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Sportsman

My Sportsman: Paula Radcliffe

Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 3. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer.

After a tight finish in the women's 800-meters final at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, several of the tuckered competitors sprawled out on the track in exhaustion. The scene spurred articles proclaiming that distance-running was too dangerous for female runners. Events over 200 meters were banned from the Olympic Games for the next 32 years.

Boy, have times changed fast. As fast as running a 5:27 per mile. That's how quickly Britian's Paula Radcliffe ran the New York City Marathon on Nov. 4. She finished 17th overall, with the 16 runners ahead of her all elite men. None of them gave birth to a daughter in January.

In 2003, Radcliffe took women's marathon running to a new level with a world record time of 2:15:25. As harrowing as that mark is, it will be broken. But her success at training through all nine months of her pregnancy -- she monitored her heart rate for her baby's safety -- has set a new bar for the first generation of sub-2:20 mothers.

During the first five months of her pregnancy, the 33-year-old Radcliffe ran twice a day, including an 18:51 in a 5k race in her fifth month of pregnancy. She mixed in bicycling and aqua-jogging over the next two months before cutting back to one run a day. Radcliffe's pregnancy was followed by a stress fracture in her lower back, and by New York, it had been over two years since her last marathon. Some of her rivals understandably wondered whether the Radcliffe of old would show up. When she dropped a 4:59 second mile that shattered the pack, they had their answer.

Only Gete Wami of Ethiopia dared to give chase, running in Radcliffe's shadow for nearly 25 miles. It's essentially unheard of for a marathon runner to lead the entire race and win, but that is what Radcliffe did. Over the final half mile she blew away Wami, who said "it took me three years to recover from [childbirth]." After the race, Radcliffe dismissed her 27 hours of labor as "more frustration than pain" and said she felt better than ever. That's a scary thought, given that she has won all seven marathons she has finished.

When Radcliffe's run of winning marathons ends (if you can call it that given that she dropped out of the Athens marathon), it will be the end of a Bill Russellesque streak. For keeping it going after pregnancy, Radcliffe gets my vote for Sportsman of the Year.

Agree with this selection? Give us your pick for Sportsman here.

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