Athens From The Crowd - Part 1: Paula

RW's former production assistant Cath Perry is a self-confessed athletics nut. She'll be offering up a crowd's eye view on the forum though the week. Here's her first instalment - Monday 23rd, the day after the women's marathon

Posted: 23 August 2004
by Catherine Perry

RW's former production assistant Cath Perry is a self-confessed athletics nut. She'll be offering up an unofficial crowd's eye view on the forum though the week. Here's her first instalment - Monday 23rd, the day after the women's marathon...

"She's pulled up"

"No. You are joking, right?"

"No, she's pulled out. Stopped."

One look to my right and I see Paula Radcliffe's husband also walking out of the Panathinaiko Stadium. Face like thunder. The guy was not joking. I feel sick. It's so sad.

There are 15 minutes to go till the winners get to the finish. We have sped to the Panathinaiko Stadium from our marathon route spot, where there had been a great party atmosphere of British and Japanese supporters. All tense, nervous, excited. Sure of victory.

The Panathinaiko Stadium looks incredible. It's packed with supporters, Union Flags everywhere. But the atmosphere is subdued. The crowd have just seen the image of Paula stop, try running again and then give up, collapsed on the pavement - crying and just awfully alone. Banners with 'another Perfect Paula run' suddenly seem a little over-confident.

Was it too hot? I guess so. It was mid 30s when they started the race in this unrelenting sun. Spectating was exhausting enough. We have become so used to , but she is just human.

The Japanese were happy, though, and they are a fun crowd. It was still a fabulous sight to see the front runners come into the stadium, all pretty close as it turned out.

I couldn't stay for Tracy and Liz to come in, as I had to dash to the new athletics stadium - my first time there. I was hot, disappointed, hungry, thirsty. However, the atmosphere was wild and electric. My mood lifted instantly.

Though Britain had no-one in the 100m final, and Philips Idowu didn't appear to be jumping in the triple jump (clearly not a great day for British athletics), this was the world stage and every race was kicked off with enormous cheers, music pumping out, people dancing, clapping.

I was ecstatic to see the ladies' 400m heats (my event, in another world). Determined to have a British reason to cheer I pushed the 400m ladies on with all my might (to no avail unfortunately) but was delighted to see Michael East qualify.

It was overwhelmingly a Swedish night with wins in the high jump and triple jump. The 100m final proved to be exciting too. The Greeks got the atmosphere up pre-race with Greek dancing music - it even got the more relaxed 100m runners dancing along with the crowd. I walked out of the stadium next to Mark Lewis-Francis and Jason Gardener, who must have been galled not to be in the race. Indeed they looked it.

So after last night's spectacles I couldn't resist more tonight [Monday]... the women's 800m amongst others. I have bought a ticket for 70 Euros just this morning. My beach volleyball ticket will just have to be ditched, unfortunately. It's all about lapping up as much as possible out here, seeing as much sport as you can, getting involved, and having a good time. Pay now and worry about the bills later!

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RW's former production assistant Cath Perry is a self-confessed athletics nut.

She'll be offering up a crowd's eye view on the forum though the week - and will be delighted to answer questions about what it's like out there.

The article above is her first instalment - Monday 23rd, the day after the women's marathon...
Posted: 23/08/2004 at 17:06

A crowds eye view of the forum.......are we being broadcast live then?
Posted: 23/08/2004 at 17:07

Lucky lady!

But...: "We have become so used to , but she is just human."

Used to...what? (although we can probably fill in the gap)
Posted: 23/08/2004 at 17:10

Sob. She ditched her beach volleyball ticket ?

Noooooooooooooooooooohhhhh !
Posted: 23/08/2004 at 17:13

Cath, what's it like out there? Someone in the Evening Standard today was making some sort of point about the toffs (sailing, rowing, and horse-stuff) doing well whilst the plebs (everyone else including Paula apparently) doing poorly. Is there an obvious class divide amongst the supporters?
Posted: 23/08/2004 at 17:15

I think the only people who should criticize paula are those who have run an oylmpic marathon and come back with a medal!!!!!! Yes she has the best but we all have bad days and at least she got out there and gave it a go. The other british girls did not have the same amount of pressure on them and they just wanted to finish it.Paula is an inspiration to people to try and go out and do the best they can. I hope she can get through this and come back stronger than ever to prove the doubting thomas wrong
Posted: 23/08/2004 at 17:21

Lets hear it for Catherine.

Whoop whoop Whoop!!
Posted: 23/08/2004 at 17:21

If I was having a tough day at work, I wouldn't just get up and leave.

I would consider her a heroine if she had finished the race - running, walking or crawling.
Posted: 23/08/2004 at 19:13

What, more people posting a negative Paula post having never posted before. What a shocker!
Posted: 23/08/2004 at 19:16

And a 'beginner', who presumably can tell us all about elite marathons.
Posted: 23/08/2004 at 19:20

and who works in 30 degree heat no doubt
Posted: 23/08/2004 at 19:21

I'm waiting for the anecdote.
Posted: 23/08/2004 at 19:22

did i ever tell you i ran round a track once in Greece in August ?

and i once ran at Olympia in the middle of the day in August too - was quite bearable really but then im very slow and only ran for a few minutes !!

Posted: 23/08/2004 at 19:25

I am so angry that anyone can be negative about Paula. As runneers maybe we have some small idea just how she was feeling, she gave everything. She was my herion before yesterday and nothing has changed. I hope she does not do the 10k, I could not stand to see her hurt anymore.
Posted: 23/08/2004 at 20:57

.....anyway Cath, class divide? And what does that make Kelly Holmes.......Toff or pleb?
Posted: 23/08/2004 at 20:59

I was going to say something like that

Kelly Holmes is neither a pleb or a toff.
Posted: 23/08/2004 at 21:03

I feel so bad for Paula, the world watching and expecting, how do you teach someone to cope with that when things are not going as everyone else wants?? She has worked so hard to be where she is and no one can take that away from her, she IS only human!! She was, is , and always will be a heroine!!
Posted: 23/08/2004 at 21:28

Which of our cyclists are meant to be toffs exactly?
Posted: 23/08/2004 at 22:18

I don't think much of this Caths response time, over 5 hours since I posted my poser and not a dickie bird.
Posted: 23/08/2004 at 22:23

I was more disappointed with the BBC's lack of respect for the winner. They seemed to imply that she was on her last legs from about halfway and scolded her for looking at her watch. We were all bitterly disappointed for Paula but let's have some credit for the winner....and don't forget, the conditions were the same for everyone.
The winner? Mizuki Noguchi
Posted: 23/08/2004 at 23:57

Another one Cath, what's the atmosphere like generally, are the Brit supporters positive despite the poor showing in the medals table? What's the atmosphere like in the areas where the Brit supporters stay, are there little ghettoised areas or is it all spread about?
Posted: 24/08/2004 at 00:11

Toff vs Pleb - one of those journalistic tropes that sounds as if it means something but really doesn't.

Badminton - classless (except for the horse trials)

Kyaking - who knows its class status

Cycling - non toff

Rowing - not as toff as is thought (qv Steve Redgrave)

Boating - middle class

Horses - oh all right then

What is more interesting is that we seem to do better in sports where you have to master a piece equipment (if I can classify a horse as a piece of equipment)
Posted: 24/08/2004 at 00:23

As a lifelong kayaker I will speak for its class status:

I have been in several clubs and all have had a wide range of classes present, from manual workers to professionals. As far as I can see it is the most classless sport I have ever come across. Much more so than running. And before anyone flames me I have been running for a long time, and this isn't my first post. We all have a right to an opinion.

There is little problem with facilities for most sports in the UK, but as kayakers we have access to less than 2% of the rivers in this country, training is limited to a few sites (some man made) and there have been very few full time competitive kayakers. Yet we win medals nearly every time out. Go figure.

Posted: 24/08/2004 at 09:16

Well, I am not as good as You in Shekspeare's native tongue. But I just want to say, that during my 15 marathons I have experienced once or twice total exhaustion. The stage when someone has switched the lights off. Sometimes, it just happens! She has done her best, and failed. It happens. This is the beauty of the marathon, isn't it? But she is still the same person as few days before. I still admire her.
Posted: 24/08/2004 at 09:37

Playing Devil's advocate a little here:

What would we be saying/thinking if Paula had finished the race (running/walking/crawling/all of these) and then collapsed and died as she crossed the line - just so she could finish the race, whether or not she got a medal? Would we say she was a hero for finishing in such conditions that are difficult for us Northern Europeans to replicate or stupid for carrying on when her body was clearly telling her that enough is enough?

I have huge respect for Paula and her commitment to her sport. She really does push herself to the limit. My opinion of her hasn't changed. I have yet to complete or train for a marathon (half is my longest, unless you count 20 mile multi-terrain races). I can only guess what such training entails and know that as a full time athlete, Paula is able to run twice a day, do altitude training, have access to experts that we can only dream of having access to.

I have posted before on other forums here. I have huge respect for any athlete that even made it to Athens, whether or not they got into the final of their sport.

Ready for roasting!
Posted: 24/08/2004 at 10:38

I used to have a horse, and sometimes did competitions on it (not the mincing in the top hat-stuff, but only cos I just couldn't cos it was far too difficult). I am definitely not a toff, my family aren't (this is when I was younger), very very few of the other people with horses I hung out with were....

My horse cost less than a half-decent bike, I only ever fed him on grass and hay, and he didn't have a stable.

So horses don't automatically equal "toff"!

Posted: 24/08/2004 at 10:46

"my family aren't (this is when I was younger)"

does that mean they are now? Of course the journo was refering to medal winners, so maybe only the horsey toffs win medals where as the horsey plebs don't.
Posted: 24/08/2004 at 10:57

I think that if you read it carefully you will find that Leslie Law (show jumping gold) is from a working class background, or maybe that was only on the news here in the midlands where they interviewed his proud dad.

I think that we tend to build our heroes up high here, and then we can't stand it if they don't reach those standards. When sports people reach a professional level we have a right to high expectation of them. Just as we felt let down when David Beckham couldn't hit the goal from the penalty spot, there will be people who will feel that with Paula's earnings from running they could have expected a better performance. I fall between the two stools here, as I know what is like to drop out in an important race, and 25 years still havn't forgiven myself. With all the serious support and the opportunities to train in hot conditions (Paula herself said she had been training in hotter in Spain) I find to hard to completely disagree with those who feel let down by her DNF.

At the end of the day the public support is with her, but the impact of not finishing is purely on her. It will reduce her appearance and advertising income over the next couple of years and increase the pressure on her to produce another record breaking performance to rehabilitate her reputation.

It is time for us to focus on the superb performances of people like Kelly Holmes. Now there is inspirational for you.
Posted: 24/08/2004 at 11:35

I'm wearing a top hat and a monocle.
Posted: 24/08/2004 at 12:37

I wondered what that was on your head.
Posted: 24/08/2004 at 12:41

...thought it was a bedpan, just shows how wrong you can be.
Posted: 24/08/2004 at 12:49

Hi Guys,

Wow you guys are very responsive! I have only just had a chance to log back on since posting yesterday. Sorry it couldn't be quicker Dodge. Olympics to watch and all that...

Just got here from the morning athletics - "Deano" 4th, 200m mixed results for us. A full stadium though (unusual for a morning session) as this was supposed to be Kenteris' first outing. Greeks still going nuts however as there were two other Greeks Runners..."Hellas, Hellas, Hellas". Brilliant atmosphere at 11 in the morning.

So, thanks for your questions. Class division in supporters? not really. It's hard to comment completely on the class issue as I didn't make it to the rowing, or to the equestrian events.Maybe I'm not upper class enough! Been to Badminton, trampoline, swimming, Volleyball (only Brit there I think!)and can't say I noticed any divides. Supporters probably span the middle classes I guess.

I have noticed a definite increase in Union Jacks and Henman-esque support since the athletics started however.

Anyway, that pleb/toff journo can eat her waffle, as Kelly Holmes did us incredibly proud last night. Thank goodness I decided on athletics over beach volleyball (sorry Cougie). It felt great to see Kelly win - again we feel like we have been through her pain over the years - and in such an exciting, and well run race. Perfect run. She stuck at the back, kept her own pace, stuck to Mutola and romped it home.

It was an increcible moment, cheering GO KELLY solid for the last 300m. High Fives all around - and that was with the Swedish fans that surrounded us whose ear drums we has just blasted.

With the athletics crowd I always find it is a mix of casual followers and dedicated, 'write down every finish time in log book', types. You bond with fellow Brits, you celebrate with all people around you. At the end of the day everyone there is there for great sport and that gets everyone going.

Dodge: Are we ghettosied as supporters as to where we stay ? - no. It probably depends more on your budget where you stay rather than your nationality. I am in a hostel with Aussies, Kiwis, Saffers, a few Europeans, a Brazilian, US, Greeks. We are all 20/30 somethings. Spending money we don't have! Getting into as many free events as possible...anyway, security secrets another time!

Is it positive feeling amongst Brits? I think there was a definite upturn after the rowing. The good thing about being out here is that you don't get the tiresome drone of moaning journalists slagging off medal positions, or see images over and over of disappointments. Rather you move on and get involved in other great sporting moments happening all around you.

It's when you see the Australian cry her heart out as she gets bronze, or a Greek walker win gold out of nowhere, you appreciate more than the purely GB results.
A sense of historical perspective I guess.

