Athletics: Morris starts to feel Olympic pressure after rapid ascent

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The Independent Online

There was an extra big cheer for the 11th woman home in yesterday's BUPA Great Manchester Run. As Tracey Morris crossed the line in a sun-shot Deansgate, the new realities of her life since she became big news at last month's London Marathon were helpfully underlined by the on-course announcer.

"Here she is,'' he said. "One of the most famous faces in Britain at the moment and star of the show at the London Marathon. She will now be going to the Athens Olympics.''

For Morris's little band of supporters, including husband Paul and sisters, Debbie and Sarah, her transformation from fun-runner to Olympian is still clearly sinking in. "It's fantastic," said Sarah. "Amazing." Meanwhile the 36-year-old Leeds optician, who will accompany Paul Radcliffe and Liz Yelling - eighth yesterday - on the gruelling Athens marathon course, is sharpening her focus on the task ahead.

She was happy enough with her first competitive performance since London, recording 33min 53sec in a race won by Ireland's Sonia O'Sullivan in 32:12, especially as she had only returned to training a week earlier. But she admitted to feeling daunted at the demands her supercharged career was now making.

"I'm petrified really," she said, screwing her eyes up against the sun. "I still don't think of myself as an Olympic athlete, but I'm going to work hard to try and be like one. I'm not just running for pleasure any more, if you could call getting up at 5.30 in the morning to train a pleasure. I'm not just doing it for myself now. My boss has given me three days a week off to train, and I treat those days as work.

"I averaged about 70 miles a week before London, but I want to keep the baseline a bit higher now. Touch wood I won't get injured.'' Lottery funding should help that ambition, a welcome supplement given that she spent more than £300 on physiotherapy for a calf problem in the month leading up to London. She has also received offers of support from the sports science department at Sheffield and Leeds universities.

"The sport has definitely got more scientific now, and I'm quite interested in it. I just hope it works!" she said "I'm lacking in speed, and I've recently begun running on a track for the first time in 20 years. I didn't do any build-up for this race. It was just a case of getting to the start and going. It was good to get really out of breath today. It makes you feel like you've worked.''

Morris was encouraged en route by spectators who would not have known her from Eve a month ago. There has been a noticeable change, too, at her work, where she specialises in fitting contact lenses. "I like my job, and I like my patients, but I think there's one a day who doesn't mention the running. Someone came in last week and said: 'You look just like that girl at the London Marathon.'

"Then I saw someone else who said: 'So where's your girl from the marathon, then? Has she gone out to Athens already?' I don't think I could have been doing a very good job that day.''

O'Sullivan, who showed her own Olympic ambitions were in good order by out-sprinting Ethiopia's world 10,000m champion Berhane Adere, described Morris's rise to prominence as "absolutely fantastic", adding: "She's a great inspiration to all fun-runners. She has shown that dreams can come true. It's a perfect story.

"All she's got to do is go out to Athens and run as well as she did in London. She doesn't need to go too crazy. No one is expecting her to win - to make the Olympics is a great feat in itself.''

Morris maintains that the prospect excites her, despite dire warnings about the punishing nature of the course. "I'm excited about it," she said. "I'm just going on the basis that ignorance will be bliss. That's my new motto."

GREAT MANCHESTER RUN: Men: 1 C Mottram (Aus) 27min 54sec; 2 Z Tadessa (Eritrea) 27:59; 3 C Lombard (Irl) 28:07. Women: 1 S O'Sullivan (Irl) 32:12; 2 B Adere (Eth) 32:15; 3 M Okayo (Ken) 32:23.

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