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  Thursday, 12 April, 2001, 11:05 GMT 12:05 UK
Tanni's back for more
Pure gold - Tanni displays her Olympic treasures
Pure gold - Tanni displays her Olympic treasures
By Tom Fordyce

With eight Olympic gold medals to her name, Tanni Grey-Thompson is possibly the only athlete in the London Marathon field who can pull rank on Sir Steve Redgrave.

She starts as hot favourite for the women's wheelchair race once again this year - although the effects of her exertions at last summer's Paralympics have disrupted her usual preparations.

"I came back from Sydney and just didn't want to train, and I've never felt like that before," she says.

"I really needed a break. I had two months completely off.


London is a hard wheelchair course, because there are so many turns
Tanni Grey-Thompson
"Then I had a sudden period of panic before Christmas when I realised London was only four months away."

Haul of honours

At 31, Grey-Thompson has been competing at the highest level for over 13 years.

Many athletes would be considering retirement at her age, particularly with her haul of honours.

But Grey-Thompson feels there is a lot more to come - not least in the marathon.

"I'm not sure I've hit my peak," she says.

"For wheelchair athletes you need to have a certain number of years doing mileage to be able to do the sport - and in that it's similar to cycling or speed-skating.

"A lot of the guys peak in their mid to late 30s, across all distances from 200m up.

Hunger was back

"I made a big jump in my 400m and 800m speed last summer so there's clearly more to come.

"When I started again the old hunger was back."

Grey-Thompson has other, more unusual, ways of motivating herself too.

"Beating my husband is a huge incentive for me," she says.

"We've known each other for years and years and started competing about the same time.

Tanni will hope to recapture her Sydney form
Tanni will hope to recapture her Sydney form
"He was only a little bit better than me initially but then improved, although I'm catching him up now because he's been injured.

"We do all our training sessions together and I'd love to beat him."

Pride

Despite all the Olympic glory, the London Marathon remains the race she takes most pride in winning.

"Winning my first London was amazing," she recalled.

"Twenty six miles is a long way, and actually getting through it then winning a sprint finish over the last 200m was fantastic.

"London is a hard wheelchair course, because there are so many turns.

"I don't have hip flexors to be able to guide the chair round corners like some of the other guys do, so I have to brake to turn.

"You might only lose a smidgeon of speed but you then have to get it back. The cobbles make it interesting too.

"But while the course is horrible, the crowd support every step of the way is incredible.

"There's no other marathon in the world that has that.


After all the success of Sydney, there's quite a lot of pressure on me to do well
Tanni Grey-Thompson
"The last time I did Los Angeles there were only about 200 people on the course, and they were friends and family of those taking part.

Raising profile

"London's also been of huge benefit in raising my profile, although it does mean that this year, after all the success of Sydney, there's quite a lot of pressure on me to do well."

Where Grey-Thompson's marathon success differs from that of the Pintos and Khannouchis is that she is also a sprint champion.

Wheelchair athletes training for 100m and 200m need to do 150-plus miles a week in training - not far off the mileage that's needed to race a decent marathon.

But the chair she uses, unlike the huge differences between the spikes Maurice Greene wears and the lightweight racers Pinto wears, is exactly the same for either discipline.

"The only difference is my knee height," she explains. "For the shorter sprints my knees come up a bit higher.

"I'm paralysed from the waist down, so if my knees are too low I can't breathe because I don't have the stomach or back muscles to pick my body up to get any oxygen in.

"But the lower the knees the better my top speed. It's a delicate line to find."


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