Athletics / London Marathon: McColgan under pressure on the gold run: Having talked a good race the real test comes tomorrow for a woman burdened with expectation. Mike Rowbottom reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
AMONG the record entry of 37,750 runners for tomorrow's NutraSweet London Marathon is one Brian Doherty, a window cleaner from Woolwich who plans to travel the 26 miles 385 yards with an 11-foot aluminium ladder on his back. Far ahead of him, a small Scottish woman will be running with an even greater burden of expectation.

Characteristically, Liz McColgan has said she expects to win what will be her first in a sequence of three London Marathons. She has added she will not be surprised if she beats 2hr 20min, breaking the world best of 2:21.06 set on the same course by Ingrid Kristiansen eight years ago. And this despite the opposition of a woman who has run the distance nearly four minutes faster than she has and is avowedly in perfect shape.

McColgan, contracted to make at least pounds 500,000 for running the next three London Marathons, has been earning her keep in the warm-up by piling pressure on to herself. Her confrontation with Lisa Ondieki, of Australia, has formed the main promotional thrust and the organisers are hoping fervently that both faces will fill the television screens of the anticipated five million domestic viewers for the bulk of the race.

If all of McColgan's predictions come to pass, she would earn herself another pounds 55,000 for winning, pounds 25,500 in cumulative bonuses for beating 2:25.00, pounds 50,000 for beating Kristiansen's world mark, and pounds 100,000 for going under 2:20.

The London Marathon is insured against such an extravagant result, but the likelihood that it will be shelling out this year is slight - not least because of a forecast of a warm, humid day with temperatures between 14 and 16C and a westerly wind of between 10 and 18 mph, far from perfect for runners who operate best in cool, windless conditions.

None of which will detract from the simple rivalry of two runners whose relationship is about as chilly as their ideal running conditions. Both are committed to a fast time, and in the absence of pacemakers and any likely entanglement in the men's race - which starts 25 minutes later - the onus will be on Ondieki, who does not have the relatively sharp finishing speed of the world 10,000 metres champion, to take it out.

Ondieki feels in good enough shape to run away with the race. Before the latest weather forecasts, she indicated her confidence by saying if she won in only 2:27 it would be because she had been running into headwinds all the way. Such were the conditions she encountered for all but six miles in last year's New York Marathon, which she won in 2:24:40. 'After the race everybody was talking about how fast it would have been if there had been no headwind,' she said. 'I'd like to know how fast I can run.'

Should either falter - or indeed, should they run each other ragged - there is a high class field waiting to take advantage. This includes last year's winner and runner-up, Katrin Dorre and Renata Kokowska, the Olympic bronze medallist Lorraine Moller, and Britain's Andrea Wallace, who finished third last year despite slowing drastically three miles from the finish. Wallace, who like McColgan has done only two marathons in her career thus far, plans to run a more measured race this year. 'There's no point in me being up there with Lisa and Liz for 20 miles and then blowing up completely.'

Given the financial investment in the women this year, the men's race is a comparatively lean affair. The field includes two men who have run under 2:08 - Ahmed Salah, of Djibouti, who has 2:07:07, the second fastest time in history, to his credit, and Rob De Castella, Australia's former world champion, who has done 2:07:51.

But those performances came in 1988 and 1986 respectively and the winner is likely to come from elsewhere in a field whose leading names include Salvador Garcia (Mexico), winner of last year's Rotterdam Marathon, his fellow countryman, Isidro Rico, Seung Do Baek (Korea), Thomas Naali (Tanzania) and Salvatore Bettiol (Italy), runner-up in the 1990 London race behind Britain's Allister Hutton. And the man most likely to earn Britain another victory appears to be Paul Evans, who finished fifth last year.

(Map omitted)