Paula Radcliffe: Someone to be proud of

In temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit and with only four miles to go, British runner Paula Radcliffe stopped during an Olympic race and broke the nation's heart…

The golden girl of British athletics could take no more of the Olympic Marathon and collapsed in tears on the roadside - her dreams of a gold medal in tatters and our country's dreams shattered.
Some commentators are now claiming that Britain expected the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year 2002 to win a gold medal, before she had even set foot on the Greek tarmac.

But why do we put so much pressure on our sports stars? Is there something in the nation's psyche which means we expect too much?

Britain has a history of sporting triumphs, but it has also had its fair share of disasters.

It's been nearly 40 years since we won the World Cup and since that day we have been expecting to win another major trophy.

Managers have been sacked, players pilloried and tactics criticised, all of which have never resulted in success.

Only a few short months ago, the country and the press pinned all their hopes of sporting glory onto the feet and head of 18-year-old Wayne Rooney.

The nation believed the Everton star could help us triumph in Euro 2004 and his face duly appeared on the front and back pages of every national newspaper. One radio station even went as far as naming themselves 'Radio Rooney'.

Our hopes were dashed when the wonder-boy limped off in the semi-final game against Portugal.

Of course, there were 10 other players in the England team, so why do we expect one teenager to get us into the final and win the tournament?

Much of the blame could be laid at the door of the press, who build up our expectations of sport stars only to criticise them when it all goes wrong.

Look at Tim Henman. The tennis player goes to Wimbledon every year and everyone expects him to win.

Fans congregate on 'Henman Hill' and wrap themselves in Union Jacks, only to be left disappointed when the British Number One makes an early exit.

The British people take their sporting stars to their hearts and pin their dreams of success onto them.

We are never more together as a nation than when we are participating in a sporting tournament.

Sport and its stars make us feel proud to be British. We reclaim our flag from racist groups and wave it from our cars and windows, in a show of patriotism and pride.

A heat-wave might improve people's moods, but there's no better serotonin for the collective British mind than an international sporting triumph.

An Olympic gold medal tells the world Britain is the best, which is why Paula Radcliffe collapsed in tears and proclaimed that she was "devastated".

The athlete knew how much a gold medal would have meant to her country, but we should still feel proud of her.

Paula ran for 22 miles in the blistering heat and has made no excuses for her failure to finish.

That is worth more than any medal and goes to the heart of what this country, its people and the Olympics are about.