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Courageous Radcliffe comes up short

Paula Radcliffe's quest for an Olympic medal to adorn her glittering career ended in pain and tears once more.

She finished the women's marathon this time but could only manage 23rd place as her disrupted preparations unsurprisingly caught up with her on the streets of Beijing.

Britain's Mara Yamauchi ran a brilliant race and was the best-placed Briton in sixth place in a race which saw Romania's Constantina Tomescu take the gold medal in 2hrs 26mins 44secs.

Catherine Ndereba of Kenya took silver and China's Chunxiu Zhou the bronze but just finishing was something of a triumph for Radcliffe, whose career is garnished with World, European and Commonwealth medals but nothing from the Olympics.

She had to stop with four kilometres to go to stretch against railings as cramp tugged at her muscles.

But she carried on, receiving a sympathetic cheer as she entered the stadium and finishing in 2:32.38 before being embraced and crying on the shoulder of team-mate Liz Yelling.

It was a brave attempt by the world record holder who was hoping to erase the agony of Athens four years ago when, as the big favourite, she failed to finish, her race ending slumped on the pavement six kilometres from the finish.

The stress fracture injury, which saw her return to full-time running only a fortnight ago, proved too much.

At 34 and with an 18-month old daughter Isla to bring up, her future must now be in doubt.

Yamauchi, a 35-year-old Oxford graduate whose husband is Japanese, ran the race of her life and was in with a chance of a medal right up until the athletes entered the Bird's Nest stadium.

The chances of Yelling, Radcliffe's former training partner, were hampered by a crashing fall around the hour mark when she got caught up in the leading pack and despite bravely getting up and carrying on gradually she fell off the pace.

In truth, just starting was a gamble for Radcliffe whose preparations had been wrecked by a fractured femur in her left leg.

In deciding to run she had gone against doctor's advice and only resumed full-time running a fortnight ago saying: "The Olympic Games is not a race I ever want to watch on television and think: 'What I could have done in there?"'

At least there were no problems with the smog which had shrouded Beijing for much of the past month. The weather at the 7.30am local time start was cool and cloudy with a little light drizzle. Perfect running conditions.

Radcliffe made a solid start, settling tucked within the leading pack while team-mate Yelling made the early pace.

Yelling, 33, won bronze at the 2006 Commonwealth Games and finished 25th in Athens four years ago.

But all home eyes were on Radcliffe, with that familiar upright stance and nodding gait, dark shades hiding her eyes, necklace dancing around her neck, pony tail bobbing behind her.

The race began to show signs of stringing out as the runners went by the Forbidden City at the 10km mark, turning into Tiananmen Square and passing the famous picture of Chairman Mao at Tiananmen Gate where the country's most famous modern leader had proclaimed the People's Republic of China back in 1949.

At the half-way point Radcliffe made a brief pit stop by the side of the road as nature called, but it was Tomescu who looked strongest.She broke clear of the chasing pack after 15km and held a 34 second lead over Radcliffe at the 25km mark.

But with the pace picking up Radcliffe's lack of preparation finally hit her and she lost contact with the chasing pack with around 10km to go.