Ceron surrounded by pretenders to his throne

LONDON MARATHON: McColgan in line for triumph while men face most competitive race for years.
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The Independent Online
All week, the leading contenders for tomorrow's London Marathon have been filing into press conferences by Tower Bridge, past the Little London Picture Parlour.

This tourist attraction advertises classic souvenir photographs in a variety of London-themed settings, including the Changing of The Guard, and Off With Yer Head (individual or group executions to order).

If there is to be a changing of the guard tomorrow, Vincent Rousseau of Belgium, the only man to run under 2hr 08min twice, is the man most likely to bring it about as he seeks to thwart Mexico's Dionicio Ceron in his ambition to complete an unprecedented hat-trick of victories in the men's event.

If Ceron should succumb, however, either to Rousseau, or his up-and-coming fellow countryman, German Silva, the double New York champion, then execution would hardly be the order of the day. Ceron has already established himself in London folklore for his performances in the last two races.

He was less than expansive in his pre-race comments, only stirring himself to defend his decision to take 10 weeks out after the last win to launch a clothing company to go alongside the property business he has already established in his home country. But maybe he is saving his energies for tomorrow.

The introduction of Rousseau and Silva, as well as Portugal's Dionisio Castro, has set up what is probably the most competitive race in the London Marathon's 16-year history.

It is also, in the opinion of the Marathon's widely respected general manager, Alan Storey, the most competitive event from a domestic point of view.

He believes that all five of the leading Britons competing are capable of getting below 2:10. Their efforts will form a race within a race, given that the leading Briton is virtually guaranteed the third and final place in the Olympic marathon.

Paul Evans and the 1993 winner, Eamonn Martin, are the Britons most likely to do well, although Evans has cast serious doubts on whether he would take up an Olympic marathon place in Atlanta if offered it.

Evans, nevertheless, appears to have the best prospect among the British runners, given his second place behind Silva in the New York Marathon four months ago. However, Martin, who recovered his recent fortunes with elan by winning the Chicago Marathon last year, is optimistic about his chances after a preparation which has been far smoother than in the last two years. Martin is a proven winner - and he wants to run in Atlanta.

Mark Hudspith, the 1994 Commonwealth bronze medallist, Jon Solly, the 1986 10,000 metres champion, and Gary Staines, the pacemaker for the past two years, are the other leading British contenders.

However, it turns out, this is widely acknowledged as the most competitive race in the history of the London Marathon, as the fastest man in the field, Rousseau, has acknowledged. "This is a marathon where there are a lot of potential winners," he said. "I don't want to lead and then find a knife in my back."

If Liz McColgan's new coach, Norway's inaugural world marathon champion Grete Waitz, is correct, this could be the best opportunity for Scotland's former world 10,000m record holder to win an event where she has a third and fifth place to her credit.

McColgan certainly appears a far more relaxed and confident athlete under the guidance of the woman whom she admits has been an idol to her, and this looks like her chance to register the victory which was expected when she signed her original four-year deal with the London event in 1992.

Her main rivals will be two Poles, Renata Kokowska and the 1995 champion, Malgorzata Sobanska, and three Kenyans - Angela Kannana, second in Berlin last year, Joyce Chepchumba, fourth in last year's New York marathon, and Helen Kimaiyo, a 69min 30sec half-marathon runner.

It is Kimaiyo's debut, but as McColgan knows, many things are possible in such a position. Her debut victory in New York five years ago remains her personal best for the distance, and the fastest marathon debut by a woman - 2:27:38. She is confident that she can beat that by some distance tomorrow. If things go well for her, it should be a memorable event.