Sitting in the Tower Hotel next door to London's landmark bridge yesterday, Sammy Wanjiru was asked whether he still had "the hunger" as an athlete, having struck Olympic marathon gold in Beijing last summer at the age of 21. The diminutive Kenyan shook his head and replied: "No, I eat four meals a day. I am not hungry."
It was clear even before Wanjiru moved on to the dining area, and proceeded to heap his plate with pasta, potatoes and greens, that his appetite was far from sated. Now 22, the young distance running phenomenon, who became Kenya's first ever Olympic champion at the marathon distance when he achieved his stunning victory in Beijing, clocking a Games record time of 2hr 06min 32sec in the oppressive heat and humidity of the Chinese capital, has come to England with hopes of claiming the world record for his country in the London Marathon on Sunday.
"The world record is important in my country," Wanjiru said. "My targets are to break the world record and to be No 1 in the world. Maybe if the pace is good on Sunday, I will try to break the world record. If you can do 61min 50sec at halfway, it is possible."
The organisers have arranged for pacemakers to pull Wanjiru and the other frighteningly quick speed merchants in the 36,000 field through the half-marathon mark inside 62 minutes and to continue churning out 4min 42sec miles through to 20 miles. That would leave the Olympic champion and the rest of the stellar cast six miles and 385 yards to beat the world record figures set by the Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie in Berlin last September: 2hr 03min 59sec. Should any of them do so, they would be the beneficiary of a $125,000 (£86,300) bonus.
Wanjiru is not the only man capable of threatening the clock. The race director Dave Bedford has assembled a line-up featuring the first three from Beijing – Wanjiru, Moroccan Jaouad Gharib and Tsegay Kebede of Ethiopia – plus reigning world champion Luke Kibet, his fellow Kenyan Martin Lel, a three-time winner in London (subject to the outcome of an MRI scan to determine the extent of a hip problem), and Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea, of whom great things are expected on his marathon debut on the back of a CV that includes a victory over Kenenisa Bekele at the World Cross-Country Championships in 2007.