Helen's Family: "Despite this victory for justice there can be no celebration"
Name:- Paula Radcliffe
Date of Birth:- 17/12/73
Born:- Cheshire - moved to Oakley near Bedford
Born in a blizzard in December 1973, it was similar conditions in which Paula had her first taste of global success. Back in 1992, Paula won the junior title at the World Cross Country Championships, beating the likes of Wang Junxia and Gete Wami by a significant margin. But the transition from junior to senior was never easy.
Placing a very respectable 7th place at the 1993 World Championships at the age of 19, Paula looked ahead to the following years' European Championships and Commonwealth Games. But 1994 started with a foot injury; an injury that was misdiagnosed, forcing her to miss the entire season. At one point, Paula considered quitting, thinking the problem would never get better, but she continued with the recovery and kick-started her career again in 1995.
Back on track, Paula improved on her previous World Champs performance by finishing 5th over 5000m at the 1995 World Championships in Gothenburg. At the end of the year, her times for the 3000m and 5000m were amongst the five fastest in the world for that season.
The following year saw another 5th place finish, this time at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Wang Junxia won the race, avenging the defeat suffered to Paula four years prior. Paula had missed out on the medals again. The disappointment at missing out on a medal was somewhat lessened by the first-class honours degree she achieved that year in French, German & Economics.
That was soon to change though, as in early 1997 she won the silver medal at the World Cross Country Championships, having to succumb to the finishing pace of Derartu Tulu. Tulu was to become one of Paula's long-time rivals. That year saw progress on the track too, as Paula got one step closer to a medal, finishing 4th at the World Championships over 5000m, being beaten by the fast finishing Gabriela Szabo, Roberta Brunet and Fernanda Ribeiro. A step-up in distance was on the cards.
Early in 1998, Paula set the fastest debut time over 10,000m, covering the 25 laps in 30:48.58, the second-fastest time in the world for the 1998 season and a British record. However, suffering from a virus in the European Championships that year, Paula finished 5th over 10,000m, knowing she hadn't done herself justice and knowing there was more to come.
After taking time off to recover from the virus, Paula returned later that year to end the season on a high, winning the European Cross Country title, her first senior international title.
The 10,000m at the 1999 World Championships in Seville was then hailed as the greatest ever confrontation over the distance. Unfortunately for Paula it wasn't quite so great. Despite setting a huge personal best (30:27.13), Paula missed out on the gold by a few seconds and had to settle for silver behind Gete Wami, who unleashed a lethal sprint over the final 200m. A pattern was beginning to emerge...
Sydney wasn't much different, apart from the fact that this time three athletes sprinted ahead of Paula in the final stages, leaving Paula out of the medals. Her new British and Commonwealth record (30:26.97) wasn't much consolation. After ending the year with a European record in the half marathon and a win at the World Half Marathon Championships, Paula went away to work on the thing others said she lacked - sprint pace.
Sure enough the work paid off as, in a captivating twist of events, Paula sprinted away from Gete Wami in the final 50 metres of the long course at the World Cross Country Championships. Paula returned the next day to win the silver medal over the shorter course, losing out to a more determined Wami. Overall, Paula was extremely pleased, saying "Every time I've dreamed of winning this title it's been with a sprint finish because people keep telling me I haven't got one."
At The 2001 World Championships Paula regretfully didn't stick to her pre-race tactics and was out-sprinted by an Ethiopian trio, comprising Derartu Tulu, Berhane Adere and Gete Wami. Although Paula was able to stay in contention with them over the last lap (finishing just 0.08 behind Wami), she was inconsolable.
The year ended as the next was meant to go on - with victory. She retained her World Half Marathon title on home soil, in another European record (1:06:47). It was her third global title within 12 months and it was soon becoming obvious to many that Paula's future may lie in the longer distances. With Paula already promising her Marathon debut in London 2002, there was a lot of excitement and anticipation heading in to the new year.
Starting the year with another win at the World Cross Country Championships, Paula overcame a niggling injury to make the starting line for the London Marathon in April 2002. After just six miles, Paula felt easy - too easy - and began pushing the pace. Onlookers thought she might have been making a novice's mistake, but Paula kept the tempo and finished in 2:18:56 - a women's-only world best, a European record, and the fastest ever debut over the 26-miles distance.
Her first track race of the season became Paula's only defeat that year. Running the 3000m at Monaco, Paula finished one second behind the fast-finishing Szabo. The defeat didn't bother Paula too much as it was only a Grand Prix race, and it resulted in Paula taking over four seconds off her best for the distance, setting another British record. It took Szabo a European record in order to win, such was the high standard of the race. Paula knew she was in good form leading into the Commonwealth Games.
