Radcliffe's quest for ultimate glory brings pain

That the 2008 Olympic marathon would end in tears for Paula Radcliffe was not hard to predict. From the moment this 34-year-old embodiment of British stubbornness – and of stubborn Britishness – set her mind to compete in Beijing against all medical advice her course was set.

And so it came to pass that, three months after being diagnosed with a stress fracture of her left thigh, the world record holder reeled home in 23rd place, haggard with discomfort, drawn with pain, having stopped temporarily after 24 miles to ease the stiffness in her malfunctioning leg. It appeared to be not so much a Pyrrhic victory as a Pyrrhic defeat.

But while Radcliffe had cried in the gutter during the Athens 2004 marathon after staggering to a halt with four miles remaining, here the wellsprings of emotion opened at a crucially important part of the course – five strides over the finish line.

As Radcliffe admitted earlier this month, the suggestion in some of the more reactionary areas of the media after her Athens meltdown that she was a "quitter" hurt her more deeply than she was willing to own at the time. While her physical distress four summers ago – brought on by a reaction to anti-inflammatories she had taken to help a calf injury – was palpable, the damage to her psyche was profound.

The word was before this race that Gary Lough, Radcliffe's irascible but hugely protective husband and manager, had not been in favour of her risking herself in pursuit of an Olympic medal for the fourth time of asking. Three months down the line, with an adequate amount of training in her legs, she could have looked to return for another uplifting victory in the New York marathon.

But she could not bring herself to do that. Indeed, in the aftermath of her latest attempt to reach the Olympic podium, she admitted that she would have walked if necessary to ensure that she reached the stadium. Nobody was going to say she was a quitter in this Olympic marathon.

"Yeah, I would have walked," she said. "It would probably have been better and less painful walking. But hopefully I haven't made the old injury worse because that means I can come back."

Asked if she felt she had to finish no matter what, she thought for a moment before responding : "No. If I felt I was really doing damage I would have stopped. But it is horrible when you have to drop out especially when it is the Olympic Games. So many people have worked hard to get me here. And in some ways it is quicker to keep going because you are just left out there on your own if you stop somewhere."

This time she reached the finish on foot rather than by ambulance. And as she embraced her childhood friend and training partner Liz Yelling, who had finished three places behind her after falling heavily – she later required hospital treatment for a rib injury – Radcliffe's face was contorted with a welter of emotions.

Radcliffe insists she will make one final attempt to earn that Olympic medal four years down the line in London, pointing out that she will then be 38 – the same age as yesterday's winner, Romania's Constantina Tomescu.

Ironically, after all the angst about the killing conditions that would occur during this marathon, the race took place on a cool morning without obvious smog or haze, and even the odd sprinkling or rain. It was a day made for Radcliffe – but a fit Radcliffe. In the manifest absence of that, it was another European who profited from the benign conditions to win by grinding down the rest of the field with her front-running before finishing in 2hr 26min 44sec. In other words, winning it the Radcliffe way.

The British runner who came closest to podium on the day was Mara Yamauchi, who had finished fifth in a test event on this course. Yamauchi eventually finished sixth in 2 :27.29. It was the best performance by a British woman since the women's marathon was first run at the Olympics in 1984, equalling Priscilla Welch's achievement of that year. Could Radcliffe improve that statistic four years hence ? Don't bet against it.

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits