London

Johnson in mood to win

Benita Johnson's aim for Sunday's Flora London Marathon leaves little room for doubt.

�"I want to win," said the 27-year-old Australian today. �"Things have been going really well. I am enjoying the weather here and really looking forward to the race."

Johnson, who finished sixth in London in 2005, is in the best shape of her life and clearly believes she can become the first Australian ever to win the London Marathon. With one of the strongest fields ever ranged against her, it will be no easy task.

But Johnson's confidence is sky high after finishing third in the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon last October and winning the recent Vatenfall Berlin Half Marathon on 1 April by more than a minute from Kenya's Edith Masai.

Johnson's aim is to eclipse the performances of both Steve Moneghetti, who finished second in the men's race in 1989 and 1995, and Lisa Ondieki, who was runner-up in the women's in 1993 and again the following year. The former world cross country champion smashed Ondieki's national record when she clocked 2:22:36 in Chicago.

�"Chicago last year was a big breakthrough for me," said Johnson. �"I don't have a time in mind for Sunday's race. I am more the sort of athlete who loves racing and competing.

�"I think this year with these girls in the field, it will produce the kind of race I enjoy and a great atmosphere," she said.

With the likes of Berlin champion Gete Wami, Chicago champion Berhane Adere and Asian Games champion Zhou Chunxiu in the line-up, Johnson is under no illusions that she will have to lower the Australian record again if she's going to achieve her aim.

"I personally think I'm going to have to run under 2:20 if I'm to win," she said. "My training suggests I am definitely capable of that and I believe that's the sort of time that is going to win on Sunday.

"Everything I've done in the last few months has been totally focused towards London and I'm in the best shape of my life. I'm capable of running better than 2:20."

Johnson made her marathon debut in 2004 but found it a chastening experience she finished 14 th in New York in 2:38:03 but now believes it was a necessary part of her marathon education, even if she still regards herself as a junior at the grueling 26 mile event.

�"I've learned a lot about the marathon since then even though I'm still a little bit on the young side," she said. "Primarily my body has learned in the last year to handle the distance work and my legs in particular are a lot stronger.

�"My debut marathon was a big learning curve for me, but now I feel I know what I need to do. I am still learning a lot about it though. I still feel like a junior among some of these women."

Johnson, who says she loves �"the challenge of the event", trained for London in the mountains near Melbourne before heading to Europe a month ago. �"Everyt hing I've done in preparing towards winning has gone perfectly in the last few weeks," she said. "It isn't going to be easy, the field's fabulous. There are 10 top quality women, all of us in with a chance of winning this year.

"I may be still be a little inexperienced but believe I have as good a chance as anyone else."

One of those �"top quality" women is Constantina Tomescu-Dita, who at one stage led Johnson and the rest of the field in Chicago by more than two minutes and went through the half way point on world record pace.

However, Johnson and the rest can't expect the Romanian to put them through such a cruel pace this time. �"I don't want to run like I did in Chicago this time," said the 37-year-old who faded to finish fifth. �"I want to start more slowly then try to pick it up in the second half. I want to give myself a chance to win."

This will be Tomescu-Dita's sixth appearance in London and she'd clearly love to celebrate with her first victory. With Johnson in the form of her life, it could be a hell of a race.