Surviving the marathon was the easy part

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Of the 413,481 London marathon runners who have taken to the streets of the capital these past 19 years, Dick Beardsley was leader of the pack - well, the co-leader, to be precise. He was the American who crossed the finish line holding hands with Inge Simonsen of Norway as joint winner of the inaugural race in 1981. Since then, he has been down many a troubled road, though last month in California he re-emerged as a marathon man once again.

Beardsley's time in the Napa Valley Marathon, 3hr 23min, was 1hr and 12min slower than his first-footing run in London 19 years ago. Merely reaching the finish line, however, was a considerable achievement for a man whose life has come perilously close to the ultimate finish line since his days as a world-class athlete.

Beardsley has been mangled in a farm-machinery accident, which almost killed him and very nearly tore off his left leg at the knee, injured in two car crashes and struck by a hit-and-run driver while out running. He has also been treated for drug addiction and prosecuted for forging prescriptions.

Having suffered physical damage which required more than 20 operations, Beardsley became so dependent on pain-killing drugs he was taking between 80 and 100 each day. In 1996 he was found guilty of forging 30 prescriptions and sentenced to five years' probation. Since then, however, he has come a long way on the road to recovery.

Now 45, Beardsley runs a fishing-guide service on the Detroit Lakes in Minnesota and rises at 3.30am each day to run with his dog, Cole. "It's the only time I can get out most days because I'm usually out on the boat until 11.30pm or midnight," he said. "It's a marvellous time of the day. There's no traffic and I've seen the northern lights do some amazing things."

There was a time when Beardsley himself was one of the leading lights of the north American running scene. Indeed, the time he clocked in the 1982 Boston Marathon, 2:08.53, still ranks third on the US all-time list. At Napa last month, though, the former star was simply happy to be an also-ran. "It was so neat just to be out there," he said. "I was just really tickled with the thrill of finishing."

It will be the same for 29,999 of the 30,000 London Marathon runners who will be following in Dick Beardsley's footsteps next Sunday morning.

Them or US?

Being the world's fastest-ever marathon man, Khalid Khannouchi is likely to be the first of the 30,000 London Marathon runners to cross the finish line on The Mall a week today. London's leading entrant has, however, been forced to concede defeat in his race to compete for the United States in the Olympic marathon in Sydney.

It has been a marathon race in itself for the Moroccan native who became world record holder with his 2:05.42 run in Chicago last October. It was back in 1993, after competing for Morocco at the World Student Games in Buffalo, that Khannouchi first moved to the United States, setting up home in Brooklyn. Three years is the statutory residency period for becoming a US citizen, but first applicants must apply for "permanent resident status" and, because a case worker from the Immigration and Naturalisation Service failed to file the necessary paperwork for Khannouchi to obtain his Green Card, he did not become recognised as a permanent resident until August 1998.

A loophole allowing expedition for would-be citizens whose spouses travel abroad in the course of working for US companies was successfully exploited by the French- born footballer David Regis in 1998. His application was approved in two months, allowing him to play for the United States in the World Cup that year. Sandra Khannouchi happens to be working for an American company in Spain at present, and on Thursday morning her husband was at the US Consulate in Madrid being fingerprinted for the FBI as part of his fast-track bid.

Khannouchi, though, will not be competing in the US Olympic marathon trial in Pittsburgh on 7 May. He has a clause in his contract with the Flora London Marathon allowing him to withdraw at a week's notice to run in Pittsburgh instead, but, because of the fuss his case has caused, he will not be exercising it. American marathon runners have been making disapproving noises and so have Moroccan officials. To represent the United States in Sydney, Khannouchi would need the approval of the Moroccan National Olympic Committee and Aziz Daouda, head coach of the Moroccan track-and-field team, has suggested there could be objections because the 27-year-old has "insulted his home country". Khannouchi is qualified to run for Morocco in Sydney but insists: "I would rather wait four years for the next Olympics than run for Morocco. The Moroccan federation never supported me. The United States is my home. I want to run in a US uniform."

Not since the Munich Games of 1972 has a runner in a US uniform struck gold in the Olympic men's marathon. And Frank Shorter,like Khalid Khannouchi, was not a native American. He was born in Munich.

Flash in the pan

For those London Marathon runners who will need to flush something other than success on Sunday morning, there will be 950 portable toilets and 450ft of urinals along the course. It was rather different in the days of the original London marathon, staged by Highgate Harriers between 1968 and 1975 - as Alan Storey, general manager of the Flora London Marathon and coach of Sonia O'Sullivan, can testify.

Struck by the runs while on the run in the 1970 race, he turned off the course in search of relief. "There was this bloke gardening out the front of his house and I asked him if I could use his toilet," Storey recalled. "It turned out to be Bernard Breslaw." A right carry on, indeed.