(De)Constructing Paula Radcliffe: Exploring media representations of elite running, pregnancy and motherhood through cultural sport psychology


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Abstract

Objectives:Little is known about elite athletes who are mothers within the context of sociocultural expectations concerning motherhood and sport. The aim of this study was to extend such understanding by examining how the media manages and constructs one elite athlete's (Paula Radcliffe) identities within the context of motherhood and sport.Design:A qualitative approach grounded in cultural sport psychology was used to explore motherhood and athletic identity as socio-cultural creations shaped by cultural narratives (i.e., media). The psychological and behavioural implications were of interest.Method:A textual analysis (see McKee, 2003) of two issues of Runner's World magazine (March 2008, October, 2010) surrounding elite British marathon runner Paula Radcliffe's pregnancies was conducted. Visual data analysis of 37 images (see Griffin, 2010) further contextualized textual meaning(s).Results:Radcliffe's identities were constructed within a higher order narrative: pregnancy and motherhood as redemption. This narrative had fluid meanings depending on how it framed two contrasting identities: 1. athlete and mother as one and 2. primarily a mother; athlete as secondary. An athlete and mother as one identity reinforced an elite athlete identity and high performance narrative. A primarily mother, athlete as secondary identity was linked to athletic accomplishments being downplayed and/or sacrificed in favour of motherhood.Conclusions:This study opens a new window of cultural understanding and possibility for research and application concerning motherhood and athletic identities. These findings add to the cultural sport psychology and qualitative literature exploring elite mothering athletes.

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