Sports Personality of the Year: Cracknell takes swipe at Radcliffe

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The Independent Online

James Cracknell, the double Olympic rowing champion, has criticised Paula Radcliffe for failing to finish either the marathon or the 10,000 metres in Athens.

James Cracknell, the double Olympic rowing champion, has criticised Paula Radcliffe for failing to finish either the marathon or the 10,000 metres in Athens.

Cracknell, who recently announced that he was taking a year out of the sport, told BBC's A Question of Sport magazine that he had watched Radcliffe in her track race at the Olympics and had been "not overly impressed when she quit". He added: "Paula is a fabulous athlete and I am pleased she won the New York marathon, but as an athlete I feel uncomfortable with what she did in Athens... had Paula been tied to someone else's leg in the marathon, she would not have stopped running."

Cracknell contrasted the lack of criticism of Radcliffe with the treatment received by the Australian rower Sally Robbins, who was dubbed "Lay-down Sally" by her national media after stopping rowing in the women's eight final.

"You don't stop," Cracknell said. "The Australian eight were not going to win but you get sent to the Olympics to cross the finish line, not to start the race."

His comments come on the eve of tomorrow night's BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards, at which Cracknell and his three colleagues from the coxless four - Steve Williams, Ed Coode and the man who has just retired after winning four Olympic titles, Matthew Pinsent - are expected to challenge for the Team of the Year prize.

Traditionally, élite Olympic athletes mix together at the awards, but there will be no awkwardness for those in charge of the seating plan as Radcliffe confirmed with the BBC yesterday that she would not be coming to the event where she won the main prize two years ago as she is still on holiday in Mexico.

"We were still trying to get Paula to change her plans until this afternoon," a BBC spokeswoman said yesterday. "But now it looks like she can't make it." Philip Bernie, the executive editor of BBC Sports Personality of the Year, added: "We understand she has other commitments at this time of the year. But we will have a very strong piece of film from her on the night."

Kelly Holmes, whose double Olympic success contrasted so keenly with Radcliffe failures in her two events, is favourite to take the individual title that was won last year by Jonny Wilkinson.

According to Bernie, the strength of the competition for the team award has persuaded the BBC to decide it by live voting for the first time. "This year has been phenomenal," he said. "We have been almost overloaded with great national team displays. There are probably a dozen genuine contenders who will have to be reduced to five by a panel of judges before the public get to vote." The first hour of the programme will be given over to the voting for the team award, with the shortlisted group likely to include England's cricket team, the Ryder Cup golf team and Britain's victorious Olympic sprint relay quartet.

Voting for the individual award will begin during the second hour of the programme.

It is five years since the BBC discontinued their live "fun and games" element at these awards, something the programme makers believe has been made inevitable by the increasing amount of sporting action that needs to be reflected on the night. Such has been the crop this year that the programme has grown by a quarter of an hour, going out live on BBC1 from 8.00-10.15pm.

Audiences are unlikely to reach the levels of last year, when a peak of 10.6m and an average of 8.3m tuned in to see Sir Steven Redgrave be voted the winner of all previous winners, but given the wealth of sporting material the year has yielded, they are unlikely to be significantly lower.