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First things first: Paula Radcliffe should be proud of her performance in Beijing.

She did everything she could to be here and everything she could to get among the medals.

Had it not been for the cramp that spread through her leg, she'd probably have finished seventh or eighth, which would have been a remarkable effort considering her preparations.

It wasn't even a cardio-vascular thing - she said afterwards that her lungs felt OK.

But, with the marathon, it's about more than fitness. You need miles in your legs. You have to get the work into them so they can stand up to the punishment that'll be dished out to them.

If you don't, they won't hold out on you.

At the finish line, all the frustration and pain came out - at the trials and tribulations she's been through and the efforts she's put in to even make it to the start.

None of this should affect Paula's standing as an athletics great.

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Unfortunately, for some athletes - myself included - the Olympics just don't coincide with your best years of form.

Paula dominated marathon running in 2002 and 2003, and then won the world title in 2005. After time off to have daughter Isla, she won the New York marathon last year.

The only years she hasn't been in best shape have been 2004 and 2008, which just happened to be Olympic years.

She can also take great heart from the gold medal-winning run of Constantina Tomescu-Dita.

Tomescu-Dita is the same age that Paula will be in London 2012. On Sunday she showed that a marathon-runner's career can go on, if you can keep yourself fit and healthy, and if you run the right race on the right day.

Paula will have to manage herself carefully over the next few years. She won't be able to run as many races, and she'll have to look at her training, otherwise she's likely to pick up more and more injuries.

Expectations will probably drop, which will help her. But there's no reason why she can't make another Olympics.

Mara Yamauchi, meanwhile, put in an excellent run.

Had she not had that bad experience at the Worlds last summer, when she faded badly in the last few miles, I think she might have had the confidence to push on harder here.

But to finish sixth in an Olympic marathon is a great achievement, and she's certain to keep improving over the next few years too.

As for the battle for the medals - this was quite an odd race.

Two or three of them will probably look back at it and wonder how they let Tomescu-Dita get away and build such a lead without them chasing her down.

Most of them have beaten her before on several occasions, and you expected them to do it here.

The fact that Catherine Ndereba and Zhou Chunxiu had so much left at the end - their last mile was 30 seconds quicker than the penultimate one - indicates that they didn't time their efforts as well as they could have done.

But Olympic marathons are about getting your tactics right, about making big decisions out on the course and then successfully putting your plans into action.

Tomescu-Dita did that; her rivals failed to. That's why she won gold.

Steve Cram won a silver medal in the 1500m at the 1984 Olympics and is now a BBC presenter. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


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