MARA YAMAUCHI has been tipped to add to Great Britain's growing Olympic medal haul when she competes in the Women's Marathon on Sunday (00.30am start BST).
One of the longest serving members on Harrow Athletics Club's books, Yamauchi is competing in her first, and possibly last Olympic Games and her long-time coach Bob Parker believes she will shine in the endurance race, which will also include GB team-mate Paula Radcliffe.
"I spoke to Mara the other day and she is in a very confident mood, which you have to be for these events," said Parker. "Her training has progressed well and she is definitely in with a chance of winning a medal, possibly silver or bronze."
Yamauchi, who turned 35 on Wednesday, is only finally making her Olympic debut in Beijing by virtue of her staunch dedication to her job as a British Embassy diplomat in Tokyo.
Having won the English National Cross Country Championships in 1998, she put her athletics career on hold until 2002 to throw herself into her work.
In January 2006 she was granted unpaid leave from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to prepare for the Games full time and has been boosted by winning the 2008 Osaka Marathon in a new personal best time of 2.25.10. She also prevailed in the Matsue Half Marathon in March in 1.09.59 and is currently ranked sixth in the world.
And while her British rival Radcliffe has been installed as one of the favourites, Yamauchi is a dark horse for glory. The Oxford-born athlete reckoned a top six finish was realistic.
"She has been over here about four times this year," added Parker. "Mara just needs to do what she has been doing over the past three or four years. You don't change anything if you improve as much as she has done.
"She has hit the 2.25 mark in her last two marathons and should be competing in her third Olympics now. However, she was always focused on her job."
Parker also revealed that Yamauchi, who runs up to 115 miles per week in training, wants to cross the finishing line ahead of the distinguished Radcliffe, who holds the fastest ever women's marathon time.
"Mara wants Paula to run so she can beat her. That is one of her personal goals."
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