The turquoise green dress with the empire waist loosely clings to her frame. There is a glow to Paula Radcliffe’s face as she stands on the elevated stage beaming in three-inch heels. Her mother, donned in a pretty orange dress, stands next to her, exuberant and proud.
It’s a gorgeous Wednesday afternoon in London. Procter & Gamble is holding a press conference to announce its ten-year, multimillion-dollar sponsorship deal with the International Olympic Committee.
This is the image of today.
As part of the ‘Proud Sponsor of Moms’ campaign, P & G invited six mothers of Olympic athletes to attend the press conference. Radcliffe is there because she is one of Britain’s most decorated athletes and the current world record holder in several long-distance running events, including the marathon.
It is only fitting that Radcliffe’s glow comes from a barely-noticeable bump in her midsection. Already seven months pregnant with her second child, Radcliffe is still training hard in preparation for the 2012 Olympics in London.
In a phone interview with Radcliffe and Pat, Radcliffe said, “I am so excited. Yesterday, I saw clips of the inside of the Olympic stadium in London for the first time. I feel so much home support on my home ground. I feel at home.”
But training for the event hasn’t been easy. She has to be careful not to overexert herself. “It’s a lot less intense training while pregnant. I go on shorter runs, generally 45 minutes to an hour a day with elliptical sessions at night. I still lift weights three times a week, but they are lighter weights,” she said
When Radcliffe was pregnant with her daughter Isla four years ago, she was coming off surgery on her right foot for Morton’s Neuroma, an enlarged nerve near the middle toe on the foot. “I wasn’t training that much then. Now, I’ve been trying to continue running at a higher level. I’m carrying the baby a lot higher this time, so it’s much easier to run,” she said.
Isla already wants to run with her mom. For guidance on what to do with a daughter who enjoys running, Radcliffe only needs to look next to her, at her mother, Pat. “All I wanted for my children was for them to have hobbies and pursuits that they were interested in and had fun with,” Pat said. “The first time I saw her run was so special. The first time she won a championship was so special.”
However, it’s very difficult being a mother on the sidelines fretting and worrying, unable to act. “It doesn’t get any easier as time goes on,” Pat said. “It’s always exciting, but I get nervous every time I watch her run.”
As for Radcliffe, there is still one title that continues to elude her – Olympic marathon champion. The favorite for gold in Athens in 2004, she did not even finish the race as her legs gave out. She later said, “I’ve never before not been able to finish and I’m desperately trying to find a reason for what happened. I just feel numb – this is something I worked so hard for.”
In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Radcliffe finished 23rd. She was forced to stop and stretch in the race as cramps overtook her. In addition, she had been diagnosed with a stress fracture on her left femur less than three months prior to the competition, which interfered with her preparations for Beijing.
“I was trying to achieve the impossible because the amount of running I had done wasn’t enough. You can’t take shortcuts in the marathon. My calf stiffened up and the pain went all the way up my leg. By the end, I was running on one leg,” she said after the race.
The 2012 London Olympics will likely be Radcliffe’s last chance to medal. She will be 38 by then, the same age that 2008 Beijing Olympic marathon champion Constantina Tomescu-Dita was when she won.
No matter what the results are, Radcliffe said, “It’s not going to define your career. You’ve got to get lucky to win. The biggest, most important thing is to be 100 percent healthy and fit. This is what I enjoy doing.”