06 August 2020

Paula Radcliffe opens up about infamous marathon at 2004 Olympics, labelling it a ‘horrible dream’

Former marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe has opened up about the heartbreak of missing out at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

The British distance runner came into the Games with a great deal of pressure to bring back a gold medal in either the 10,000 metres or, more likely, the marathon.

Radcliffe had terrible preparation heading into the 2004 Olympics (EMPICS Sport)

But an abscess in her knee lead to severe discomfort and a cortisone injection, with the injury also leading to a lack of sleep and upset stomach.

And while Radcliffe would have pulled out of any other race on the calendar under the same circumstances, she simply could not step away from the opportunity of an Olympic marathon gold medal.

Speaking on ‘The One That Got Away’ podcast, she said: "There's always another big city marathon: there's not always another Olympic Games - particularly when you've finished fifth in 1996, and fourth in 2000."

Radcliffe took to the start line as she looked to put her poor preparation to one side and win the biggest race of her career.

But it quickly became apparent she was not feeling herself.

"I didn't feel great from the start," she added. "I just remember feeling very, very cold - even though it was the hottest day. And then, when there was a bit of a breakaway towards the crest of the hill, I remember feeling like I was running out of energy.

"It had happened to me before lots of times in road races and on the track, but not in the marathon. Going through rough patches would happen to me frequently in training, but I was usually able to come through those. To begin with I thought that it's just the same as any other time in training, but what became concerning was that I wasn't coming through it; it was getting worse.

"The hardest part was when I realised that I couldn't hold a straight line. I found myself running in the gutter, without any control over where my legs were taking me. It almost starts to feel a little bit fluffy, a little bit woolly - like you're there but not really there.

"It was like those horrible dreams where you're trying to get to the finish and make your body move, but your body just won't move... This was actually in the race, and in the biggest race of my life."

Radcliffe went on to be hampered by more injuries which would put her out of contention of medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

But while it remains a desperately disappointing goal not to have achieved, the 46-year-old does appear to feel at peace with it now.

When asked whether the Olympics is the 'one that got away’, she said: "Oh yes - without a doubt.

"But my mindset, as an athlete and as a person, is that you set those goals, you give it the best shot that you can. Sometimes you're going got achieve more than you thought you were capable of, and sometimes you won't achieve them, but unless you try you really won't know."

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