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LONDON Marathon preview

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Claire Hallissey 2

20 April 2012

Team GB selection for the marathon is the name of the game at this weekend’s Virgin London Marathon. A host of British athletes will be vying for the remaining marathon places at the London 2012 Olympics. They will be hoping to join compatriots Paula Radcliffe (coach: Gary Lough), Mara Yamauchi (Shige Yamauchi) and Scott Overall (Robert Chapman), when the British Olympic Association announce the second and final marathon selection on Monday. Below is a lowdown of the top Brits aiming to cement their places at London 2012.

British Women

With Paula Radclliffe and Mara Yamauchi already selected, there is just one place available on the British team. Claire Hallissey (self-coached), Louise Damen (self-coached), Liz Yelling and Jo Pavey (Gavin Pavey) are in contention for the final spot and a place on the London 2012 start line on 5 August, all but the latter will run this weekend.

Three of the four women are in possession of the UKA ‘A’ qualifying standard time (2 hours and 31 minutes), with the exception of Yelling. Pavey’s time of 2 hours 28 minutes 24 seconds is the time to beat on Sunday, as well as being the first British women to cross the finishing line.

“Obviously there’s going to be strong competition and a real battle between the Britons on Sunday, but my training has gone well and I’m confident to see what happens on the day,” said Hallissey, who was ranked fourth in the UK last year behind Radcliffe, Yamauchi and Pavey thanks to her performance at the Chicago Marathon where she was sixth in 2:29:27.

“We all know what time we have to go for and if we’re all together then it will come down to racing each other as well.”

The 29-year-old believes she will have at least one more Olympic chance, in Rio in 2016, maybe two - not that she isn’t just as keen to make the London team.

“You can’t get away from it, a home Olympics is a really big thing,” she said. “You can’t escape the stuff in the media. Every time you open a paper there is another article about the Olympics. Everyone wants to be on the start line. It will be an amazing experience.”

Like Hallissey, Louise Damen put herself in contention last year with a breakthrough performance. She beat the Olympic qualifying time by exactly a minute when she ran 2:30:00 in London, finishing second Briton behind Pavey.

But last November she dropped out of the Yokohama Marathon at half way point with heat exhaustion and returns to London with something to prove.

“I’ve probably experienced both ends of the marathon spectrum,” she said. “It was a good experience on my debut here and horrible in Yokohama. It taught me that things do go wrong over 26.2 miles. I hope I’ve taken that on board and London will be another progression in my marathon career.”

Damen certainly believes there’s room for improvement.

“Last year I think I was a bit naive and let the adrenaline get the better of me,” she said. “I started a bit too quickly and gradually slowed in the second half. I need to be more conservative and hope to get stronger.”

For Yelling, the lure of a home Olympics is a powerful attraction. The 37-year-old, who has competed in two Olympic marathons – Beijing and Sydney, finishing 25th and 26th, is relishing the competition.

“I’m quite excited about it and really looking forward to racing and racing well.”

Often mistaken for her old friend Paula Radcliffe, Yellling dreams of finishing her career alongside Paula as both strive to banish the past.

“I’ve trained with Paula since I was 10 and know her so well,” said Yelling. “She’s been through her calamities in previous Olympics too.

“For me, it’s an extra drive, the thought of being on an Olympic start line again with her. It would be a great way to end both our careers.”
 
British Men

With his place on Team GB already secured, Scott Overall will take part in the Virgin London Marathon, but only as pacemaker. The London-born athlete will be hoping his fast start will aid his British counterparts to achieve the UKA ‘A’ qualifying time of 2 hours and 12 minutes.

 The key names in the Brit pack are Lee Merrien (John Nuttall), Benedict Whitby (Andrew Hobdell), Andi Jones (Bob Merrell), Ben Moreau (Nick Anderson), Anthony Ford (Stan Taylor), Martin Williams (Nick Anderson) and James Walsh (Mike Baxter).

Merrien believes that Overall’s presence will help, in addition to the other athletes attempting to go sub-2:12.

“There are others going out to run 2:11, so there will be no shortage of company,” he said. “We’ll be pushing each other on.”

Merrien, who is based in Guernsey, raced to a 2:14:27 personal best last year to finish first Briton.

“There are only ever a few places up for grabs [in the British team] and this is no different, although this year there is a bit more pressure with it being the Olympics,” said Merrien. “But pressure is good, because if people have that sense of character, then they’ll raise their game.”

For Whitby, it will be somewhat comforting having Overall in the 26.2 mile race.

“Scott is a training partner of mine and we trained together in the run up to Berlin,” explained Whitby, referring to the race where Overall ran 2:10:55, more than a minute inside the required time of 2:12.

