Abera eyes second straight London Marathon title

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    Associated Press

    LONDON (AP) _ Ethiopia’s Gezahegne Abera hopes to become only the second man to win the London Marathon in consecutive years. To do so, he will have to beat the world champion and the second-fastest marathoner in history.

    Morocco’s Jaouad Gharib, who won the world title in Paris last year, and Kenya’s Sammy Korir are in a strong field for Sunday’s race.

    This will be Abera’s first marathon since he pulled out of last August’s world championship race with an Achilles’ tendon injury. Gharib went on to win the title in only his second race at 26.2 miles.

    “I believe I have fully recovered,” Abera said. “I came to London with a positive attitude which is the driving force for my success. I don’t think there will be any handicap as far as the injury is concerned.”

    Abera won last year’s race in a sprint finish over Italy’s Stefano Baldini. The only man to win consecutive London titles was Mexico’s Dionicio Ceron (1994, 1995, 1996).

    Eight men in Sunday’s field have run faster times than Abera.

    “Fear is a word that does not come into my vocabulary,” Abera said. “So while I have the utmost respect for my rivals, I am not concerned I have not run as fast as them.”

    Korir set his personal best of 2 hours, 4 minutes, 56 seconds in finishing second at the Berlin Marathon in September. Paul Tergat, who pulled out of the London event with a calf injury, won that race in a world record 2:04:55, just one second faster.

    Gharib won his marathon debut in Rotterdam last year and surprised the field to win the world championship in Paris. He won the Lisbon half marathon last month in less than an hour and has trained for London by the sea in Morocco.

    “Running as fast as I did in Lisbon has done wonders for my morale,” Gharib said. “I tend to be a confident runner anyway, but my run in Lisbon means I can go into the marathon expecting a very fast time.”

    Paula Radcliffe won’t defend her women’s title, but she casts a shadow over the race. The British star has been hobbled by injuries and is concentrating on the Athens Olympics in August. She set a world record in last year’s race _ 2:15:25.

    Leading the women’s field is Kenya’s Margaret Okayo, the New York champion, who has won her last three marathons in course-record times. To repeat the feat in London, she’ll have to better Radcliffe’s mark.

    “I like pressure,” said Okayo, who has a best time of 2:20:43. “I run well when there is pressure to perform.”

    Sun Yingjie, the world’s third fastest woman, runs a rare race outside China as she decides on what distance to race in Athens. Her top time is 2:19:39.

    “I don’t have very high expectations of myself,” Sun said. “I simply view this as a practice for me so I can gain more experience to prepare for the Olympics.”

    Other contenders are Kenya’s Joyce Chepchumba, the 1997 and 1999 champion; Russia’s Svetlana Zakarova, the Chicago Marathon winner; and Ethiopia’s Geta Wami, a former track and cross-country champion who is racing only her second marathon.

    The temperature for the start of the race is forecast for 48 degrees, rising to 59 at the finish, with light rain expected.

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