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  Thursday, 19 April, 2001, 17:04 GMT 18:04 UK
The unofficial world championships
London Marathon Race Director David Bedford with 2000 winners Antonio Pinto and Tegla Loroupe
David Bedford with 2000 winners Pinto and Loroupe
By BBC Sport Online's Matt Slater

If proof was ever needed of the old saying about small acorns and giant oak trees, the 21st London Marathon would fit the bill perfectly.

The first race on 29 March 1981 featured 7,747 runners. Leading the 6,255 finishers home that day were Dick Beardsley and Inge Simonsen in a time of two hours 11 minutes 48 seconds.

Last year's event saw a record 31,658 people cross the finish line behind Antonio Pinto's course and European best of 2:06:36.


After the Olympics, London is definitely the most important marathon
Antonio Pinto
In twenty years the London race has grown from being a relatively minor stop on the city marathon tour to number one status. It is, in short, the unofficial world championship.

The man who has done much to bring this transformation about is race director David Bedford.

"There is absolutely no question that London is now the premier city marathon in the world," said Bedford, who is responsible for booking the big name runners.

Pinto, one of those big names, is looking for his fourth London victory on Sunday and is in no doubt about the quality of the competition.

"After the Olympics, London is definitely the most important marathon," the Portuguese star said.

  David Bedford's top five marathons
1. London
2. Chicago
3. Fukuoka, Japan
4. Berlin
5. Rotterdam
"Every year there are at least six guys capable of winning, and it's a similar situation in the women's race.

"This year there are so many great runners - five of us have gone under 2:07, that's a very strong field."

As well as Pinto, 1998 winner and two-time world champion Abel Anton and 1999 winner Abdelkader El Mouaziz, the London Marathon will also see this year's most hotly awaited debut - Paul Tergat's first run over 26.2 miles.

Tergat's decision to choose London for his marathon baptism is a mark of the race's international pedigree.

A top track star would have once taken their marathon bow on an American or Japanese stage. Now no other race can offer London's combination of speed, field and, perhaps most importantly, prize and appearance money.

But one downside to this growth in prestige is the dwindling prospect of seeing a British winner.

  2001 London Marathon prize money
Men's winner: $55,000
Women's winner: $55,000
Men's sub 2:07 bonus: $50,000
Women's sub 2:22 bonus: $50,000
1st and men's world record: $125,000 plus other bonuses
1st and women's world record: $125,000 plus other bonuses
One of the marathon's founding objectives was to promote British marathon running, and the race's first decade saw eight home wins in the men's and women's disciplines.

The last ten years, however, have been a different story. Liz McColgan was the last British winner in 1996, and our last male victor was Eamonn Martin back in 1993.

But Bedford is adamant that assembling the best field possible is the way forward.

"I don't think my job is to deliver a British win. We could stage manage that, but nobody would thank us in the long run," said Bedford.

"The quality of the field is so high now that I can't see a British winner for a couple of years. But when it does happen it will be a serious and genuine triumph.

"We help fund a number of programmes with UK Athletics to find and develop young British talent.

"We put about 150,000 into these programmes, so I think we're still playing our part in promoting domestic marathon running."


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