Never mind the missing Olympic medal, Radcliffe should go down as one of Britain’s greatest athletes
As we approach the 10th anniversary of one of the greatest performances in athletics history, it is sad to hear the athlete who achieved it admit today she may never be able to race again.
Paula Radcliffe told the BBC that, although she had not given up hope of getting back to competition, “I’m very much in that limbo where I know and accept that realistically it may not be possible.” Of course, it comes as no great surprise as years of injury have meant she has long looked on the brink of retirement.
What was also sad was reading the many negative comments about Radcliffe since the story emerged. Many of them are so ill-informed as to not be worthy of a response, but the suggestions that Radcliffe is over-hyped and an underachiever highlights the public’s unhealthy obsession with Olympic and Paralympic medals.
There ought to be just one thing necessary to say in response to such comments: 2:15:25!
However, such is the focus on winning medals at the Games that Radcliffe will be remembered by most from outside the athletics community for her failure to do so and not for her out-of-this-world marathon time set on April 13, 2003.
It is most unfortunate that, at a time when some Paralympic champions that might have had a relatively miniscule amount of potential rivals are treated as superstars, one of Britain’s greatest-ever sportswomen – Olympic medal or not – is viewed by some as a loser.
This medal-mania is to blame for federations having to concentrate so much of their resources on winning medals perhaps at the expense of the general health of their sport at grassroots level. The public want medals so federations are rewarded by their paymasters, UK Sport, for their success in creating them. It is also the reason for “elitist” selection policies which are all about medals and not concerned with giving the country’s best in their field the chance to represent the country – because, after all, none but the aficionados of a sport want to see someone finish way down the standings at an international championships.
However, let’s keep things in perspective: There are many informed individuals who appreciate how incredible an athlete Radcliffe was, not just for her marathon times but for her two world-cross country titles, three world half-marathon golds and global marathon title. They also understand that her no-holds-barred training regime was the reason that 10 years ago she ran nearly three minutes quicker for the marathon than any woman had before and since – but also part of the reason her body has broken down so often. They probably also know that 2:15 marathon pace is a lot quicker than it looks on the TV and they probably know what it’s like to run, for a certain if albeit much shorter distance, at the 77-second per 400m tempo that is required (those knocking her should see if they can do it for 100m). And they will understand, especially if they have competed in sport themselves, exactly why Radcliffe has refused to quit in what has sometimes seemed like a forlorn battle to return to full fitness.
These same clued-up individuals recognise that sport is not just about Olympic medals. It is therefore about time their voice was heard – time that the mainstream media started giving more recognition to good performances at various levels rather than just medals and time that the Government adapted UK Sport’s mandate.