Running on home soil in Manchester at the Commonwealth Games, Paula was taken aback at the crowd's support and enthusiasm. She started the 5000m running alongside the leading pack, but then made a move after the first few laps. From thereon in, she never looked back and continued to extend her lead over eventual 2nd-placer Edith Masai right up until the finish line. Her time (14:31.42) was a new British record and setting it in Britain made it all the more sweeter.
There was no rest for Paula though, as the European Championships were being held the following week. Entered for the 10,000m, the athletes were faced with heavy rain - 25 laps of it. Paula had set herself the target of breaking 30 minutes and although she only missed out on the barrier by 1.09 seconds, she didn't care. She'd smashed the European record and had won the race by over 40 seconds from another one of her long-time rivals, Sonia O'Sullivan. It was sweet redemption of her disappointing performance at the previous edition of these Championships, but the year did not end there.
Paula's last race of that season was another Marathon, this time in Chicago. The aim was the world record - a record she went on to smash by 1min 29secs with her time of 2:17:18. Her year ended by winning the IAAF athlete of the Year and the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards, the latter being won with a staggering 605,000 votes.
Paula's rich seam of form continued throughout 2003, as she returned to London to run her third marathon. Running on home ground, Paula was keen to set another world record but after improving the mark by such a significant margin the previous year, she knew the task wouldn't be an easy one. But boy, did she make it look easy!
Her awesome display of front-running resulted in a staggering world record time of 2:15:25. Amazingly and amusingly, no British male bettered that mark in 2003! It is a time that no other woman has yet come within three minutes of.
Because of a leg injury during 2003, Paula was forced to miss the World Championships in Paris that year where she was being billed as the big favourite for the 10,000m title. By September she had recovered enough to return to racing and set another world-best in her first race back over 5km. Two weeks later she ran the world's fastest ever half marathon, followed by a win at the World Half Marathon Championships - her third World Half Marathon title in the space of four years.
Her next race was a bit of a set-back, at the Chiba Ekiden relays. Running the 10km leg for Britain, she was beaten by Berhane Adere due to a virus. Luckily, she regained enough form to clinch the European Cross Country title by nine seconds, to end the year on yet another high.
The following year, 2004, was a memorable one for many different reasons. Another injury prevented Paula from entering the World Cross Country Championships but a few months later she had recovered in order to compete at the European Cup in Bydgoszcz. Her win over 5000m was a much-needed one and was also a British record (14:29.11), but it wasn't enough to save the British women's team from relegation in the team competition.
A week later, Paula returned to Britain to run a 10,000m in Gateshead, as she wanted to get the Olympic qualifying time for the distance. Almost a minute-and-a-half inside the qualifying time (running 30:17.15), Paula was slightly disappointed at failing to break the 30-minute barrier but acknowledged that the cold, windy and blustery conditions prevented her somewhat. (Statistician Peter Matthews estimated the poor conditions cost Paula around 1 second per lap, indicating sub-30min potential that day). Everything looked on course heading towards Athens.
In a training session soon before Athens, a slight niggle in her leg developed into a debilitating pain, causing her leg to seize up completely. As the weeks progressed, the injury didn't improve. If anything, things were getting worse and time was running out. Paula's physical therapist, Gerard Hartman, prescribed a course of anti-inflammatories to help ease the swelling. But as the dosage increased, Paula's stomach started to feel the effects.
Race day soon arrived and although Paula felt drained and nowhere near well enough to race, this was the Olympics - a once-every-four-years opportunity and the biggest stage on which any athlete could compete. She wasn't going to give in without a fight. Choosing not to break away in usual fashion, she sensibly decided to stick with the leading pack. But sure enough, the stomach pains returned and the pain in her leg was very much present. After 20km, the Japanese athlete Mizuki Noguchi made a break and a few others tentatively pushed the pace in order to stay in contention. Visibly in pain, Paula kept giving everything she had in order to get through the race, desperately trying to take in every last drop of her carbohydrate drinks from the drinks-stations along the way. With just 6km to go however, she was running on empty and had nothing left, forced to pull out.
Distraught, exhausted and emotionally drained, Paula faced a difficult few days after the marathon. After much deliberation, she decided to enter the 10km race five days later. She reasoned "it came down to the fact that my next Olympic race was either in a few days or in four years." But after her body taking a beating from a brutal Marathon a few days prior, Paula dropped out of the 10km before she caused any serious damage to her leg.
Paula has openly admitted that Athens was the worst moment of her career. Some of that pain however, was remedied with a win at the New York Marathon almost three months after Athens. Many were apprehensive over Paula's decision to run, thinking it may end in further disappointment or another injury. Yet Paula maintained she was in decent shape and knew what she was doing. However, with the starting list shaping up to be one of the greatest female marathon fields ever assembled, even the most die-hard Paula fans would have had some doubt over how she would fare in the race.
(Courtesy of www.paularadcliffe.com)
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