London

Champions hoping experience is the key

Similarly, in contrast to his two impressive world championship wins in 2003 and 2005, Gharib has finished third and second in London, but never tasted victory. Indeed, last year after making the medal podium in 2004 and 2005 - he slipped back to eighth, a result he aims to put right on Sunday.

�"Last year I was not fully prepared, I was a little exhausted," said the 34-year-old Moroccan. �"This year my preparations went very well and I am looking forward to success in London."

Gharib also revealed that he has switched coaches since last year, swapping the former Olympic 10,000m champion, Brahim Boutayeb, for the 1999 and 2001 London champion, Abdelkader El Mouaziz, whose experience and advice has proved invaluable.

�"My preparation has gone very with my new coach," he said. �"I ran the Lisbon half marathon to see my potential and I am in good shape. I am looking forward to a good race on Sunday.

�"The mistakes I made last year in preparation have been rectified. My weight and condition are very good."

With personal bests of 2:07:02 and 2:07:22 respectively, Gharib and Baldini will be �"only" the seventh and eighth quickest men in the race. But both dismissed suggestions that they will be left behind on Sunday as the quick boys chase world record times.

�"With this weather a world record will be very difficult," said Baldini. �"When it's over 15 degrees it is very difficult to run very fast. I prefer it, but for the others it will be difficult.

�"There are also too many champions in this race," he added. �"No one will want to do the work for their rivals."

�"The weather is very important," agreed Gharib. �"I hope it will be helpful on Sunday, but breaking the record is not easy."

Gharib will be aiming to complete a unique hat trick of world titles at the World championships in Osaka this August. But he refused to look ahead as concentrates on London.

�"My preparation has been going well for London and this makes me think Osaka will also be very good," he said. �"But I am looking forward to Sunday now and can't think about the world championships. That's in the future."

Baldini also declined to look beyond Sunday's race � except to reveal that he plans to retire after defending his Olympic crown in Beijing next year. �"My career has been long and I want to close in great style, so it will be good to finish with a big championships. I am the defending champion, so it will be nice to close in Beijing."

It will be nice, too, if he can end his career with a London Marathon title among his collection. After nine attempts, it won't for the want of trying. And on Sunday, he's hoping, his experience could be the key.

As the Olympic and world champions respectively, Stefano Baldini and Jaouad Gharib hold two of the most prized crowns in the whole of athletics.

They are known as two of the most astute distance racers around and, with 15 appearances in World Marathon Majors between them, are among the most experienced marathon runners in the world.

But on Sunday they will be chasing their first Flora London Marathon titles as they race against one of the strongest fields ever put together for a big city race.

�"I am an experienced athlete, this is my eighth time in London, so I know the course and I am sure I will be right for Sunday," said Baldini, who admitted his training for this year's race was briefly interrupted by an untimely bout of flu.

�"I was flying in January but then I got a little ill in February which put me down," said the Italian. �"I went for a second period of training in Namibia in March and that went OK.

�"Now I am getting better and better every day. The weather will be right for me I prefer the sun and the warmth," he added, looking at the predicted 20 degree conditions for Sunday.

�"I have run below 2:10 13 times and the all the times I have run in London have been below 2:10 I think this shows I like the course and this type of race."

By �"this type of race" Baldini was referring to a championship-style battle for honours rather than a super-fast, eye balls-out blast after quick times.

You can see why he believes it will suit him. Baldini has twice finished second in London in eight races, but never first, and in his four appearances in the New York City marathon, the closest he's come to victory was in 1997 when he was third.

By contrast, the 38-year-old owns two European championship golds and two world bronze medals, as well as the Olympic title.