Athletics: Radcliffe's triumph tinged with tragedy

By James Lawton
Friday 31 January 2014 03:25

Paula Radcliffe's assault on the peaks of a sport which until recently could offer her only the solace of honourable and suspicion-free defeat becomes a little more astonishing every time she puts on her running shoes. After her world record in the Chicago Marathon nothing appears to be beyond her – except, ironically, the prize that she probably knows better than any woman athlete on earth will always be elusive.

In athletics you can have glory, and gain it with a passion and an honesty which will sustain you all of your life, but you cannot have total trust. That, sadly for Radcliffe and every last one of her rivals, is no longer in the gift of the sport she has come to dominate.

The middle-distance runner Kelly Holmes said that she would no longer speak to certain sections of the media after being quoted on her suspicions that a winning opponent had cheated with drugs. Yet Holmes' comments were on the record and completely unambiguous. Holmes retreated. But Radcliffe has never compromised in her belief that athletics has long been contaminated.

As a loser, her campaign was relentless. Now it would be nice to think that her crusading had been crowned by the only possible redemption of her sport, a common acceptance that she had proved beyond doubt it is possible be among both the cleanest and the best.

The noted sprint coach John Smith once said he would swear on a Bible held over the grave of his mother that all his runners were clean. Those who know Radcliffe well insist they would do the same on her behalf. But the tragedy is that in some minds it will never be enough. For that, athletics has no one to blame but itself.

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