London Marathon: Another Ronaldo, another world

The Brazilian who has set new standards runs in the London Marathon on Sunday. By Mike Rowbottom
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The Independent Online
LUIS FELIPE POSSO chooses his words carefully when asked to describe the experience of managing the world's fastest marathon runner. "He's a challenge," he says. Eventually.

The man of whom he speaks, Ronaldo da Costa, is smiling compliantly for a photographer who appears to be taking the same shot, again and again. The smile does not fade -- it never does, according to Posso, who has guided the fortunes of the Brazilian for the last seven years. He makes no secret of the fact that he wishes the 28-year-old from Descoberto would spend less time accommodating the wishes of others, and more time concentrating on training.

Since Ronaldo's startling performance in Berlin last September, when he ran 2hr 06min 05sec to lower the 10-year-old world marathon record by 45 seconds, he has attracted the kind of attention more usually accorded to his Brazilian footballing namesake.

His success, in what was only his second marathon, lifted Brazil's sporting morale in the wake of their disappointment at the World Cup finals 10 weeks earlier.

Ronaldo - whose own local league footballing career was hampered by the fact that he was always put in goal - was joined in Berlin by two Brazilian TV crews. They escorted him back to his home country, where his picture appeared everywhere in the media. A helicopter was waiting to take him back to his home town, 100 miles north of Rio, where he grew up in a family of 12 children. There he was paraded through the streets - before the party began.

"Since September, Ronaldo has been besieged," Posso said. "He has been to Monaco and Lanzarote to make media appearances, he has been to Italy for his shoe company. When he goes back home, fans come to his house, driving from Rio for autographs. Some simply ask him for money. He cannot get away. The television people even found out he was preparing back home before this race when he had said he was going to San Diego.

"I try to tell him there are too many distractions to his training," Posso said. "But he doesn't always listen."

Posso looks after the fortunes of some of the world's finest marathon runners. Apart from Ronaldo, he manages Dionicio Ceron, the London winner from 1994-1996, Antonio Pinto, the winner in 1992 and 1997, and the Olympic champion, Josia Thugwane.

For him, they fall into two categories. "Ceron and Pinto," he says, "they are talented hard workers. Thugwane and Ronaldo - they don't need to work hard."

How far both men can travel on talent will become evident on Sunday, when both contest the Flora London Marathon as part of what is, arguably, the strongest field ever assembled.

Ronald was in good humour yesterday as he discussed his prospects. "It's difficult to talk about running 2hr 06min now, because I have come from a temperature of 36 degrees to five degrees, which is quite a difference. But I am in the same form as I was before Berlin last year. There are some very good runners here, so we will have to see what happens."

While his manager frets, however, Ronaldo maintains he feels no particular weight of expectation after taking over the world best mark from Belayneh Dinsamo.

"It seems like it was only yesterday," he said. "There is no pressure for me."

He shrugged off his relatively poor showing in the Lisbon Half-Marathon three weeks ago, where he finished 19th in 64min 43 sec - more than three minutes slower than his time for the second half of the Berlin race seven months ago.

"I had run 180 kilometres in the week before the race," he said. "I feel much better now I have rested properly."

Levity comes naturally to Ronaldo - asked yesterday if he prepared in any special way for a race, he replied with a wide grin: "Sex".

But he indicated his personal determination back in 1992 when he funded his own journey from Brazil to Florida, where he asked Posso to manage him.

He repaid Posso's confidence in him by winning a world half-marathon bronze in 1994, and recorded a highly creditable 2:09:57 in his first marathon, the 1997 race in Berlin.

A year later, on the same flat course, creditable became incredible as Ronaldo rounded off a stupendous performance with an exuberant double cartwheel. The London organisers are hoping that what goes around comes around.