Paula Radcliffe bows out in teary London Marathon farewell
For Paula Radcliffe it was never about the victory, but more akin to a lap of honour on the streets of London that she had once made her own.
The grimace of Radcliffe in her world record pomp at the London Marathon was gone, replaced by a perma-smile until the final metres up The Mall, when the tears flowed, she mouthed “thank you” to a crowd holding “Thank You Paula” posters, waved and blew kisses to those who had thronged the streets to watch her one final time.
For an athlete who was forced to rest for six weeks from February and feared she might not even make the start line because of a damaged Achilles, her time of 2:36.55 was a remarkable achievement. It was six minutes inside the qualification standard required by the IAAF for the Rio Olympics.
But yesterday was her competitive farewell, not among the elite but the club runners, many shocked to find themselves brushing shoulders with one of Britain’s greatest athletes.
“I ran faster than I should have been capable of,” said a teary Radcliffe, greeted over the line by her parents Peter and Pat, husband Gary and children Isla and Raphael. It did not matter that she was eclipsed by a runner dressed as Spiderman.
“Down the last mile, I thought, ‘I don’t care about the time’. I just wanted to thank as many people as I could. There was a big sign at Embankment saying ‘We will miss you’ but it won’t be as much as I will miss [them].”
Radcliffe set her world record in 2003, the year Eliud Kipchoge first showed a propensity for upstaging the main event.
In that year’s World Championship 5,000m final two giants of distance running, Kenenisa Bekele and Hicham El Guerrouj, were outwitted by Kipchoge, a relatively unknown 19-year-old.
Twelve years on, the London Marathon was billed as a Clash of Champions, the world record holder Dennis Kimetto against the man whose mark he usurped, Wilson Kipsang. Kimetto dropped back at the 24-mile mark as Kipchoge and Kipsang upped the tempo.
Stride for stride, Kipsang’s long, relaxed gait against Kipchoge’s equally economical but punchier style, they entered the final throes. With one last kick Kipchoge, on his London debut, finally broke the shackles, crossing the line in a time of 2:04.42 with Kipsang five seconds back.
“This was a real major championships — it was like an Olympic Games,” said Kipchoge after beating a field billed as the greatest ever assembled for a marathon. “The crowd was wonderful. That’s what lifted my spirit.”
With Radcliffe in a 38,000-strong event, the women’s race was supposed to be about the fabulous four from Kenya, but that quartet were upstaged by Ethiopia’s Tigist Tufa, who ran clear for victory in 2:23.22, nearly eight minutes outside Radcliffe’s world record.
The pre-race favourite Mary Keitany, the Kenyan seen as the athlete most likely to break Radcliffe’s record, was runner-up on her return to action after the birth of her second child. Third went to the Ethiopian Tirfi Tsegaye.
It is four years since Tufu made her marathon debut and, like Kipchoge, she was seldom discussed among the favourites in the build-up. At her last marathon — Dubai in January — she had not even finished. Here she sat and waited before making a well-timed move to the front.
Scott Overall was the first British man home in 2:13.47; Sonia Samuels (2:31.46) was 16th overall in the women’s race. There was no record seventh wheelchair win for David Weir, outsprinted by American Joshua George to finish runner-up for a second successive year.