Four Contenders Racing Virgin London Marathon This Sunday

By David Monti

LONDON (19-Apr)–Only one spot remains on the British team for a woman to run this summer’s Olympic Marathon here, yet five still hope to claim it. Four of them–Claire Hallissey, Liz Yelling, Louise Damen and Freya Murray–will compete in Sunday’s Virgin London Marathon, while the fifth, Jo Pavey, will watch on television. All will be hoping for the best.

“It’s make or break on Sunday for Olympic hopes,” said radio commentator Andy Edwards at a press conference here this morning.

Jo Pavey, 38, a veteran of three Olympic Games, ran two solid marathons last year and provisionally holds the third team berth behind Paula Radcliffe and Mara Yamauchi who have already been selected. At the London Marathon last April in her debut at the distance, Pavey clocked 2:28:24, then came back to run 2:28:42 in New York last November on a much tougher course.

However, Pavey can lose her spot to any of the four women running here on Sunday should they surpass her time from London. Each of them would have to run a personal best to do so.

Claire Hallissey, 29, who holds a PhD in immunology and currently resides in Arlington, VA, likely has the best chance of displacing Pavey. The self-coached runner who just completed a stint of altitude training in Boulder, CO, dropped her marathon personal best by some seven minutes last year, clocking 2:29:27 on a warm day in Chicago. She said here today that her training had gone well, despite having a pair of her favorite shorts shredded when a dog tried to bite her on a training run.

“I was out in Boulder for a few weeks to do the bulk of my preparation, which is the same as I did for Chicago,” Hallissey told Race Results Weekly here. “I’ve run a lot of the similar sessions, and they’ve gone as well, if not better, than they did in the build-up to Chicago. So, all of that is telling me that I’m going to run faster than in Chicago.”

Hallissey raced two solid, but unspectacular, half-marathons during her London build-up, running 1:13:32 at Wokingham on February 19, then 1:12:58 at New York on March 18. She also ran a personal best 54:37 at the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Mile on April 1, near her Arlington, VA home, finishing fifth. She said that her final race was her best.

“I was more happy with my pacing at the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile, my most recent race. But, I’ve always struggled with getting my legs up to race pace when I’m in the middle of marathon mileage and training. So, I wasn’t that surprised that I wasn’t able to run as quickly as I would have liked (in the half-marathons). I was satisfied with my performances, I’d say.”

Louise Damen, 29, has only completed one marathon. She ran a surprising 2:30:00 debut at London last April, then dropped out of the Yokohama Women’s Marathon in Japan last November, wilting in hot conditions.

“I think I’ve probably experienced two ends of the spectrum in running the marathon,” Damen told reporters. “Things do go wrong in marathon running; it’s a long way.”

Liz Yelling, 37, has two Olympic Marathons under her belt. She finished 25th in Athens in 2004, and 26th in Beijing in 2008, despite tangling with Gete Wami, falling and cracking a rib. She has not broke 2:30 since 2008, yet still feels she can make a third Olympic team. Radio commentator Edwards said she would have to attack the race from the gun.

“There is no point in going at a 2:29 pace if you need to run 2:28:24,” she said.

Freya Murray, 28, who is coached by Welshman Steve Jones, could surprise in her marathon debut. She has raced sparingly this year, just one cross country race in January, then the NYC Half in March where she ran a personal best 1:12:31.

For all of these woman, the chance to compete in an Olympic Games on home soil is a big incentive to give their best on Sunday. Yesterday marked the 100 day-to-go point before the Games, and it is hard to escape the hype everywhere in this city.

“Obviously, a home Olympics is a really big thing,” Claire Hallissey said. “You can’t escape it.”

Should Pavey lose her marathon team spot, her coach and husband Gavin said recently that she would then try to make the British team at 10,000m. She finished 12th in that event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, clocking a career best 31:12.30. She hasn’t run a track 10,000m since 2010, however.


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