Theorizing Paula Radcliffe: Representing a Nation

in Sociology of Sport Journal
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In setting the world record at the London Marathon in 2003, Paula Radcliffe not only beat her female competitors but also her countrymen becoming the fastest British runner of the year, male or female, making her the nation’s best hope for the Olympic Games in 2004. From this position, she garnered a significant amount of media attention, becoming Britain’s most famous runner. Yet as a representative of her nation, both symbolically and on the national team, her place remains complicated. Radcliffe’s significant accomplishments, which were in part understood as British success, were also constructed as a foil for the lack of British men’s success in racialized and gendered ways. To explicate mediated articulations of national identity, I examined UK print media constructions of Radcliffe focusing on three major events of her running career: her world record, her failure to finish at the 2004 Games, and her World Championship marathon win in 2005. I found that Radcliffe achieved conditional status as a representative of Britain, while this media coverage also maintained and buttressed gendered and racialized hierarchies in the complex construction of British identity.

Walton is with Kent State University—School of Exercise, Leisure and Sport, Kent, Ohio.

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