London Marathon: Ondieki takes the high road to prosperity: An Englishman is wary of the opposition but an Australian woman aims to dominate. Mike Rowbottom reports

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The Independent Online
LAST year Lisa Ondieki dreamed that she would finish second in the London Marathon, and that the winner would not be Liz McColgan. She turned out to be right.

This time round the Australian runner's subconscious is offering no clues to the outcome of tomorrow's race. Unless you want to make something of the vivid dream she had the other day about being in the Grand Canyon in heavy snow. A hint, perhaps, of another chilly morning in prospect such as she experienced to her cost last year.

Speaking yesterday alongside the woman who overtook her in the final stages of the last race, Katrin Dorre of Germany, Ondieki appeared as poised and doll-like as ever. Now that the stars of Ingrid Kristiansen and Rosa Mota have diminished, Ondieki - who won two Commonwealth titles as Lisa Martin before marrying Kenya's current world 10,000 metres record holder, Yobes Ondieki - is the highest profile woman marathon runner.

On the basis of their prodigious talents, she and her husband have created a running-orientated lifestyle that has taken them far from their native countries.

They do not merely train at altitude, they live there. The home which they share with their three-year-old daughter, Emma, is 7,000 feet up in Flagstaff, Arizona. At 34, Lisa Ondieki is sharply aware of what is required to race - and earn - at the top level. She no longer bothers with championships - both she and her husband gave last year's World Championships a miss - but looks instead to competing in one or two of the big commercial marathons each year.

Despite the nous that she has acquired in her long career, she says she learned an important lesson from her first London Marathon 12 months ago. Amid the hype which preceded her meeting with McColgan - who intends to be back next year after a long struggle with injury - Ondieki distracted herself with plans to run a specific time.

'I completely failed to take conditions into account because I was so concerned with running the race in a certain way,' she said. 'This year I will take much more notice of the conditions. I won't be trying to destroy some other runner by producing a fantastic time that might also destroy me.'

Notwithstanding the way in which she was overtaken last year after a long struggle to drop McColgan, Ondieki maintains that the overall experience was a good one. 'I enjoyed the hype. And I had fun right up until the last 600 metres, when Katrin came by me,' she said.

Last year's pre-race comments about McColgan - 'She is the most brash, confident person I have ever met in my life. . . her mouth is good for women's marathon racing' - gave way afterwards to an atmosphere of positive warmth. Photographers requesting a picture of the two runners shaking hands were told by Ondieki that they could have one of them kissing if they wanted it.

This year, for better or worse, the tension and conflict are absent. There is no catfight between the Australian and the German. But while Dorre is undertandably eager to become the first woman to win three consecutive London marathons, the more relaxed atmosphere may yet favour her rival.

The late and sudden withdrawal of the five Chinese runners - including the world 3,000 and 10,000m record holder, Wang Junxia - has clearly made Ondieki's task a simpler one.

Asked to comment on how the Chinese had achieved such dramatic success within the last 18 months, she responded enigmatically. 'I won't say, because I can't prove what I believe,' she said. But her subsequent comments on reports of the exotic diet enjoyed by Ma Junren's army of women runners were marinated in irony.

'I eat what my husband eats, because last year he ran 26:50 for 10,000m,' she said. 'Thankfully, he doesn't eat caterpillars or turtle. He eats a lot of rice and pasta and fruit. It's very strange, because people who eat these foods seem to run quickly.'

(Photograph omitted)

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