McColgan making a fresh impression

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The Independent Online
Liz McColgan is back, big time, this Sunday. But her fellow competitors in the London Marathon may not recognise her as quite the same person.

After the best - or worst - part of two years out because of injury, the athlete whom the Australian marathoner Lisa Ondieki once described as putting the accent on intimidation - "to say Liz has a high opinion of herself is a gross understatement" - appears to have undergone a change of attitude.

Yesterday's announcement that Ondieki had been forced to pull out of Sunday's race through injury drew a response from McColgan that was - well, there is no other word for it - diplomatic.

"Having Lisa in the race would make it a lot more competitive. At the same time there are still four other girls who have got very good chances."

Four other girls? Good chances? Could this be the Liz McColgan we knew, the runner who, before her marathon debut in New York four years ago, stunned the press into temporary silence with the brashness of her predictions?

Four years on, the sub-2hr 20min marathon which McColgan forecast for herself is still the stuff of dreams. "In New York I was going into the unknown," she said. "I hadn't run a marathon before. I didn't know how the legs felt when it got to 20 miles."

At 30, she is now a wiser - and indeed friendlier - athlete. She admits, for instance, that if she meets competitors in the lift before racing, she will chat to them now rather than closing them off.

"I'm just a little bit more relaxed going into races," she said. "I'm not so intense about it really. I suppose it's because of what I've gone through in the last two years."

Those memories - back injury, hamstring injury, knee injury, knee operation, second knee operation to clear an infection, a medical prediction (ignored) that she would never run again - are still painful. And they are complicated by the fact that she and her husband and coach, Peter, are taking legal advice about the treatment she received in Britain.

In the meantime, McColgan is - quietly - confident that she is in a position to challenge at the highest level once more. In January she began a six- week period of intense training in Florida that was effectively make-or- break time. "It was probably the hardest she has ever worked," her husband said. "If anything was going to flare up it would have flared up then. It was a very tense, very stressful time."

Since winning a 10k race in Coventry last October - and incidentally setting a world record in controversy with her unguarded comments about drug-taking in British athletics - she has raced in Florida, Scotland and Lisbon, where she finished third in a half-marathon in 69min 49sec, which converts to a respectable full marathon time of 2hr 30min.

A few weeks back, while training again in Florida, McColgan carried out her first track session in two years and achieved personal best times. "There was a sign there that I am going to run very well on the track and I don't want to move along yet."

Accordingly she still plans to run the 10,000 metres at this summer's world championships before setting her sights on the Atlanta Olympic marathon.

But for now, she must concentrate on stepping back to the highest level. "I'm not worried about a time," she said. "It is more important to win the race. There again," she added with a grim little smile, "if it is a fast pace I'm not worried about it at all." Now that's more like it.