Athletics: Paula Radcliffe facing marathon task to be fit
When London was awarded the 2012 Games seven years ago, Paula Radcliffe was the poster girl of British athletics.
Now, with just 10 days to go until the women's marathon, the 38-year-old world record holder's fitness is threatening to add the saddest of postscripts to her attempts to win an Olympic gold medal.
Radcliffe has represented Great Britain at the Olympics four times consecutively (1996 to 2008), but has not won a medal with the most brutal moment coming in the marathon at the Athens Games in 2004 when she pulled out at the 23-mile mark due to a mixture of injury and illness.
In 2008, in Beijing, a stress fracture of the left femur diagnosed three months before the Games left the runner well short of the peak that has seen her win gold medals at European, Commonwealth and world championships.
The first signs that Radcliffe’s quadrennial nightmare might about to be revisited came three weeks ago with news of a recurrence of osteoarthritis in her left foot. That prompted Radcliffe to fly to Munich to seek help from Dr Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt, also known as "Healing Hans" and the man whom Usain Bolt, the defending 100 and 200 metre champion, has been consulting over his own injury issues.
Radcliffe herself has been out of the spotlight which is not an option for Charles van Commenee, the head coach of UK Athletics.
Van Commenee, when asked whether Radcliffe might be fit for a last shot at her Olympic dream, said: “Shall we flip a coin? Paula is Paula. Paula is always a concern. She is on a thin line every day for the last decade.”
The line that Phillips Idowu walks with Van Commenee is thin to say the least. The pair have been at a stand-off for some time years now but that has reached a new low this week with rumours about the triple jumper’s knee and leg injuries but precious few facts from the athlete for over a month.
Van Commenee admitted that he considered taking the ultimate step. “I had one sanction — not to put him in the Games,” he said. “I decided not to use it because I don’t want to be in the way of this athlete fulfilling his dream, but it’s not great for athletics as a sport and it doesn’t look good on anybody.”
But gold medals look good and Idowu, if fit, represents a genuine prospect and that is why Van Commenee is waiting. “Because of him, because of the crowd and because of the nation,” he said, adding: “You need to know that it’s a 70 to 80% chance.
“What you don’t want is 50% of the British team with broken legs and in wheelchairs in the Olympic Village. If there is an indication, after a medical examination or looking at the records, that a particular athlete is 70 or 80%, I’m sure they’ll give the green light.”
Radcliffe would probably take 80% right now.
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