The women's world record holder in the marathon, Paula Radcliffe is one of British athletics' most decorated participants in the 21st century, boasting golds from the Commonwealth Games, European and World Championships.
A veteran of three Olympics, injury deprived Radcliffe of the chance to race at London 2012 and the 39-year-old's career appears to be drifting to an end.
Radcliffe, a staunch anti-doper, gives her views on the recent sprinting scandal to blight athletics, recalls her toughest races and looks ahead to her future role in the sport.
With the recent drug scandals in sprinting, do you think that we will ever see that same in distance running?
I hope not! I think what they have shown is that our sport is committed to anti-doping the whole way, to cleaning itself up and to stop turning a blind eye. If there are cheats out there they will be exposed. Testing is improving all the time, it's inevitable in that respect they will be caught. You do have cheats but I hope that they will get less and less as deterrents get bigger and people realise that they have more to lose by cheating than they have to gain.
What do you think that the punishment for doping should be?
I think it should be lifetime bans, at the very least four-year bans, they need to look at federal sanctions or even jail time to increase the severity of the sanction. Sanctions definitely need to be given to everyone, not just the athlete who has cheated but also the supplier and team as well, basically everyone involved in the process. I think we also need to look at giving sanctions to countries and federations where numbers surpass a certain amount, or where it's clear that there’s been some kind of national federation involvement in the cheating process.
Radcliffe is a three-time London Marathon winner
It's been ten years now since you broke the marathon world record and no woman has come within 2.5 minutes of that time, has anyone ever suspected you of cheating?
Obviously people have been suspicious at times, and I think that’s another reason why I have been so vocal about the fact that we need to improve the anti-doping tests and reliability, because it affects the credibility of our sport. I think that our sport has a duty to clean athletes to protect them so that they can compete on a level playing field. Also, it needs to protect them so that their performances aren’t doubted when they are achieved through working hard. Obviously when you have worked really hard for something and then someone says something to you about cheating, it does hurt and you want to be able to prove and to show people. I know that I can have full pride in my achievements, be proud of them and know that I achieved everything that I did through working hard sticking to my moral beliefs.
What was the toughest race in your career? The world record run?
There were tougher things to do; I think that Athens was tougher. Essentially, when things are going really well, it’s easier to deal with. It probably hurt a lot, I still have memories of how much I was trying to turn off my brain in the closing stages of the world record because I just wanted to make sure that it stood for as long as possible and that it reflected everything that I was capable of. I didn’t want to finish and think that I can still do a lot more if I had tried harder. I still finished and thought that I could run quicker! I definitely still knew that I’d given everything that I could on the day.
Radcliffe wins the women's half-marathon challenge of the Vienna City, 2012
What was the toughest decision that you made in your career?
Probably the hardest decision was actually deciding not to go and run at the World Championships in 2003. Everyone around me was saying, “Make that decision” because I had an injury at the time. We didn’t know whether it would be better in time and the only way to find out would have been to test it out in the actual race. I think we decided that it was more sensible not to risk it, but with the power of hindsight, when I went out for my first test run it was OK. So that’s something that I’ve always thought, “Oh I wish I’d made the other decision there’. You never know whether it would have held up racing with spikes. 10,000m on a track is a very different proposition to just going for a run.
You’ve had quite a few injury problems in your career; have you ever felt like giving up running?
You always have that split second when you’ve been hurt, you’re gutted, you can’t go on and you just think, “Oh I can’t do this anymore”. But generally running is something that I really enjoy, and I really enjoy racing so I think for as long as I could I would carry on. It was always going to be how long my body could go on - it would be my body that made the decision for me.
Would you ever encourage your children to take up running?
I would absolutely, what I would absolutely encourage them to do is to take up sport at some level, because I really believe that sport is important for everyone. I think it's important to do it not just at a professional level, but for what it gives you generally – kids do better at school. I think you go on to be more confident in life and feel better about yourself, you make better decisions and you learn more about what you are capable of. So in terms of them doing a sport I would really encourage it. I would love for them to pursue a career in athletics; obviously whatever they wanted to do I would support them. I wouldn’t push them into athletics just for me, it would have to be for them.
Jess Judd, one of Team GB’s youngest stars has recently admitted how you inspired her. How does it make you feel to be a role model for so many young people?
It is flattering, I always try to say that I appreciate everything that sport has given me, and how it’s helped me to grow as a person and all of the experiences its given me. As many people as possible that I can help make that first step to bring sport to them is a good thing. When someone as talented as Jess says something like that it’s nice and I think she’s got a long and successful career ahead of her.
Radcliffe makes her way round the course during The National Lottery Anniversary Run last month
Do you think that British distance running has a bright future then?
Yes I do, I think that British athletics at the minute has a bright future. I definitely think that with youngsters like Jess coming through things are looking really good.
Does your future after running lie in the sport in commentating, coaching or presenting, or would you consider leaving it to become a full time Mum?
I think I’m always a full-time Mum! I think I will always do something else alongside that, I think I would always like to be involved in sport in some way. Athletics is a beautiful sport, and it’s given me a lot, and I want to give back to it. I would definitely like to stay involved but I’m not quite sure at the moment which direction I will take. I already mentor a few athletes, I do bits of commentating and I’m interested in the anti-doping side. Maybe I’ll do something with IAAF just to protect our sport and make sure it goes in the right direction.
Paula Radcliffe is supporting Sky Sports’ campaign to find the best decision in sport. To see the top 50 and vote for your favourite go to skysports.com/decisions