London Marathon: Grey generates sprint finish for second success: Duncan Mackay sees the wheelchair racers push themselves to the limit

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COULD Linford Christie ever win the London Marathon? Of course he could not. Christie is a sprinter whose fast-twitch fibres did not extend much beyond 200 metres. That makes Tanni Grey's achievement in winning her second London Wheelchair Marathon title yesterday in 2hr 8min 26sec all the more remarkable.

Grey is a sprinter, middle distance runner and marathoner wrapped up in one. In the 1992 Barcelona Paralympics, she won gold medals in the 100, 200, 400 and 800 metres, and at this year's World Championships will contest every track event between 100 and 10,000 metres. She should come home from Berlin with another suitcase of medals. 'It's not versatility, it's stupidity,' joked the bubbly Cardiff 24-year-old, who was born with spina bifida.

'Even though the distances appear so different, I have to do high mileage training for sprinting so its not that hard to do the marathon. Unlike running, it's about momentum and not gravity.'

Indeed, her speed proved to be the deciding factor through the streets of the capital. After sharing the lead with defending champion Rose Hill, of Milton Keynes, throughout the race, she left it until the Mall before sprinting away to regain the title she last won in 1992 by four seconds. Her time was 18 minutes outside her personal best, but that was understandable considering the high winds and the cold.

However, the conditions did have a positive side, according to Grey. 'It made my fingers numb after about a mile and helped take the pain away. It didn't hurt so much during the rest of the race.'

Of more concern to the wheelies was London's road surface. Every time they hit a pot-hole the impact sent a shudder through their bodies, and the padding over the cobbles at the Tower of London was not so much a magic carpet ride but a trip to hell. 'It was worse for me because at seven stone I'm so light I don't travel well over the surface,' Grey explained. 'After a while everything hurt, especially my neck.'

Like most of the elite runners in this race, Grey is a full-time athlete. She receives support from Price Waterhouse, wheelchair manufacturers Top End and her parents.

During an average training week, Grey would put in 10 miles per day on the road and spend time in the gym doing weights. She acknowledged that her sport is increasingly receiving the recognition it deserves - she was awarded an MBE in the New Year's honours list - but she still occasionally comes up against the ignorant. 'After Barcelona, one journalist asks me whether I trained, clearly thinking I had just turned up and had a go,' Grey said.

The men's race was an even closer affair than the women's, going right down to the wire. David Holding, the 1989 champion, having used Ivan Newman as a windbreak for much of the race, burst away in the last 10 yards to win by two seconds in 1hr 46min 6sec.