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Dorre at the door of fame

Norman Fox assesses the rival battles in today's London Marathon
FOR the second time in a few days, a large proportion of the world's top distance runners race in Britain. And for the second time it will be the women who offer the best prospect of drama. Last weekend it was that absorbing world cross-country battle between Derartu Tulu and the unfortunate Catherina McKiernan in Durham. Today the London Marathon offers Germany's Katrin Dorre the opportunity to join Ingrid Kristiansen in the event's hall of fame with a fourth successive victory. Or will Scotland's Liz McColgan prove that she can do more than talk a good comeback?

Dorre, brought up fully committed to the rigid East German coaching system ("which did everything for me except make me rich") and a former medical student at the University of Leipzig, has run 31 marathons, 18 of which she has won. At the age of 33, and now a mother, she thinks this may be her last attempt at the London race, a suggestion to bring some comfort to the rest. With the Australian Lisa Ondieki deciding this week to pull out because of an injury, the favourites behind Dorre have become Renata Kokowska (Poland), the European champion Manuela Machado (Portugal), Kim Jones (United States), and McColgan.

Bearing in mind the fact that she has suffered a couple of defeats since returning to full training after months suffering from injuries that threatened her career, perhaps it is unfair to expect too much of McColgan. The trouble is she always expects a lot of herself: "I'm sure I've never been fitter than I am now. If anything was going to break down it would have done so by now." But her personal best for the marathon is two minutes slower than that of Dorre, who has rarely been bothered by injuries.

McColgan keeps insisting that this year's London Marathon has always been her target, but other targets have come and gone. This could be her last chance to put her career back on course. But whether her comment that Dorre was just one of several potential rivals today was wise we shall soon discover. She made a similar remark in 1993 when Dorre and Ondieki relegated her to third place.

On current form the men's winner should be 32-year-old Steve Moneghetti, the Australiajn who has won his last two marathons. But the favourite is last year's winner, Dionicio Ceron of Mexico, who has been predicting that sooner or later he can reduce his time to 2hr 5min (he did 2:08:57 in poor conditions last year) and is looking confident in spite of a year interrupted by injuries. If the weather is, as predicted, cool and not too windy, there is a real possibility that these two, possibly with last year's runner-up, Abebe Mekonnen, of Ethiopia, in a fast leading group, could drive each other to a world best time, which stands at 2:06:50 set seven years ago by Belayneh Densimo, also of Ethiopia. A world best in London is worth $100,000 to the winner who would also collect the $10,000 first prize (not to mention appearance money). At very least Steve Jones's course record of 2hr 8min 16sec set in 1985 should be under threat.

If it comes to a sprint finish, the odds would be on Antonio Pinto, of Portugal, the 1992 winner in London, or perhaps Britain's 36-year-old Eamonn Martin, the 1993 winner and 10,000m specialist, though he found last year's race a struggle.

Although the London race is not strictly speaking a world championship trial, it acts as one of the selection races. It would be embarrassing for the selectors if Britain's Paul Evans should win. Evans has fallen out with the British Athletic Federation over what he believes is an apathetic approach to long-distance running, but he still hopes to make the British team in the 10,000m. Having dropped out of his last three marathons, he has a lot to prove. "But I still believe I've got a great marathon in me. It could be Sunday. I won't let Moneghetti and Ceron get away".