Athletics: Martin takes debut victory sprint in his stride: London Marathon: The first British winner in three years strikes a blow for 'too old' athletes and proves his personal theory of evolution

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FOR the first time in the day, Eamonn Martin appeared to be in less than full control. An hour after sprinting across Westminster Bridge to win the NutraSweet London Marathon in his first attempt at the distance, the man who can lay claim to being Britain's leading male distance runner seemed suddenly overwhelmed by the looming demands on his time. 'It's an unusual situation,' he said reflectively. 'I've got so many things to do.'

Unlike the leading finishers in the women's race, Martin has a full-time job and was due to return today to the Ford works in Dunton, where he is a testing engineer.

There are other calls on him, however. Demands from a British press eager to acclaim their first winner in the event since 1990; and pressing demands on the domestic front. His wife Julie, who gave birth to their third child last Thursday, was leaving hospital yesterday, having watched her husband on television from the maternity ward of Basildon General Hospital.

There are also financial matters to be sorted to Martin's advantage. His four-year sponsorship with Ford, set up after he broke the British 10,000 metres record at his first attempt in the event, ran out on 31 December last year, and has not been renewed. Martin, who earned around pounds 60,000 for his efforts yesterday, taking into account prize-money and a dollars 20,000 ( pounds 13,500) appearance fee, ran without the benefit of a shoe contract. One major company whom he contacted recently dismissed him as being too old at 34.

Martin, who finished in 2hr 10min 50sec, was amused by the recollection yesterday. 'Yeah, I agree with them,' he said, deadpan. 'I've always looked at my career as an evolution,' he added. 'I may not be the 1500 metres runner I was 10 years ago, but you've got to remember that I am a fresh 34- year-old marathon runner.'

Eamonn Martin Jnr's timing was not as good as his father's - he turned up nine days late, uncomfortably close to race day. But there was no sign that the worry had told on Martin Snr.

He was never out of touch with the lead from the start, as the pacemaker Mike O'Reilly achieved the task he was paid for by taking the field to the halfway point in 64 minutes. By that time the leading group had diminished to six men, with Salvatore Bettiol of Italy, fifth in the Olympics, leading them through to the 17th mile.

At this point Martin's coach, Mel Batty, watching the TV monitor in the press room, was dancing about shouting: 'Don't go yet] Don't go yet]' Martin was not about to let his natural instincts get the better of him, however. He hung on, racing conservatively, and by the 22nd mile the race was between himself and Isidro Rico, the Mexican who finished second in Rotterdam last year.

'At that point I was quite happy,' he said. 'I knew if I could hold on over the last four miles I could absolutely hammer it at the finish, and if it got to that stage there was no way I could get beaten.

'Once I saw the 26-mile marker I knew there was less than 400 metres to go, so I tried to relate it to a track race. I kept looking round because I didn't want anyone else to enter the equation.'

However, Grzegorz Gajdus of Poland, the next man, was a spent force. Martin, as is his wont, gritted his teeth - just as he had in Auckland three years earlier as he prepared for the final lap sprint which swept him past the Kenyans to the Commonwealth 10,000m title. And the roars of encouragement as he made his final turn out of Birdcage Walk on to the bridge were tumultuous.

'I've run in some of the greatest arenas in track,' he said. 'I've won in Oslo and Zurich. But I couldn't believe the noise before I went. It was incredible, so intense.'

Once he went, however, he heard nothing. 'It was 26 miles, but it was a race,' he said. 'And on my day I'm a great racer.' It was his day.

The man whose day many thought it might be, Paul Evans, dropped out after 14 miles, never having figured in the leading group. Evans, who finished fifth last year and who was 11th in the Olympic 10,000m final, had been suffering with a sore throat. Carl Thackery, another Briton with the talent to have made an impression on the event, dropped out after 12 miles. In their absence, Dave Buzza moved through to become the next Briton home in sixth place, with Steve Brace emphasising his consistency in 10th.

---------------------------------------------- LEADING MEN ---------------------------------------------- 1 Eamonn Martin (GB) 2:10:50 2 Isidro Rico (Mex) 2:10.53 3 Grzegorz Gajdus (Pol) 2:11.07 ---------------------------------------------- LEADING WOMEN ---------------------------------------------- 1 Katrin Dorre (Ger) 2:27:9 2 Lisa Ondieki (Aus) 2:27.27 3 Liz McColgan (GB) 2:29.37 ----------------------------------------------