Oration
Winter 2002

Paula Radcliffe, MBE

Public Orator, Dr Jeremy Leaman, presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Congregation held on the afternoon of Monday 16 December 2002.


Chancellor -

Honorary degrees are rare awards; we confer a handful every year, and each one is very carefully considered. Being singled out is by definition an honour and from our perspective a mark of the great esteem in which we hold the recipient. We might just forgive Paula Radcliffe this year for being slightly blasé about today’s award, since there can be few people in the whole country who have received quite so many fanfares of praise as she has. We might in turn be forgiven for feeling slightly upstaged by the International Association of Athletics Federations, by the British Athletic Writers Association, by the British Sports Writers Association, by Buckingham Palace and now by the BBC.

We would of course say that the honorary degree for Paula was proposed some time before the triumphs in what she herself describes as her ‘fabulous year’. We would also say that the award is not centrally in recognition of her extraordinary athletic talent but rather to mark her very considerable achievements off the running track, in particular her courageous campaign against drug-taking in sport and her role-model identity for young athletes. It is also a way of thanking Paula, as a graduate of Loughborough, for her unpaid public relations work on behalf of the University and, in particular, the Department of European and International Studies, both of which are regularly mentioned in her press interviews.

Paula Jane Radcliffe was born in 1973 in Northwich, Cheshire, daughter of Pat and Peter. She began to run alongside her father at the age of nine. She joined a local athletics club and, after the family moved to Bedfordshire, continued running, excelling in cross-country competitions. With A-Levels in French, German, Maths and GS, she applied to take Modern European Studies at Loughborough. Although her application form included under ‘Hobbies’: ‘Represented Britain at Athletics … Enjoy reading and listening to music’, it was not until she entered the Department in 1992 that we realised what an extraordinary talent she had. It was the year she won the World Junior Cross Country Championship. As an undergraduate, studying French, German and Economics, she demonstrated not just exceptional academic ability, gaining First Class Honours in 1996, but also – in contrast to some top-class sporting students – exceptional modesty, tenacity and reliability in attendance. Around a labour-intensive academic course, Paula built an equally gruelling training schedule, involving 80 miles running a week.

Paula’s athletic achievements are stunning. The British press this year has even elevated Paula to the status of royalty – the Queen of British Athletics, no less – and this in Jubilee year! It has truly been a ‘fabulous year’, culminating in a Women’s Marathon run in Chicago which lopped 89 seconds off the world record.

Just as deservingly, however, Paula has made a consistent and principled stand on drug-taking in sports. Even though she puts herself at risk from revenge measures by drug-cheats – spiking drinks or even toothpaste are the common tricks – Paula has sought tenaciously to tighten testing procedures within the IAAF, so that all athletes can enjoy the unreserved praise of the public and not be tainted by the cynicism that drug-taking has generated. Paula insists that she be tested regularly. As a result, sports writers are now talking about the ‘Radcliffe factor’, which inspires the rest of the British women’s athletics team of which she is captain, and in particular the thousands of young female athletes who are apparently applying to join clubs up and down the country. Loughborough is proud to be associated with Paula’s wonderful achievements on and off the track and looks forward to following her progress with great warmth and admiration. Therefore, Chancellor, I present Paula Jane Radcliffe to you and the University for the Degree of Doctor of Technology, Honoris causa’


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  H.D.McCullam@lboro.ac.uk, December 2002

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