Determination takes Radcliffe in search of crowning glory
Saturday 16 August 2008
Wherever Paula Radcliffe finishes in tomorrow morning's Olympic marathon – always assuming she manages to do so given that only three months ago doctors were advising her she had no chance of competing because of a stress fracture to her left thigh – it will not, repeat not, define her career.
In the welter of uncertainty surrounding her prodigious, pig-headed efforts to prove the medics wrong, the 34-year-old world record holder was sure of this at least.
"No. No. No. No," she insisted. "It is something that is just very important to me. It is important to any athlete. It is important for me to go out there and run well but I do not think it is the defining moment of my career. There have been other things in my career which will define it afterwards and, hopefully, there are other things that I am going on to achieve."
Radcliffe, who has already returned from three Olympics empty-handed, admitted that the fierce criticism she received in the wake of her failure to finish either the marathon or the 10,000m four years ago in Athens hurt her deeply, particularly the suggestion that she was a "quitter".
Anybody less like a quitter is hard to imagine: most athletes in her unhappy position would have given up trying to reach these Olympics months ago. But the drive that has seen Radcliffe revivify her standing from gallant loser to awesome winner has propelled her to the brink of an awesome (or could that be awful?) challenge.
"My leg has held up well and I have been able to get a good amount of training in," she said. "But obviously I could have done with more time when your biggest week of actual running is two weeks before the race. It is not an ideal preparation and it is not what you would risk going into any other race. But the Olympic Games is not a race which I ever want to watch on television and think, 'What I could have done in there?' You get in there and give it your best shot."
Radcliffe will not want to pull out of another marathon following her traumatic Olympic experience in Athens when she sank to the pavement in tears just over four miles from the end. But if she feels pain from her leg, she will simply have to halt or risk crippling herself.
She was reticent before the Athens Games, an attitude which eventually told against her as expectations remained high. This time she has been more open about the fact that she might well not succeed in her quest. "I am just looking forward now to getting in the race and getting on with it," she said. "I know it is going to be tough and I am going to fight harder than I have ever fought out there, but I am looking forward to it."
One figure she will not have to fight against is Japan's Mizuki Noguchi, whose surging efforts on the long, uphill section of the Athens course eventually broke her.
Should Radcliffe finish the race and claim her first Olympic medal, she would have achieved Mission Impossible; although she maintains this challenge will not define her career, it would surely provide a crowning achievement.
Four years down the line in London still looks a more likely opportunity for her to do that. In the meantime her fellow Briton, Mara Yamauchi, married to a Japanese man and living in Tokyo, may be quietly fancying her chances, given that she won this year's Osaka Marathon in a personal best time. She could figure prominently in what is likely to be a slow, gruelling race.
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