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banner Thursday, 12 April, 2001, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
Britain's young hope aims high
Steinle in action during the Sydney Olympic marathon
Steinle in action during the Sydney Olympic marathon
By BBC Sport Online's Tom Fordyce

It's pretty unlikely that you'd find an unknown runner making the Olympic 100m final, an athlete so previously obscure that the commentators had no idea who they were.

In last year's London Marathon, the biggest race of the year for many distance runners, that's exactly what happened.

Britain's Mark Steinle found himself finishing right up there with the world's best - within a few places of greats like eventual winner Antonio Pinto and Josiah Thugwane.

But the race commentators had absolutely no idea who he was.

Top five is going to be my main aim
  Mark Steinle
Not that you can be too hard on them. Steinle had come almost from nowhere to being the fastest British finisher in the field - and this just a couple of months after coming a dismal 64th in the national cross-country championships.

The most surprising thing of all was his age. He is still just 26 years old - average maybe for a top sprinter, but a mere babe in arms in a discipline where the best are peaking at 31 and 32.

This year there's no danger of anyone not knowing the name and face.

His form in the build-up to the race has been excellent, and he has the confidence of last year's race to spur him on.

"With the field they've got together, top ten is going to be a good finish - but you always set your sights a bit higher, and top five is going to be my main aim," he says.

I'll be running 145-150 miles a week at my peak
  Mark Steinle
"I definitely hope Jon Brown's going to be behind me. There's loads of Brits in the race so I'm going to run my own race again and see what happens."

Running marathons for a living is not easy. The sheer bulk of training is enough to drive most athletes insane, let alone the boredom that can set in when your day consists of pounding out the miles by yourself.

"I'll be running 145-150 miles a week at my peak," confirms Steinle.

"Sometimes you'll do a two hour run and nothing will go through your head - it's over before you realise it.

"At other times you play little games - imagine you're running against Jon Brown or Pinto and finding it really easy, and then putting a spurt in at the end to really whip his arse.

"I enjoy it. To other people it may seem like I'm putting myself through constant pain, but if I didn't find it fun I wouldn't be doing it."

I think my peak will be my early 30s
  Mark Steinle
The sacrifices are huge. Steinle - possibly uniquely for a 26-year-old in the UK - hasn't had an alcoholic drink in six years.

"At university it was really hard," he admits.

"People were going out and getting pissed every night and there was me going to bed at 10 o'clock.

"Everyone thought I was weird or stupid. But you get used to it. And I don't think I'm missing out on anything."

He first noticed he was fast at primary school in Kent. Initially running with his classmates at lunchtime, he noticed he was capable of going further and faster than any of them.

Best distance

From there he kept moving up through the distances, through 1500m and 5000m, where you'd expect a distance runner of his age to stay.

"On the European circuit I'm one of the youngest doing marathons at this level," he says.

"Most people stay at 10K until they're 30 - whereas I know 10K won't be my best distance, so there's no point in hanging around.

"I've always been building up to the marathon. It was the next logical step."

So when can we expect him to reach his peak? To be running the times he is now suggests that Britain will have a world-beater in a couple of seasons.

"It goes up in steps," he says cautiously.

"Sometimes it flattens out and you're at the same level as you were the year before, and then there are other years when , for no apparent reason, you're running so much better.

"You don't know - this could be a flat year, or I could go up again.

"But I think my peak will be my early 30s. Pinto is 32, so it's going to be around then."

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