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  Saturday, 21 April, 2001, 03:43 GMT 04:43 UK
London's marathon miracle
Abel Anton, Tergat and Pinto pose with oldest runner Jenny Wood Allen
Slater hopes to beat at least one of this quartet
BBC Sport Online's Matt Slater comes face-to-face with the favourites for Sunday's London Marathon...and fails to make much of an impression.

My plan was to meet three-time London Marathon winner Antonio Pinto, show him my heels and say, "Get used to that Antonio, that's all you will be seeing of me on Sunday."

Unfortunately, Pinto seemed far more concerned about Paul Tergat's much-hyped marathon debut than my attempts to win the psychological hors d'oeuvres before Sunday's main course.

To be fair to Pinto, he could hardly be blamed for thinking there was only one challenger in the race, the ladies and gentlemen of the press could think of nothing else but Tergat.

  Latest betting
Antonio Pinto: 11-8 fav
Paul Tergat: 100-30
Abdelkader El Mouaziz: 5-1
Japhet Kosgei: 9-1
Hendrick Ramaala: 10-1
Takayuki Inubushi: 11-1
Tesfaye Tola: 14-1
Matt Slater: 32,000-1
But what of the local talent? We all get excited about Tim Henman at Wimbledon every year, so what about my marathon chances?

Joyce Smith, winner of the first women's race in 1981, was dismissive.

"We won't get another British winner until Paula Radcliffe turns to the marathon. There is nobody else coming through," she said.

Race director David Bedford was no more encouraging.

"I think it is probably beyond (British number one) Jon Brown this year, the field is just too strong," said Bedford.

"(Twenty-six-year-old) Mark Steinle has a chance in three or four years time, but it is a long trawl to become a marathon champion."

What about me? I am 28, does that make me two years closer to success than Steinle?


I can't believe how low the temperatures are. I hope it is warmer on Sunday
Paul Tergat
No matter. I am happy to be Sunday's dark horse entrant.

But if nobody is backing me, who are they backing?

Well, the sensible money is massing steadily behind Pinto.

The 35-year-old Portuguese star has run London six times and never finished outside the top six. Last year, Pinto won in a course and European record of two hours six minutes 36 seconds.

But he is not infallible. Two training tumbles put paid to Pinto's Olympic challenge, and his 2000 London run was almost cut short by the most amateurish of slips - failing to take precautions against jogger's nipple.

"I normally use bandaids, but I forgot to put them on. I was also wearing a new singlet, and yes, it was very painful," remembered Pinto.

  Men's and women's prize money
First: $55,000
Second: $30,000
Third: $22,500
Fourth: $15,000
Fifth: $10,000
If he makes the same error again, I hope to there on his shoulder as he slows to apply some emergency petroleum jelly.

There is also a chance that Pinto will overcook his pre-race preparations.

The 35-year-old running man likes to keep a regular dinner date at a well known Italian restaurant near Tower Bridge - the cooks, apparently, are Portuguese and like to spoil their favourite son.

A bloated, and bleeding, Pinto would be putty in my hands.

Antonio Pinto
Another plaster-related nightmare could doom Pinto
Second favourite Tergat, a five-time world cross country champion and half marathon world record holder, is widely tipped to be the man most likely to take the marathon mark below two hours five minutes.

But his 100-30 odds look a little steep to this observer's eye.

He may have finally given Haile Gebrselassie the slip by stepping up to 26.2 miles, but on Sunday he will have the great British spring to do battle with.

The shivering Kenyan was given the shock of his life when he stepped off the plane on Thursday.

"I can't believe how low the temperatures are. I hope it is warmer on Sunday," said Tergat.

Sorry to disappoint you Paul, it will be a bonus if the rain stays away.

Paul Tergat
Tergat might be in for a cool reception
But with General Winter on my side I may just stand a chance against the golden (when he is not racing Gebrselassie) boy of Kenyan distance running.

So, the strategy is simple.

Steal Pinto's plasters and pray he has one helping of Tiramisu too many, while waiting for the English weather to stiffen Tergat's joints.

Just don't expect any records.


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