Khannouchi grateful for firm resolve of spouse

Partner power drives on London Marathon favourite
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There are many uncertainties in the life of Khalid Khannouchi, the favourite for Sunday's Flora London Marathon, but he can be sure of at least one thing this week: there will be no sex with his wife.

Responding yesterday to a survey which claimed that marathon performances were improved by performances in bed the night before, the redoubtable Sandra Khannouchi was emphatically negative. "No. Not even a week before," said the woman who has guided the world record holder's career for the last five years, before adding with a grin: "After the race is over, we have a party..."

Before Khannouchi can get into the party mood, however, he will have to undergo what looks like being the toughest race of his life in what will be only his fourth marathon. Admittedly, he has made a huge impact in his three previous outings, winning the 1997 Chicago race in 2hr 07min 10sec, which was the fastest marathon debut, and becoming the first man under 2hr 06min on the same course last October, when he recorded a staggering 2:05.42.

But when he takes to the streets of London this Sunday morning, the United States-based Moroccan will find himself in competition with a field that includes his fellow countryman and defending champion Abdelkader el Mouaziz, the South Africans Gert Thys, who is fourth on the all-time list, and the Olympic champion Josiah Thugwane, the double winner Antonio Pinto of Portugal and the Kenyans Josephat Kiprono and William Kiplagat.

It would be a tall order even if everything in Khannouchi's life was tickety-boo. But his preparation for this race has been compromised by an acrimonious wrangle over his attempts to gain US citizenship in time to represent his adopted country at this year's Olympics.

Having emigrated to the States in 1993 after becoming disillusioned with his treatment by the Moroccan athletic federation, Khannouchi is hoping that a tricky passage through red tape will end for him on 3 May, when he has been told he can expect his US passport. But even if that comes to pass, he will be presented with a number of awkward choices.

Theoretically, he would be able to enter the US Olympic marathon trial on 9 May, but his wife-coach-agent is less than happy about such a scenario.

"Two marathons in three weeks... I don't like the sound of that," she said. "Some people are saying Khalid can run 2.06 in London and then jog round in 2.12 or 2.13. But the marathon is not a jog. We will have to see if he's healthy enough after London..."

Sandra believes the more realistic option would be for her husband - who was the 1993 World Student 5,000m champion - to seek a 10,000m place at the main US Olympic trials on 14 July, even though he has not run a track race in almost five years. "That would be the most logical thing," she said. "I think he could break the US record."

But such plans could turn to nothing if the Moroccan authorities maintain their apparent hostility to Khannouchi's impending switch of nationality. Unless Morocco's national Olympic committee assents to the change, he will have to wait three years before being eligible to represent the United States at the Games. And Aziz Douada, Morocco's most influential coach, has gone on record recently as saying that the Olympic committee should not sanction Khannouchi's wishes because of the way he has criticised the Moroccan federation in the past.

If anyone can keep Khannouchi focused on his impending task, however, it is his wife. Since they met by chance in 1995 when both dropped out of a race in Connecticut, their life together has taken the form of a modern romance - a road movie, in fact.

After offering him a lift back home to New York, and hearing him tell her about his problems, she promised him: "Follow my advice and you're going to be great." He promptly dispensed with the coaching services of the legendary Said Aouita - "We did not have a good relationship" - and threw in his lot with a woman whose athletic claim to fame was holding the marathon record of 2:42 for her former country, the Dominican Republic. However, with her help and encouragement, he established himself as a prolific prize-winner on the road-running circuit before moving up to 26.2 miles to stunning effect.

The years when Khannouchi had to eke out a living in his new home with a series of menial jobs such as waiter, dishwasher and envelope stuffer are history now. But at 28 he knows he has no time to lose after what he describes as "wasted years".

"I had to leave Morocco, because I always believed I could be a great runner," he said. "I miss my family, my country, my friends. My love of Morocco will never stop. But the federation is to blame and I will not run for them." He will, however, turn out for the benefit of London this weekend. It should be well worth watching.