Heat exhaustion to blame, says doctor

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The Independent Online

Paula Radcliffe lost her chance of Olympic glory because she overheated, one of her medical advisors said yesterday.

Paula Radcliffe lost her chance of Olympic glory because she overheated, one of her medical advisors said yesterday.

Despite meticulous preparation to deal with the Athens heat of 35C, Radcliffe's body temperature rose several degrees above the critical zone of 37-40C in the latter stages of the marathon.

Dr Greg White, an expert in acclimatisation and coping in extreme environments, offered the explanation even though Radcliffe has insisted she did not pull out because of the heat.

"It is a simple case that Paula overheated, the question is why," said Dr White. "The body has an in-built thermostat which controls the body temperature. But when you exercise it rises and the body reacts by sweating and shifting blood to the surface. If you reach the critical temperature exercise has to slow down and eventually stop."

He also dismissed suggestions that Radcliffe had been hampered by a calf strain.

"There is no way if you were carrying an injury you would get to 36k and, besides, there was no sudden change of gait," he said.

Dr White, director of science and research at the English Institute of Sport, believes that Radcliffe must do more training in extreme temperatures to avoid a repeat of Sunday's breakdown. This would improve her physiological condition to match athletes such as the Japanese winner Mizuki Noguchi and second-placed Catherine Ndereba, from Kenya, who are more used to the temperatures, but still finished 12 minutes off Radcliffe's world record.

Dr White said the pattern of Radcliffe's run showed the classic signs of heat exhaustion. Her split times fell gradually as the race progressed and she suffered from a burst of speed around the 30km mark before dropping down the field. "Sunday night was about who coped with the heat best. It revolved around who dealt well with it, which comes down partly to genetic predisposition and experience."

Radcliffe, who set two world records in her three previous marathons, has been preparing for Athens for two years and had been warned of the heat. She trained in Seville, Spain, in the weeks prior to the race and before its start followed a "pre-cooling" programme in an attempt to delay the moment when the body's temperature rises to the critical level.

Radcliffe wore an ice-vest before the race and was sprayed with water, and once she began running would have drunk up to half a litre every 10 kilometres - three times the normal intake for the London marathon.