Xuijuan Ren looks to stake her place on the Olympic
team in Prague
19 May 2000 Prague - Leading marathon runner China's Xuijuan Ren is one of the favourites to win the women's event at the Prague International Marathon on Sunday, yet the biggest surprise is that her national title winning performance (2:25.32) in Jinan seven weeks ago has not already got her selected for the Olympic marathon.
Speaking through an interpreter, but with several of her own interpolations in English, Ren explained that though she is the fastest Chinese marathon woman this year, there are several other contenders for Sydney, and they all have to meet up for a showdown over the half-marathon in Jinzhong on the weekend of June 7/8.
Jinzhong is in her home province of Liaoning, which is something of a hotbed of modern sport in China. Many of the top football (soccer) teams come from this area in Western China, as does the infamous coach Ma Junren, whose women athletes stunned the world with their record-shattering exploits in the early nineties.
Ren says that though she knows Ma, she has never had any contact with him. But she understands that the problems he had with his famous charges - including Wang Junxia, who won the Olympic 5000 metres in Atlanta - are all resolved. "He has a new group of young runners, and they are very good".
But not as good as Ren, who was a late starter in athletics was drawn to running by herself after watching one of China's two big marathons, in her home city of Dalian seven years ago. A friend introduced her to a local running club, where she met Liang Songli, who has coached her since then. Ren now runs "an average 278 kilometres (173 miles) a week" in training.
Her main opponents in what should prove a close race are defending champion Franca Fiacconi of Italy and Jane Salumae, the Estonian record holder. The men's race should be even more competitive, with Ronaldo da Costa of Brazil, also needing to prove himself to Olympic selectors despite being world number two. He can best do that by keeping at bay the regulation ten Kenyans, led by Josephat Kiprono, who has already been named an Olympic reserve.