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Page last updated at 22:17 GMT, Thursday, 14 April 2011 23:17 UK

Steve Cram column

Date and time: Sunday, 17 April from 0830 BST
Coverage: Watch live on BBC One, with a choice of cameras on the red button and the BBC Sport website; Listen on BBC Radio 5 Live

Radcliffe's London Marathon tips

Steve Cram
By Steve Cram
BBC Sport commentator

Will you be watching the London Marathon this year?

When we have British contenders in the elite fields - not only Paula, but going back through Liz McColgan and Eamonn Martin to the early years of Steve Jones, Hugh Jones and Charlie Spedding - it has always upped the public's interest.

When we don't, attention seems to drop off - and it shouldn't. I wish people would take more interest. Because some of the stories around individuals like Tsegaye Kedebe, Martin Lel and Emmanuel Mutai are amazing - what they've been through, their backgrounds.

It's a real rags to riches for a lot of the east Africans, yet sometimes people don't take the time to get into these stories.

Then there's the issue of how often you get to see a marathon runner perform. Because of the gruelling nature of the event, most marathoners might only compete twice a year, which means that the British public will only see them for a few hours on one day.

London marathon weather

Contrast that with a footballer from Africa, like Asamoah Gyan. You see him at the World Cup, get to know and like him, and then because he comes to the Premier League and plays every week, you become familiar with him.

If you only saw him once at the World Cup and then not again till the next big international tournament, you might forget all about him, or at least become less involved in his story.

But London still has something very special and pretty much unique among British sporting events, which is that Joe Public can compete on exactly the same field as the best runners in the world, and even Olympic champions.

Tsegaye Kedebe
Tsegaye Kedebe is defending champion and favorite

I've just been down at the Expo with Jo Pavey, and there are runners down there who love the fact that they can go up to Jo and say, "what time are you aiming for, I'm aiming for 6.20..."

It's the equivalent of an ordinary club golfer being able to play the Augusta National, and then go up to Phil Mickelson and say, "Hey Phil, how was the 16th for you today?"

It couldn't happen, but here it can be, "Yeah, I was going ok until I came across Tower Bridge," and "Wasn't it tough by Canary Wharf..." The conversations you hear are absolutely incredible. I love all of that.

London never fails to deliver. Every year it's different. At the front end we never know what's going to happen - marathons by their nature are inherently unpredictable - and with the 30,000 behind, it's just the same.

And every year there are incredible stories everywhere you look. I've just been talking to David Rathband, the policeman who was shot and blinded by Raoul Moat.

Hearing why he wanted to run here - he couldn't wait to be part of this special thing.

He says that, even though he can no longer see, he wants to run London because he's seen it on the television, and now he just wants to feel it. He's raising money, but he's also come for the sheer experience of it.

That's why, no matter how many years you've covered or watched it, you don't grow cynical about the London Marathon, or get blasé about it, or think, 'oh, it's just the marathon again...'

There are engaging elite stories too. Will Jo Pavey be able to step up? What can Paula run? Can Liz Yelling get back to her best?

For Liz the big question is whether she can get into the team for 2012, because we're now in the qualifying time period for the London Olympics.

If you throw Paula and Mara Yamauchi into the mix, there might only be one other slot in the British team left up for grabs. And for Jo, because its her debut over the distance, there's always the question mark over the distance.

Who would I favour? It's tough to call at this point; you might favour the experience of Liz, but the superior recent half-marathon form of Jo.

On the men's side. Andrew Lemoncello is capable of going much faster than his 2.13 last year, and I think Lee Merrien will run well.

I'd like to see six to eight British men coming in under 2.12 - we need a whole bunch of them coming through. Sights need to be set higher than just wanting to be the first Briton home, if that time isn't particularly fast.

At the very top end, Kebede is very confident, and given the right conditions a course record could be on the cards for him.

If he's on his own with four miles left he might be able to go for it, but if there are three or four of them together it might get a little cagier and 40 seconds could be lost here or there.

And conditions should be good too - cool at the start, up to about 16C by the time the elites are finishing and 18C for the mass field.

I'm looking forward to it immensely.

Steve Cram was talking to BBC Sport's Tom Fordyce

see also
Athletics on the BBC
21 Apr 11 |  Athletics
Radcliffe's London Marathon tips
15 Apr 11 |  Athletics
London respite for Japan runners
14 Apr 11 |  Athletics
London Marathon 2011 - opening film
12 Apr 11 |  Athletics
Q&A: London Marathon travel guide
15 Apr 11 |  London
Africa's marathon domination
14 Apr 11 |  Athletics
Wanjiru to miss London Marathon
11 Apr 11 |  Athletics
Yamauchi to miss London Marathon
20 Jan 11 |  Athletics
Yelling seeks Olympics contention
31 Dec 10 |  Athletics
London Marathon fields revealed
16 Dec 10 |  Athletics

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