Gold is within kissing distance for Radcliffe

City of Gustav Klimt and Harry Lime hosts start of icon's Games countdown

vienna

Up on stage in the Rathaus, the grand town hall in the centre of the Austrian capital, on Friday night, they wheeled out a copy of one of the world's most celebrated works of art, The Kiss by Gustav Klimt. Then they invited Paula Radcliffe and Haile Gebrselassie to draw their own version of it.

"I kept thinking of Isla saying, 'Make sure you draw between the lines, mummy'," Radcliffe confided, at breakfast yesterday.

Klimt painted the original during what became known as his Golden Period, in 1907 and 1908. Isla Radcliffe's mummy has enjoyed some golden moments in an international running career that has spanned 20 years: world cross-country glory in Ostend in 2001 and Dublin in 2002; Commonwealth 5,000 metres victory in Manchester in 2002; European 10,000m success in Munich the same year; world-record marathons in Chicago in 2002 and in London in 2003; triumph in the marathon at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki.

Come Olympic time, however, the fates have conspired to put the kibosh on mummy's Midas touch. Illness and injury reduced the Bedford woman to a shadow of her world-beating best in the Olympic marathon in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008. Given Radcliffe's luck on the injury front over the past eight years, it would be not entirely surprising if she were to fall down a manhole, into the sewers where Harry Lime came to grief in The Third Man, when she runs in the Vienna City Half-Marathon this morning.

It is typical of Radcliffe's ill fortune that her preparations for her first race of 2012, in the countdown to her appearance in the London Olympic marathon, have been disrupted by a bout of bronchitis.

"Last Saturday I couldn't even do a third of my track session," she said. "I had to go on a second lot of antibiotics. I've been feeling a lot better in the last few days and I'm hoping I will be OK in the race. I don't have very many races planned between now and the Olympics, so it was important for me to come here and run."

Radcliffe's best time for the half marathon is 65 minutes and 40 seconds. She would be happy to break 70 minutes and get round in one piece with a solid performance today.

It would be a surprise if she managed to hold on to all of the 7min 52sec headstart she will be given on Gebrselassie in the novel "catch me if you can" contest between "the Queen and the Emperor of distance running," as the organisers have billed the 38-year-old Briton and the 38-year-old Ethiopian. That is no exaggeration, in either case.

For Gebrselassie, twice an Olympic gold medal winner on the track, the pressure is off. Having failed to get himself in the frame for selection in the Ethiopian marathon team for London, he is planning a prolonged series of wind-down farewell races over the next year or so, at the tail end of his glittering career.

It is different for Radcliffe. She still has Olympic business to settle.

"Paula is an inspiration," Gebrselassie said, "but I would ask all British people not to expect too much of her. I don't expect Paula to win the Olympics."

On Friday, Radcliffe herself confessed: "I would be happy with a medal of any colour."

Still, she had 2012 gold in her hands on Friday evening – as the latest recipient of the Viennese Goldener Rathausmann award. Delivering her acceptance speech in fluent German, the Great British distance runner followed a distinguished line of honourees, among them Gregory Peck, Pele and Billy Joel.

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