Athletics: UK's new sports star: 'Boss, I need time off to go to the Olympics'

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The Independent Online

Her training regime until now had consisted of running to and from work, snacking on toast and jam and enjoying the occasional glass of wine. But yesterday Tracey Morris was faced with a far more demanding approach to long-distance running after she qualified for this summer's Olympics with an odds-defying performance at the London Marathon.

In only her second marathon, she beat her personal best by more than an hour to finish 10th in two hours and 33 minutes. As the first British woman to cross the line, she took the third place in the women's Olympic marathon team alongside Liz Yelling and the world record holder Paula Radcliffe, who is one of her sporting idols.

Mrs Morris, 36, who works full time as a contact-lens optician in Leeds, said she was now relying on the goodwill of her employers if she is to mount a serious challenge to the world's elite in Athens, a city she visited four years ago to attend a wedding. "I have spoken to my boss, he had left me a message and they will support me and give me time off work to prepare for Athens," she said.

Since she crossed the finishing line in The Mall on Sunday she has been at the centre of a media whirlwind. Mrs Morris, who comes from Anglesey, north Wales, had intended to check in to a cheaper central London hotel and have a Sunday night on the town with fellow runners from the Sheffield-based Valley Striders and her husband, Paul, a PE teacher. He had competed as a fun-runner and finished more than two hours after his wife. But instead, the couple were invited to the winners' dinner with drinks, courtesy of the sponsors, and Mrs Morris was presented with her medal.

Yesterday Mr Morris, 36, joked that his time of four hours and 45 minutes might have been faster had he not received a call on his mobile 11 miles into the race to be told of his wife's achievement. "I spent the next hour on the mobile talking to friends and family and in the end I said I had to go and finish the race" he said.

Mr Morris, head of sport at Leeds Grammar School, said he expected to see much less of his wife, whom he met during an eye consultation eight years ago and married three years later. He said: "It's fantastic and I am delighted for her. If she has to spend weeks or months away from home training then that's fine by me. It's an experience you have got to go through, once in a lifetime."

Asked what he thought was the secret of his wife's success, he said: "She has stepped up training and taken it a bit more seriously but I think it is mainly God-given ability."

By lunchtime yesterday the couple were heading home to Leeds by train where they planned an early night at their home in Alwoodley, Leeds.

Mrs Morris's potential was spotted months ago by a scout for the Great Britain athletics team. He entered her among the elite starters after she had failed to gain a place in the marathon's lottery system. She warmed up for the event by running the Salford 10K on Easter Monday, winning a £50 clothes voucher. On Sunday, she won £3,600.