“The outcome there was bittersweet for me,” added Whitby, who was disappointed to run 2:16:27. “Obviously Scott got the time and I didn’t, but it will be good to have him there on Sunday.”

Whitby, whose own lifetime best is 2:15:09, set in Florence in 2010, has absolute confidence in his friend’s ability to guide him towards that all important mark.

“He’s getting used to running these distances now and has run a couple of brilliant half marathons. Having someone you know you can trust to hit 65:30 at half way will be great.”
   
Wheelchair races

"It's going to be the hardest race of my life on Sunday," declared five-times London Marathon winner David Weir (Jenny Archer) in yesterday’s press conference.

The men's Virgin London Wheelchair Marathon promises to be one of the greatest races ever. Lining up next to the 32-year-old Weir will be some of the world's best in wheelchair racing and the Briton is excited about the challenge ahead.

To win on Sunday means he will equal Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson's record of six titles, and his wins in 2002, 2006 to 2008, and 2011 make him favourite.

"It's a great honour if I can equal Tanni's record; she's a great role model for everybody in sport and especially in this race," said Weir.

"I'm feeling good after putting in a lot of mileage over the winter. I've gone back to my training centre at St. Mary's and have been injury free in 2012."

But the wheelchair race is never predictable. Even with a top class field, the course, chair technicalities and, of course, the weather, can all play a significant part. But Weir remains unfazed by the uncertainties.

"I'm used to training in all sorts of weather so you learn to not let it bother you," he said. "I've even trained when it was minus 10 degrees in Richmond Park."

His international rivals are more concerned about the weather, however, and believe it could give Weir an advantage even though the top names have all experienced London - so realistically it could be anyone's title on Sunday.

Canadian Josh Cassidy will start full of confidence, as he comes straight from the Boston Marathon where he raced to the world's best ever marathon time on Monday. The 27-year-old won as a London debutant in 2010, but was a disappointing fifth on his return last year.

Another strong challenger is South African Ernst Van Dyk. At 39, he is one of the most experienced racers around having competed in London six times, although a series of incidents mean the closest he has come to top spot was on his debut in 2000 when he was second.

Two others who have returned to the capital are veteran Japanese racer Masazumi Soejima and World Record holder Heinz Frei. Soejima has fast times in his resume, and won both Boston and New York last year, while Frei can still challenge the young stars at 54. Last year, the Swiss racer was pipped on the finish line by Weir after a thrilling sprint.

In the women's race, defending champion Amanda McGrory is exuding confidence ahead of her hat-trick attempt in a field which boasts the best women's line up yet with Britain’s own golden girl, Shelly Woods (Peter Eriksson), among the contenders.

Woods' sole London win was in 2007, but she came close to beating McGrory in a sprint finish last year.

They recorded the same time but the American claimed first place and the course record. Just as she did 12 months' ago, the 25-year-old arrives in London after wins in Paris and New York.

"I'm hoping for a good race after winning New York and Paris," said McGrory. "It will definitely be a test of my ability at the finish. Breaking off from the group is always hard and there tends to be three, four or five racers together."

Woods hopes to turn the tables in this London Paralympic Games year, although the Blackpool racer will not receive official confirmation of her place in the British team until 9 July.

"It was an exciting finish last year and we should all expect a sprint finish this time round," she said. "Whoever wins, they're going to have to work hard as it's the toughest field so far."

The New York race last November was her last marathon, where she came second to McGrory again. The 25-year-old British record holder got married in December, to Chris, but her tireless schedule means they have only spent a month together since.

"It's a passing marriage at the moment," she said.

Woods, as well as Britain's David Weir in the men’s race, have already achieved the required marathon times (and within the required qualification period) set out in UKA’s London 2012 Paralympic Games selection policy, but if they do it again on Sunday and are ranked in the top three in world, they will effectively guarantee their selection.

McGrory is not yet selected for the Paralympics, following a disastrous Chicago Marathon, but her two compatriots here - Tatyana McFadden and Shirley Reilly - are in the squad.

McFadden took part in her first London Marathon last year when she came fourth. Since then she has won Chicago and lowered her personal best to 1:45:03. She also finished third in New York.

Despite being the elder stateswoman, Japanese racer Wakako Tsuchida is still one to watch. She triumphed here in 2010 just six days after winning her fourth Boston title.

Others in the frame include former winner, Sandra Graf of Switzerland, and Canadian Diane Roy.

The announcement for the final Team GB marathon selection will take place on Monday. Stay tuned to uka.org.uk for the latest news.