Athletics: Bedford seeking end to Chepkemei suspension

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The Independent Online

London Marathon organisers still hope Susan Chepkemei will compete in the 25th anniversary race on 17 April despite her being banned by the Kenyan federation.

London Marathon organisers still hope Susan Chepkemei will compete in the 25th anniversary race on 17 April despite her being banned by the Kenyan federation.

The African has been given a one-year international suspension by Athletics Kenya after failing to report to a national training camp to prepare for the World Cross-Country Championships later this month. Chepkemei, last November's New York City marathon runner-up to Paula Radcliffe, added fuel to the fire by running and finishing third in last Sunday's World's Best 10-kilometre race in Puerto Rico.

AK's chairman, Isaiah Kiplagat, was said to be incensed at Chepkemei's failure to inform them. Kiplagat also said the London Marathon had been notified of the punishment handed out to the country's leading marathon runner.

"We know about Susan Chepkemei," said the London race director, David Bedford, who hopes she might still be a serious challenge when Radcliffe attempts to regain her London title after missing the 2004 race. "We are watching it closely. There is a long time between now and the Flora London Marathon and we are hoping the situation will be satisfactorily resolved long before then."

Kenyan athletics is going through a traumatic period with many of its top performers having switched allegiance to other countries, notably Bahrain and Qatar. The financial rewards from the Gulf States is massive compared to the pittance offered in their homeland and now the door is open for the highly popular Chepkemei, who often bases herself for long periods in the Netherlands, to follow suit.

The Ulsterman James McIlroy is confident he can win his first major title at this weekend's European Indoor Championships in Madrid. The 28-year-old 800 metres runner has not always matched his promise with performances, but believes his decision to change coaches and base will bring rewards.

McIlroy now lives in Windsor and feels his career has been transformed by the no-nonsense leadership style of the former Army sergeant Tony Lester, his new coach. Lester is better known for his work with the 400m runners Roger Black and Mark Richardson in the past, but under his guidance McIlroy has secured five wins this indoor season. McIlroy now claims he is in his best shape since finishing fourth for Ireland at the outdoor European Championships in 1998.

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