Casual television viewers tuning in to this Sunday's Flora London Marathon are likely to have their attention arrested by the sight of one of the women's runners proceeding in a curious, straight-armed shuffle.
The running action adopted by China's Sun Yingjie may be unconventional to the point of being bizarre, but it is far from being the only thing worth noticing about her. Last October, this sunny-natured athlete won the Beijing Marathon in 2hr 19min 39sec, making her the third fastest woman in history behind Kenya's Catherine Ndereba and the world record holder, Paula Radcliffe.
The absence of the Briton from this year's race was something Sun Yingjie found hard to take in. "When I was told about this news I couldn't quite believe it," said the 26-year-old athlete who has frequently raced against Radcliffe in 5,000 and 10,000 metres. "It is a bit of a shame that she isn't here. Even when I got here I was still hoping to hear she would run. I wanted to learn from her will and her spirit."
Unlike many other Chinese athletes who have been billed to appear in the London race and failed to turn up, Sun Yingjie was very much present yesterday, smilingly dismissing the notion that, unlike athletes coached by Ma Junren, who were said to base their action upon that of the gazelle, she did not take the duck as her role model. "I don't base my way of running on any animal or creature," she said, smiling. "I just try to find the best way of running I can."
Her method may appear awkward, but it has achieved outstanding results for her - albeit, only within the bounds of her home country. She acknowledges that she has something to prove as she embarks upon another foreign marathon after a series of less than overwhelming results elsewhere.
"I do view this weekend's event as a test," she said. "For me, I do experience a little bit of pressure when I run abroad. Sometimes I have found the climate and the time difference meant I couldn't achieve what I wanted. But London has a good climate. I don't have very high expectations of myself - I simply view this as practice for me so I can gain more experience for the Athens Olympics."
If and when she gets there, like Radcliffe, she is keeping her options open about whether to compete in the marathon, or on the track, or both. But if, as seems, likely, she chooses the longer distance, she could turn out to be one of the Briton's main rivals. Sunday will give an indication of how great that danger could be.
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