Paula Radcliffe is back on the road today, seeking to make up lost ground in the race to become a contender for 2012 Olympic success with an outing in the BMW Berlin Marathon. She has some way to go before she catches up with the big hope for home glory on the athletics front in London next year – the former teenage tearaway she helped to put on the straight and narrow by paying for his driving lessons so that he could travel to training.
"I can remember Mo with the dreadlocks, running around the pool and getting told off, saying 'Can't you stop that noisy little boy jumping in the pool?'" Radcliffe said, reflecting on an early encounter with the youthful Mo Farah – back in the days when the future world 5,000m champion was a party animal renowned for jumping naked into the Thames off Kingston Bridge.
At the World Cross Country Championships in Vilamoura, Portugal, in March 2000, Radcliffe was already established among the leading ladies of long distance running. She finished fifth in the women's long course race and fourth in the short-course. Farah, competing in a global event for the first time, placed 25th in the junior men's race.
Eleven years on, at the age of 28, Farah is on top of the world, following his stunning 5,000m victory – and 10,000m silver medal run – at the World Championships in Daegu last month. Radcliffe is looking to plot a course back to the global summit, a succession of injuries and illnesses having knocked her back since the dizzy heights of her marathon world record performancesin Chicago in 2002 and London in 2003 and her World Championship marathon victory in Helsinki in 2005.
At 37, a year after the birth of her second child, Raphael, Radcliffe lines up in Berlin this morning without a marathon victory since the New York City race in November 2008 – and with only one race at any distance under her belt since she limped home an injured fourth in the 2009 New York Marathon. The Bedford athlete was suffering from a leaking spinal disc when she finished a disappointing third in her comeback race, the London 10,000 in May. She has since also had a thyroid problem but is confident of finishing comfortably inside the qualifying time of 2hr 31min on the pancake-flat Berlin course to effectively secure what would be a fifth Olympic appearance.
Radcliffe might be short of form, and indeed peak fitness, but she will be fuelled by the world-beating deeds of Farah. "What Mo has done has been really inspirational," she said. "It's been really nice, because he's worked very, very hard. I still see him as a little kid but when I see him with his daughter, Rhianna, he's a brilliant dad and I think, God, he's grown up.' And he's grown up really well, matured with it.
"What I was most impressed with in Daegu was the way he came back for the 5,000m. He probably was too nervous going into the 10,000m. He did everything he could. He ran the perfect race in the 5,000m.
"You can't underestimate the support he gets from his wife Tania and from Rhianna. That helps him to be as relaxed as he is. He's very strong mentally. "
Strong enough to cope with the pressure of being a gold medal favourite going into Olympic year – as Radcliffe was before illness got the better of her on the road from Marathon to Athens in 2004? "I hope it's not all going to be on Mo," Radcliffe said. "We've got other gold medal shots in Dai Greene, Phillips Idowu and Jess Ennis, so hopefully it's not all going to be heaped on one person this time. That's good, because going into a lot of Olympics there's only been one person.
"The other good thing is that Mo is not going to be in Britain. He's going to be in the USA, training in Portland. He's very good at just shutting himself away from it and not taking the pressure."
As for advice, is there anything gleaned from her past experience of being at the global peak that Radcliffe would like to pass on? "Mo's only got to do what he's done this year," Radcliffe said. "I tried to get better. Seven times out of 10 I might have got away with it, but you can push it too far. I think that's the biggest danger. If Mo gets in the shape he was this year, that's probably going to be enough."Reuse content