The Perils of Paula

November 11, 2009

Pressure from the British public to win an elusive Olympic title on the streets of London three years hence may explain some atypical public emotion from world marathon record holder Paula Radcliffe.

Radcliffe, unfailingly gracious and an athlete who refuses to indulge in self-pity or to rail against the caprices of fate, is statistically the best woman marathoner ever.

However, illness forced her to withdraw from the 2004 Athens Games marathon and injury thwarted her bid in Beijing last year.

Radcliffe will be 38 in 2012 and, although she has talked of running in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, the injuries mount and time slips away.

This month Radcliffe broke down in tears after finishing fourth in the New York marathon. She revealed afterwards that an injury she had described as a niggle had, in fact, been tendinitis of the left knee and had required a cortisone injection.

A reference from a sympathetic reporter to the number of injuries she had suffered then prompted a further flood of tears.

Before attempting a fourth New York title, Radcliffe reacted angrily to criticism of her decision to pull out days before her two scheduled international appearances this year at the Berlin world championships and the subsequent Birmingham world half-marathon championships.

Radcliffe, it was suggested, was more interested in the bonuses, prize money and appearance fees available at big city marathons.

“You are never going to please everybody and there is always going to be someone out there who hates you, or you really bug,” she retorted.

“You have to accept that. That is something I always talked about, but never believed until I came through Athens.”

“But you can’t win. You are never going to please everyone. It is another thing I learned through Athens. You can’t keep everybody happy. You just have to get on and do what you want.”

Radcliffe also hinted before New York that she may try for a second child next year.

“I don’t think I’ve made it a secret about the fact I want to fit in having another child before 2012 and there’s not a lot of time,” she said.

Probable motherhood, the unrelenting demands of training for the ultimate distance event, age and injuries are all stressful enough in themselves. Radcliffe is also painfully aware that the ultimate confirmation of a truly great athlete remains an Olympic gold medal.

“I don’t regard this injury as in anyway career-threatening. It just needs time to clear up. London is still there as a goal. Definitely,” she after New York.

The Perils of Paula remains a story which will run and run.

PHOTO: Paula Radcliffe of England crosses the finish line during the Women’s division of the 2009 New York City Marathon November 1, 2009. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

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