Kevin Garside: Nothing can erase what Radcliffe has achieved but her race is run

One more 10k is all she asks, one more crack. She is 39. It’s over

It remains one of the defining images of the Athens Olympics, or arguably any Games; the greatest female distance runner of all time, utterly spent at the roadside, emptied of will and strength. Paula Radcliffe had reached the end of her road. Fifteen months after setting a world record in the women's London Marathon that still holds today, 2hr 15min 25sec, Radcliffe sat hunched on a Greek street, arms wrapped around her knees staring vacantly at the floor.

Some observers labelled her a quitter. Her bloated detractors peering down from comfortable middle age, most having sprinted only to a bar, trashed with craven pens the character of a woman, who it turned out, had been running for 19 years with a broken bone in her foot.

Apologies to those reading this over breakfast – she twice emptied her bowel during the race in Athens to try to gain some reprieve from the agonies of an undiagnosed stomach complaint in temperatures well into the nineties. Her subsequent embarrassment at the prospect of travelling to the Olympic Village in the back of her car in spoilt pants is heart-rending. She covered 22 miles before her body gave out. Quit she did not.

In a sense she has been seeking since what in sport cannot be had; the soaring finale, the triumphant farewell, the golden lap of honour before disappearing into the sunset a champion for eternity. More often than not the greats go on too long, take one stride too many, one punch more than is good for them. There is no scope, save for golfing vets and snooker legends, for sportsmen to tour in their sixties like the Rolling Stones, or play Lear at the Barbican in the peak of old age. Radcliffe's great moments did not coincide with the ultimate arbiter of athletic endeavour, the Olympic Games. She smashed the clock all over the world but never when the world was watching as it does during that quadrennial gathering of champions.

So it was not surprising to hear her latest appeal for one last chance to go out on her own terms, to beat an injury she has carried throughout her career, mostly unwittingly. By the aches and pains in her foot she could predict the weather better than any forecaster, such was its sensitivity to the rise and fall of the mercury in a barometer. One more 10k is all she asks, one more crack at a class field. Radcliffe is 39. It's over. But acceptance won't come.

She had hoped to make it to the start line this spring, admittedly a notional term in this endless winter, but, as she admitted last week, targets have gone out of the window. "I'm very much in that limbo where I know and accept that realistically it may not be possible," she said. "But at the same time I have a little window of hope and I would rather be able to finish my career in a race, rather than a race I can't actually get to the start line of."

Radcliffe cannot not do any more to enhance a record that boasts victories at the Junior World Cross-Country Championships in 1992 and senior cross-country world titles a decade later in 2001 and 2002 before moving up to the marathon, a distance she dominated with a hat-trick of wins at each of the blue riband races in London and New York. In the lingua franca of this sporting life they cannot take those triumphs away from her. Equally, she cannot embellish her CV with one last hurrah. There is no tape to breast that will tell the story of her magnificent career any better than those already posted.

Reconciling a mundane present with a rich past is the hardest line for the greats to cross. There are countless examples but few as graphic as Ricky Hatton's when the Hitman returned to the ring against Vyacheslav Senchenko last November believing he was engaged in some noble project. He wanted to leave a champ, three and a half years after Manny Pacquiao brought a fine career to a full stop. Hatton licked himself into fearsome shape, convinced somehow that the fighter we saw in Las Vegas was not representative of the "real" Ricky. He would prove that in the fury of victory over Senchenko as a prelude, perhaps, to taking down the twin towers who had beaten him, Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jnr. Hatton didn't make it to the 10th round. What he had refused to accept beforehand was beaten into him by an anonymous fighter from Ukraine.

Radcliffe is not at risk in quite the same way. But neither is she able to go in the way she imagines. None of us likes living with the consequences of decisions that we do not make. But in this case Radcliffe must learn to accept what nature is telling her via the mechanism of a foot that refuses to heal. She was a brilliant athlete who took the story on. That will never change. There is no perfect way to go, but go we must.

Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Midsummer swimwear season is well and truly upon us – but diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice