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Page last updated at 11:42 GMT, Thursday, 10 April 2008 12:42 UK

Steve Cram column

Steve Cram
By Steve Cram
BBC Sport commentator

I'll be honest - I'll forgive you if you're not as excited about this Sunday's Flora London Marathon as you might have been in other years.

It's not only the absence of Paula Radcliffe through injury that's affected things. With this being Olympic year, the field was never going to be as strong as it might have been.

Dan Robinson
Robinson needs a personal best to qualify for the Olympics

The timing of the race isn't great either - it clashes with the US women's trials, and both the Japanese and Chinese are still concentrating on sorting out their teams for Beijing.

But we do still have a huge amount of quality in both the men's and women's races, and the British angle is fascinating.

On the men's side, can Dan Robinson and Tomas Abyu get the qualifying times they need to make it to the Olympics?

And on the women's side, will it be Liz Yelling or Hayley Haining who gets the nod to join (we assume) Paula and Mara Yamauchi in the team for Beijing?

Dan has shown us before that he is capable of doing well in championship races, that he can prepare brilliantly for them, run without the help of pacemakers and hold it together in tough conditions.

What he needs now is a quick time. A top-20 finish at the World Championships in Osaka qualified him for Beijing under the IAAF rules, but he still needs to reach the UK standard time and go under 2hrs 11 mins, and that will be tough - he'll need a personal best.

Tomas went fast enough in the Dublin marathon last autumn, but unfortunately for him the course there isn't ratified by the IAAF so he'll need to do it again on Sunday.

In some ways it's a little depressing that we're talking about 2.11 as being the target. Only two British men - Mark Steinle and Jon Brown - have gone under that this century, whereas people were doing it by the bucketload in the 1980s and 1990s.

That's not good - and if we fail to have a single male representative in the marathon in Beijing that would be even worse.

However, you can't blame Robinson and Abyu. They're doing their best, and they're both hugely committed athletes. They need others around them to come through too.

I was chatting to Liz recently at the world cross country championships, and she said she thought she was the best shape she's ever been in for a marathon.

Liz Yelling
Yelling believes she is her best ever shape for a marathon

That doesn't necessarily mean you can convert that into a blistering performance on the day itself, but it does bode well.

I think 2:25 or 2:26 has to be the target for her, and Hayley - who beat Paula in their junior days - should be going for the same.

A time well under 2:30 would probably see them finish in the top ten, and I hope they take their chance to step out of the shadow of Paula and Mara.

What I like about Liz is that she's taken a risk at the stage of her life when many athletes would be thinking about only entering races where they could earn good money.

Liz is trying to qualify for championships and the Olympics, and without any Lottery help too.

It's not so much the lack of cash funding as the back-up that's the problem - not having access to medical help and physio treatment.

UK Athletics needs to do more to help the cross country and marathon side of things. Cross country gets no funding at all, and that gap needs to be filled - possibly with a national endurance squad.

We should also have some British success to cheer in the wheelchair races. David Weir is right at the top of his game, while Shelly Woods is still developing.

It's a huge year for both with the World Cup and Paralympics coming up in the next six months, and Sunday represents a huge opportunity in front of a big audience.

In terms of the winners - I don't think we'll see any super-fast times, but it's hard to look beyond Martin Lel again.

His record in London is phenomenal, winning in 2005 and 2007. He targets this race every year and clearly likes the course and the race.

He has his own way of running it too. You almost don't see much of him for most of the way, but he always comes through at the death. I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't hit the front until The Mall itself.

It's much harder to predict the women's winner. There are some good runners out there but no one athlete who's dominant.

If I had to stick my neck out I'd go for Gete Wami - but I won't be putting any money on it.

Steve Cram was talking to Tom Fordyce

see also
Lel set to defend London Marathon
11 Dec 07 |  Athletics
Robinson to run London Marathon
17 Jan 08 |  Athletics
Radcliffe out of London Marathon
06 Mar 08 |  Athletics
Yelling seals fourth in Chicago
07 Oct 07 |  Athletics
Lel wins London Marathon thriller
22 Apr 07 |  Athletics
London Marathon on the BBC
09 Apr 08 |  Athletics
Paula's pearls of marathon wisdom
09 Apr 08 |  Athletics

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