London Marathon preview

American Ryan Hall descends from the heights of Big Bear Lake to the streets of London for Sunday’s marathon with a ringing endorsement from Italian Olympic champion Stefano Baldini.

ATHLETICS - London Marathon - 0

“He’s a guy who can win a lot of medals,” Baldini said. “He’s able to read the race and react. He’s the future.”

Hall, 25, who lives and trains at altitude, made his marathon debut in last year’s London race where he became the fastest American debutant with his seventh place in two hours eight minutes 24 seconds.

In his second marathon he won the U.S. Olympic trials in New York to qualify for the Beijing Olympics.

Hall arrived in London last Saturday to be greeted by a snowstorm on the following day. The weather has gradually warmed over the week with temperatures predicted in the 13-14 degrees Celsius range with a chance of rain and a fresh south-west wind which will blow in the runners’ faces over the last dozen km.

An outstanding 1,500 metres prospect at school, Hall has gradually stepped up his distances. Last year he broke the 60 minutes barrier for the half-marathon, becoming the fastest non-African ever with a time of 59 minutes 43 seconds.

Hall’s daunting task on Sunday is to take on the elite Kenyans, headed by defending champion Martin Lel.

He told a news conference he had been concentrating on his surges during training to counter the fast-finishing Kenyans.

“I’ve been doing long runs and going the last four km quick,” he said. “I’m really excited about pushing myself to the limits. I’ve been pushing myself in training and I’m excited to see how that translates on Sunday.”

Lel, one of a dozen Kenyans who decided to train in Namibia, because of the political and ethnic violence after last December’s disputed presidential election, won in 2005, finished second to compatriot Felix Limo in 2006, and won again last year.

“It wasn’t ideal,” said Lel. “We tried to carry on training but it wasn’t good for us with the fighting that was going on. We had to escape to a tea plantation in Kenya and then in February we went to Namibia.

“It’s great to be back here again in London as defending champion. I know I will have a tough time defending my title but I will do my best.”

Limo added: “Preparations are going well, I’m in great shape. I believe in myself.”

Ethiopian Gete Wami is the women’s favourite in the absence of world record holder Paula Radcliffe, who beat her to the line in last year’s New York race.

Wami was also beaten into second place by Chinese Zhou Chunxiu in last year’s London race in unseasonably hot weather.

“I’ve now run a few marathons but there is always something new to learn from each one,” Wami told reporters on Thursday.

“I didn’t know who the Chinese woman was which was a big mistake. I had never heard of her. But I’ve done my homework on everybody for this year’s race.”