Steinle turns fantasy into Sydney reality

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The Independent Online

Mark Steinle booked himself a place at the Sydney Olympics yesterday with an outstanding run in what was his marathon debut - although he subsequently revealed that it was not his first experience of the event.

The 25-year-old from Tonbridge, Kent, was top British finisher in 11th place in a time of 2hr 11min 18sec, well inside the Olympic qualifying time of 2:14.00. He thus joins the pre-selected Jon Brown - who missed yesterday's race because of a hip injury - on the trip to Australia. But Steinle, who raised his profile last October by finishing third in the Great North Run, has done the London before, if only in spirit.

"Last year I watched the race on television and then hammered myself on a 25-mile training run pretending I was racing against Pinto on my own in the London," Steinle said with a grin. "It sounds daft, but you go out there and mentally you are running against these guys and it just lifts you." Yesterday he lifted himself in company of the real runners, although he remained realistic about the leading performers.

"They are out of my league at the moment," he said. "But hopefully one day I will be up there with them. I've got a good 10 years ahead of me in marathon running, and with the right structure, hopefully, I can put another five to six minutes away and get down to a reasonable time." The Blackheath Harrier, who had to move back in with his parents after giving up his job in insurance to concentrate on running, said he almost gave up the sport last year, disheartened by a combination of lack of support and disillusionment at the constant criticism handed out to British distance runners. But, encouraged by help from two individuals - one of whom, inevitably, was Sir Eddie Kulukundis - and a grant of £2,500 from the London Marathon Endurance squad, which enabled him to spend five weeks training in South Africa, Steinle persevered.

Even so, his performance yesterday will not earn him extra backing. "I've made the Olympic team, but I still won't qualify for Lottery funding," he said. "It's so disheartening, because I believe there are three or four British guys who could do really well at the marathon." One of those Steinle had in mind, Keith Cullen, may also have done enough to earn a trip to Sydney yesterday, finishing 15th in 2:13.37.