic 10,000 metres in 1972, he finished out of the medals as Finland's Lasse Viren won the first of two titles. A year later, however, on a damp Friday night at Crystal Palace, Bedford took eight seconds off the world record.

"She wants to draw a line under Athens by coming here to race, and that could be a great strategy," he said. "But to draw a line under it, she has to win on Sunday - no more, no less. Otherwise it will be 'Radcliffe loses again'. If she doesn't - how many times can a prizefighter get knocked out and get back into the ring? When I broke the record at Crystal Palace I felt a huge relief of pressure. I had spent six months after the Olympics getting pissed. That hasn't been an option for Paula."

Radcliffe's appearance here has been determinedly upbeat and she has recovered much of her usual resilience. But the sense of vulnerability remains. And a field which includes this year's London winner Margaret Okayo, Australia's world cross country champion Benita Johnson, Holland's naturalised Kenyan Lornah Kiplagat, Kenya's own Susan Chepkemei and America's Deena Kastor, the bronze medallist in Athens, will be eager to take advantage of any perceived weakness.

Radcliffe's decision to run is a bold one. If the risk succeeds, it will be worthy of salute.

News
Jeremy Clarkson
people
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own