Atlanta, Georgia on their minds

May 10, 1996

Normally Paula Radcliffe is to be found racing around campus or Bradgate Park in Loughborough at 7 o'clock each morning. In the evening, daylight permitting, it is the same routine. She runs 80 miles a week and spends four hours a day pounding the ground in her determination to be a great distance runner.

Aged 22, she is expected to take part in the 5,000 metres race at the Olympics so long as she is free of an injury, which has laid her low for the past few weeks and given her a stress fracture in her shin and a pinched sciatica nerve. "There is no doubt she is good enough," says George Gandy. Until her leg is better, she is not allowed to run on hard surfaces, only [TOSWIM?] in the stress-free environment of the university swimming pool.

The last few weeks have been an anxious and uncertain time for Paula Radcliffe. Although the fall which caused her injuries happened in February in a cross-country race in Luxembourg, she did not realise the full extent of the problem until she ran in South Africa in March. Since her return to Loughborough, where she is in her final year of a degree in European studies, she has been seeing an osteopath in St Albans. The journey to St Albans and back has been a "nightmare", she says. One day she had to leave Loughborough at 6.30am, so she could be back in time for a 9am lecture.

Radcliffe is also seeing her regular physiotherapist who gives her ultrasound and some manipulation, and has attended the British Olympic Clinic at Northwick to check there was no damage to her back. (There wasn't.) Most of the time she manages her academic work and running with ease, she says. It is only with an injury that problems arise.

None of the health professionals can give her an exact timescale of when she will get better, so she is reduced to talking about "crossed fingers". "If things start to get better quickly now I will be OK," she says.

Paula Radcliffe began to run at the age of nine because she enjoyed it and because her father used to jog. She took to joining him in his jog at weekends. The next step, prompted by her father, was to join the local athletics club in Cheshire where the family lived.

When the family moved to Bedford, Paula continued running. She ran all the time she was at school and was regularly running twice a week by the age of 13 or 14, she recalls.

When it came to deciding on a university, she decided to choose the university for the strength of its academic course rather than for its sporting achievement. With A levels in French, German, mathematics and general studies, she opted to study European studies. Loughborough knew nothing about Paula's distance running ability, so it was a pleasant surprise when they realised they had an athlete as well as a good student. This year Paula has been awarded one of Loughborough's sporting scholarships which has helped with travelling expenses and the cost of kit, just as the Sports Aid Foundation scholarships helped her in previous years.

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