BEIJING (Reuters) - Paula Radcliffe missed out on an Olympic medal for the fifth time on Sunday when her patched-up body again fell foul of the rigours of the marathon four years after she dropped out of the race in Athens.
Radcliffe, the world record holder, looked unlikely to even make the Beijing Games after suffering a stress fracture of her thigh three months ago but vowed to run having finished fourth in the 10,000 metres in 2000 and fifth in the 5,000 in 1996.
Through a mixture of low-impact cross-training and determination she was able to take her place on the start line and looked comfortable enough for the first half of the race.
Like everyone else in the field, she was unable to respond when eventual winner Constantina Tomescu broke clear around the halfway mark but remained well-placed in the chasing pack.
When she stopped twice there were flashbacks to 2004, when a mixture of heat and illness forced her to pull out six kilometres from the end of the Athens race.
The first occasion on Sunday was a natural break and the second an attack of cramp, but by then she had dropped out of contention.
Radcliffe looked determined to complete the distance and, limping, she was given a great ovation by the crowd as she finished 23rd in 2:32.38, 17 minutes slower than her best.
After a post-race hug with compatriot Liz Yelling, Radcliffe sobbed as she left the track.
"I'm not sure what happened, either my leg cramped or I was protecting it but I felt I couldn't use my leg any more," Radcliffe told reporters.
"It felt like someone was stepping on it but when I turned round there was nobody there. It was the same leg (as the fracture) but it wasn't a sharp pain, more a tightening up."
Radcliffe, who also failed to finish in the 10,000 metres in Athens, accepted that her chances of a medal had been slim but she has not ruled out one more try on home soil in 2012.
"I was trying to achieve the impossible because the amount of running I had done wasn't enough and you can't take short-cuts in the marathon," the 34-year-old said.
"It's not the end. We'll keep fingers crossed for 2012. Maybe the Olympics won't happen for me but how hold is Constantina (38)?
"Maybe my body will hold out. I know in London I will have all that support."
(Additional reporting by Ken Wills)
(Editing by Ed Osmond)