Less than three months after the devastating diagnosis of a stress fracture in her left femur Paula Radcliffe, the World record holder, made it to the finish of the Olympic Marathon in Beijing today.
Though for obvious reasons she did once more not manage to fulfil her Olympic dream of winning the gold medal she stunned people (and probably a number of doctors!) by the simple fact of completing the race. Finishing 23rd in a time of 2:32:38 the 34-year-old was disappointed and in tears in the Athlete/Media Mixed Zone in the stadium, when interviewed. “We knew it was a gamble for me to run this race,” said Radcliffe. “We have done everything possible to prepare, this is just frustrating.”
But once she came through these first feelings after the race she could see this from a different angle: Radcliffe’s Olympic marathon was an heroic achievement which probably no other runner in the field could match in such a situation. This could well give her a boost for the future and make her an even tougher competitor. Having gained even more respect with her race in Beijing she already spoke about the ultimate goal: the Olympic Marathon in London 2012.
In contrast to her usual style Radcliffe ran a conservative race in Beijing. She was in the big lead group and – after a short toilet break – decided to stay with it after the eventual winner Constantina Tomescu-Dita of Romania went for a faster pace and broke away. At 30k Radcliffe started losing ground on the chasing group and any small medal hopes soon vanished. When Paula Radcliffe was then seen in great pain and stopping at 37 k it looked as if she would experience the same Olympic drama as in Athens, where she had dropped out at roughly that kilometre point four years ago. But after stretching her leg with the help of a roadside railing she continued running the final part. Slightly limping she crossed the finish line.
“I felt fine before the start,” said Radcliffe. “And the conditions were good. But then I developed a calf problem. I already felt something between 12 and 15 k. It seemed to have come from the foot. Then it developed into a bad calf and I also felt something from my back. I felt as if I was running on one leg. The calf was really sore so that I had to stop to stretch it to be able to carry on.”
Asked about why she did not drop out because she looked to be in quite some pain when stopping Radcliffe said: “It was not a sharp pain. Otherwise I would have stopped. I would have done all that work for nothing if I had not got to the finish line. And there were so many people who had helped me getting here.”
“This is an Olympic Marathon – if somehow possible, you don’t give up in such a race. It is horrible when you have to drop out. Then you are left out there on your own, so it is almost quicker to keep going.”
Asked about if it would have made a difference if the stress fracture had been diagnosed earlier in May, Radcliffe answered: “I don’t know – may be yes.” But after a series of bad luck this year – there was the toe problem earlier in the year, which forced her out of the Flora London Marathon and then she had fever after she got bitten by a spider in the Pyrenees in the built-up for Beijing – Paula Radcliffe was looking more ahead than back. “I hope that the reason for today’s problems were simply that I had not enough training for this and that there are no further problems.”
“Tomorrow we will go on holiday,” said Radcliffe. “Concerning an autumn marathon I can’t say anything now, I don’t know.”
Though in tears there was something encouraging Radcliffe discovered soon after finishing in Beijing: In four years time she will be 38-years old – at the same age Tomescu-Dita took the gold today. “This shows that it is still possible at 38 to do it,” said Radcliffe, who has won all her marathons except the two Olympic races.Three times she took the Flora London Marathon. It seems as if Radcliffe will soon turn very optimistic again regarding the next four years: “London 2012 – the support will be huge,” she said. And there is another prominent example for Olympic success at 37: Carlos Lopes took the marathon gold back in 1984 at that age as well.
Jörg Wenig for the IAAF