Must dash. Fitting in run (yeah I know sad huh, its very hot but gotta do it!) then off to the Velodrome (will be assessing all the GB fans now!). Again, picked up tickets yesterday from an Italian guy selling them in the centre of town. 55 Euro each. Then round the corner of the fabulous Olympic Park to the stadium. Pack it in!

Finally should just say, the Greeks are doing a grand job. Different to Sydney, but often so much more relaxed. All very Greek!

Posted: 24/08/2004 at 13:01

Dodge, why do you have such a chip on your
shoulder about 'class' divide in sports?
Maybe if you went out and tried horse riding
and rowing you would realise people who
compete/participate in these sports come
from just as different backgrounds as any other sports.

By the way Paula is most definately a hero.
Posted: 24/08/2004 at 13:13

Flash in the Pan (Flush down the Pan...?):

What does the amount of money paid to a runner by some huge multinationals ready to oversee massive exploitation in order to make profits, have to do with success or failure?
If I were a successful sportsperson and someone asked me to put some kit on in exchange for a vast some of money, I am fooling myself if I say I would refuse on ethical grounds. Once I got out there, I very much doubt whether the branding of my sunglasses would make any difference to my performance whatsoever.
In other words, athletes perform to their best, paid or unpaid (how many golds did Sir Steve Redgrave win before rowing went corporate? Was it 3, or only 2?)
Do only those who contribute to Nike profits by buying their products have a right to demand high performance from David Beckham? Should we boycott them because they don't work?
How ridiculous has the World of Sport become?
Did we really all hope a return to the original site of the Olympic Games would be accompanied by a return to those values? In which case, no kit, no women, only citizens (in other words a tiny proportion of any population), no rewards, no results around the world until months later....Ho hum...
Posted: 24/08/2004 at 13:16

Cath, unfortunately could only watch at
home but did anyone mention/notice Alemu's
husband running on the course with her
shortly before Paula pulled up?
Posted: 24/08/2004 at 13:26

CSS? Just trying to add something to this thread that I read in the paper and, as Cath is out there, wondered what her take on it was. Better than just turning this into yet another Paula thread I thought.


Cath, so it's all a mixed bag as far as supporters go. Don't know if that's a shame or not. You make it sound like Earls Court :) Is it mainly an athletics crowd there amongst the Brits, with the other events as secondary, or are there as many people into the canoing etc. I often wonder if the Brits we see at all the smaller sports are just members/associates of the team and family. Do the Brits get about and make the effort to support Brits in the other, more minority, events like flying pickets? I shall consider myself suitably chastised and be more patient for your updates in future.


Oh yeah, lucky s?d!

Posted: 24/08/2004 at 13:26


I am too fat to flush down the pan.

I do seem to have rattled your cage.

Throwing money or kit at a sportsperson alone does make them perform better. If, however, the money means that you have the time and resources to train specifically for the sport then surely we can expect a better performance. I am sure we would all take the money, I am not sure we would all perform as well as we would like, but having taken the money there is now a contract (written or not) that says we will perform at our best. I know that we all sometimes fail, it is usually the case that we have tried our best, but we , and our stakeholders, will still feel dissappointed.

Posted: 24/08/2004 at 14:17


I guess the media is the winner and we are all the losers - they whip up these issues from nothing and we all spend our time getting stressed out. No offence meant.

Like so much that appears in the media, if you boil down the story to its essence, there are only a very few basic themes.

For example, David Blunkett and American Mrs - it boils down to 'Man fancies woman'.

Paula Radcliffe story - 'Favourite doesn't win race'.

The whole sorry Iraq story - 'Powerful dominate weak'.

The never-ending sequence of news stories based on opinion polls - 'People vary'.
Posted: 24/08/2004 at 14:29

Paula IS and ALWAYS WILL BE an inspiration to millions. As a serious marathon runner myself currently in the thick of hardcore training for an autumn marathon i feel offended that anybody british could possibly question Paula's dedication and desire to represent OUR country. I do hope she gives the 10k a miss in order to fully recover both mentally and physically but if she goes for it i'll be 110% behind her.

I also think that anyone who hasn't actually completed a marathon should be banned from commenting on the subject as they clearly do not understand what's involved!
Posted: 24/08/2004 at 14:58

Brendan Foster seemed to be going on constantly about the winner looking at her watch and saying that she was looking at it for no reason. It looked to me like she was using GPS as she had something hanging from her shorts? anyone?

And the Ice-vest, how much would that effect someone wearing one of those for 40mins then stepping in 30+ heat!

Change of temperature or what?!
Posted: 24/08/2004 at 15:39

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