Arguably the greatest long-distance runner, male or female, in British history, Paul Radcliffe ran her last competitive race in the London Marathon in 2015. Although 41 years old and competing as a ‘fun’ runner, her finishing time of 2:31.46 was comfortably inside the qualifying standard for Rio 2016, had a fifth Olympics been on her agenda. Nevertheless, Radcliffe called time on a long, illustrious career, during which her distinctive, head bobbing running style had become a familiar sight on the track, and on the road, around the world.
Radcliffe won the London Marathon three times, in 2002, 2003 and 2005 – on the second occasion setting a world record for the women’s marathon that would stand until 2019 – the New York Marathon three times, in 2004, 2007 and 2008, and the Chicago Marathon once, in 2002. She also won the gold medal in the women’s marathon at the 2015 World Championships in Helsinki, leading from start to finish to beat defending champion Catherine Ndereba in a championship record time of 2:20.57.
However, for all her success elsewhere, the Olympic Games did not prove a happy hunting ground for Radcliffe. On her first appearance, in Atlanta in 1996, she finished fifth in the 5,000 metres and on her second, in Sydney in 2000, finished fourth in the 10,000 metres, fading out of contention for a medal on the final lap.
Radcliffe contested her first Olympic marathon in Athens in 2004, where she started overwhelming favourite. However, plagued by a knee abscess and the side effects of the anti-inflammatory drugs she took to treat it, she dropped out, tearfully, after 22 miles. Remarkably, five days later, Radcliffe also ran in the 10,000 metres but, once again, dropped out with eight laps remaining. She tried again in Beijing in 2008 but, handicapped by a leg injury, trailed in twenty-third and was forced to withdraw from her home Olympics, in London in 2012, with degenerative foot injury.