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Radcliffe leads British hopefuls on Berlin’s road to London

25th September 2011

For three-times London Marathon winner Paula Radcliffe, the Oympic qualifying time may be something that “just needs to be ticked off” when she races at the 38th Berlin Marathon, but for a group of lesser known British runners Sunday’s race is all about getting to the London 2012 start line – with a little help from the Virgin London Marathon.

Radcliffe will compete in her first marathon since finishing fourth in New York nearly two years ago and needs to chalk up the 2 hours 31 minutes qualifying time herself to be considered for Olympic selection.

But that’s more than 15 minutes outside her 2003 world record, set at the London Marathon, and the 37-year-old insisted yesterday that the qualifying mark is “just something I need to do”.

“For that reason the time needs to be ticked off,” she said. “But I’m not going out with any time in mind. My goal is to go out, run well and win the race.”

Radcliffe’s main opponent is expected to be Irina Mikitenko, the 2008 and 2009 London champion who broke the German record when she won the Berlin race three years ago in 2:19:19.

But while Radcliffe seeks her ninth major marathon victory in a head-to-head with the hometown favourite, a bunch of six other British runners will have their sights set only on the clock as they chase the tough UK Athletics Olympic times.

Andi Jones, Benedict Whitby, Martin Williams, Anthony Ford, Scott Overall and Amy Whitehead have been given the chance to race over one of the world’s fastest marathon courses thanks to financial and logistical support from the Virgin London Marathon and UKA.

The London Marathon has been supporting UKA endurance development programme for some time, including the federation’s very successful altitude training camps that have helped the likes of Mo Farah, Helen Clitheroe and Hannah England win medals at major chamoionships this year.

For these half dozen marathon hopefuls the London Marathon also helped to secure places in the Berlin race and has taken care of flights and hotel rooms.

“We got together with UKA and suggested that the best chance of getting Olympic qualifying times was for everyone to come to Berlin and work together as a team,” explained Virgin London Marathon race director David Bedford.

“We are delighted to be able to continue to give our support in this way to UKA’s endurance programme.”

UKA’s head of endurance Ian Stewart said: “The London Marathon have done a fantasric job supporting our programm. All the recent success you’ve seen right up to Daegu and Mo Farah is down to the London Marathon. And now they’re supporting our race programme too.

“Everyone who’s here has benefited from what UKA and London Marathon has done. We couldn’t have done any of this without them.”

For Andi Jones, a veteran of five London Marathons, to be part of a group of five men targeting the Olympic A standard of 2:12:00 is a huge boost. Jones finished tenth in London last year and in 2007, while he set his personal best there in 2009 when he was 13th in 2:15:20.

“In London I usually end up on my own and it becomes a really lonely run,” he said. “Here there will be a pack of us going out all aiming for 2:12.

“This marathon feels like make or break, but I believe some of us here can run the time. Having the support to get this group here is great and could make the difference.”

Whitby is the one athlete in the team who has previous experience of the Berlin course, having finished 23rd here in 2008 in 2:22:37.

The Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow athlete lowered his PB by more than three minutes when he was fourth in Florence this year in 2:15:02, but he still needs to find another three minutes on Sunday.

“My training has gone well, so I certainly hope I can get a PB,” he said. “It’s always a bit of an unknown quantity in a marathon but I’m certainly in better shape than I’ve ever been in before.”

Whitby intends to go through half way with marathon debutant Scott Overall in something between 65 and 66 minutes.

“We want to give it a go,” he said. “If we get it, then fantastic. If not, at least we went for it. But it’s inspiring having other people with you going for a common goal. We all know we’ll have people around us to work with this time.

“I hope I can give the London Marathon the right reward by going out and getting the time.”

For Overall, Sunday is something of a leap into the unknown, one made a little less daunting by the UKA and London Marathon support.

“There are lots of things you have to think about in a marathon that don’t come into it with a 5k,” said the 2009 UK 5000m champion who’s been training for this race alongside Whitby.

“Thanks to the set up here we can work together in the race too,” he said. “If we both run 2:11:59, then great. That’s the target and it would be silly not to go for it.”

Ford has only one marathon under his belt so far, from Seville this year, and the Sale Harrier will be looking to improve significantly on his time there of 2:19:07.

“To be able to do a race as big as Berlin for my second marathon is great,” he said. “In Seville I ran the whole thing by myself, so it will be great to work as a group this time.”

Williams is also hoping to make the Olympic team after racing for Britain at the 2010 European championships in Barcelona where he was 28th, and for England at the Delhi Commonwealth Games last year when he was 14th.

The Tipton Harrier trained at the UKA high altitude training camp in Font Romeau last year and believes he’ll reap the benefits of the London Marathon’s support on Sunday.

“If we were on our own, there’s no way we’d be getting this sort of treatment,” he said. “This is a World Marathon Majors event and a great course. It’s such an opportunity.”

That view was backed by Whitehead, the one woman in the group. A former training partner of Radcliffe’s at Loughborough University, the 33-year-old Sale Harrier needs to lower her PB by more than eight minutes to put herself in contention for an Olympic place.

She clocked 2:39:27 in London this year, and spent three weeks at Font Romeau this August. “It’s such an inspiring place to run,” she said. “UKA and the London Marathon have made everything so easy and smooth.

“I gave up my teaching job in July 2010 to give myself a chance of the Olympics so to be here in this UKA group shows it’s been worth it.”

The Britons aren’t alone in picking Berlin to chase their Olympic dreams for men’s world record holder Haile Gebrselassie will also be racing with London 2012 uppermost in his mind.

The Ethiopian legend insisted today that producing a fast time on Sunday will be more important than winning a fifth Berlin Marathon title.

“OK, I want to win but the most important thing is the time because I have to qualify for the Olympics,” said Gebrselassie, who set the world record of 2:03:59 here in 2008.

Gebrselassie goes up against defending Berlin champion Patrick Makau, but will have in mind all those talented compatriots who will be vying with him for places on Ethiopia’s 2012 Olympic team, including Tsegaye Kebede the 2010 London champion.

“For me it’s all about London, London, London,” said Gebrselassie, who won two Olympic10,000m titles on the track. “Any Olympic marathon medal is the most important medal. For Ethiopians especially, it is special.

“If I don’t run a good time here they won’t allow me to run London next year. It’s very tough to get in the Ethiopian team, so I have to be as fast as possible.

“You never know what anyone else is going to do. So if I run 2:05 someone may run 2:04. That’s why I have to do as fast as I can. This is my best chance.”

Medals may be beyond the hopes of the six Britons here, but thanks to the London Maarthon’s support they can still dream of being on the Olympic start line with the world record holders. This may be their best chance too.