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British hail plucky Paula

By Paul Majendie
August 23, 2004 22:15 IST
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It was like intruding on private grief.

Crushed by her failure to finish in the women's marathon on Sunday, a shell-shocked Paula Radcliffe broke down twice again on Monday as she struggled to explain how her dreams were shattered.

The tears flowed first in a television interview.

Then, facing 100 reporters at the Games which have turned into a nightmare for one of Britain's favourite athletes, she broke down again.

"Emotionally it kicks you in the guts," said the world record-holder, a favourite for gold in Athens, who has now failed three times to win an Olympic medal of any colour.

"I just felt I had let everyone else down but no one was hurting inside as much as me," she said, after her agonising defeat was watched live by 10 million in Britain on television.

When she stepped into the room to be questioned by the media, the press conference felt more like the start of a funeral. A hush fell on the journalists.

Her voice frail, her face drawn, she lasted just 15 minutes, struggling in her bewilderment to explain why she ended up a crumpled heap at the roadside in the gathering gloom of a sweltering Athens Sunday evening.

The British do love a loser -- especially a plucky one who bursts into tears -- and she was front-page news across Britain on Monday.

"Poor, Poor Paula" said the Daily Express over the headline "Nation shares the anguish as dream ends in tears".

"Tears of a Hero" said The Daily Mirror which declared "Sad Paula will forever be a national hero".

It was in sharp contrast to the vilification tennis player Tim Henman has to face every year when his dreams of Wimbledon glory are shattered yet again because he simply was not good enough on the day.

Everyone in Athens wanted to know if Radcliffe would try to redeem her Olympics by running in the 10,000 metres on Friday.

She admitted she was far too bewildered to make a decision right now.

The voice began to crack when she said: "I desperately want to get out there and try and redeem all the work I have put in and all the support I have had."

But not everyone was grieving for the personification of the "plucky Brit".

The Daily Mail concluded: "This is a failure from which neither she nor her reputation may recover.

"It has to be doubtful in the extreme that she will contest the 10,000 metres later this week. Not least, to do so would imply the tacit admission that she could have run a few miles further yesterday."

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Paul Majendie
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