London

Zhou targets clash with Radcliffe

I want to run the Flora London Marathon next year, and I want to race against Paula Radcliffe. That was the message from Zhou Chunxiu just 24 hours after taking the 2007 women's Flora London Marathon title yesterday.

The 28-year-old Chinese runner was crowned champion after a hugely impressive run through London 's steamy streets on Sunday, clocking 2:20:38 in 20-degree heat to win by more than a minute from Ethiopia's Gete Wami, the Berlin champion.

And today Zhou said she would like to defend her title in 2008 against the world record holder to test herself before the two clash again at the Beijing Olympics later in the year.

"This is my first time in London and it's made a very good impression," she said. "If I can I would like to come again next year.

"It will be good to race against Radcliffe. She is a very good athlete. I look up to her and would like to learn from her.

"Since Paula Radcliffe is the world record holder I will be aiming for this race. At the moment there is a still a distance between me and her, so I will try my best and learn from racing against her."

Last year Zhou became only the seventh woman in history to break 2:20 for the marathon when she ran 2:19:51 in Seoul. But that's still more than four minutes slower than Radcliffe's 2003 world record of 2:15:25 figures which have become a target for Zhou, just as they have for all top women marathon runners.

"I don't know how fast I can go in the future," said Zhou. "But I am aiming high. After this victory I will aim to get even better in the future. But I can't say I will break it because it is really hard.

"As a marathon runner you have to try and aim higher, but it is a challenging record."

Zhou, from Suzhou City in China's Jiangsu Province , said that winning in London was an important step towards her attempt to win the Olympic gold in Beijing.

"As an athlete it's important to win every race," said the Asian Games champion of her first major marathon win outside Asia. "The Flora London Marathon was a good opportunity to gain experience because I have not raced enough against world champion competitors.

"Here I was looking at all my competitors because they are all champions. But it was most important to be confident all the way through and I didn't have any fear during the race."

Indeed, Zhou never looked troubled as she ran comfortably with the leading pack before making her decisive move, zipping through the 24th mile in 5:09 to leave her Wami and Lorna Kiplagat of the Netherlands in her wake.

Such impressive form is the result of a demanding winter training regime that amounts to running around 180 miles per week with China 's national women's marathon squad, based in Dalian, 24 hours from her hometown.

"You have to train hard to get a good result in anything in life," she said. "So I am happy to do all the hard training it's for the future. I have been training full time for five years now so I am used to the environment."

Becoming London champion will make her better known back home, she added.

Beating Paula Radcliffe and winning London a second time next year could make her truly famous across the world.