Five years ago Sonia Samuels put a career teaching German, Spanish and French on hold to become a full-time athlete and shoot for Olympic glory. And by Sunday lunchtime she hopes to be brushing up on her Portuguese having qualified for the marathon in Rio.
The 36-year-old Samuels presented convincing evidence to suggest she was the top UK marathoner when she smashed her personal best by nearly three minutes in September, coming ninth in Berlin in 2hr 28min 04sec.
However, the selectors have decided that only the top two British male and female finishers in the London Marathon will be chosen, provided they have the qualifying time of 2:14.00 for men and 2:31.00 for women, which leaves Samuels having to prove her talents all over again.
It promises to be an intriguing battle of Britain with Alyson Dixon, Freya Ross, Susan Partridge and Charlotte Purdue also having realistic chances of making the Olympic squad – although so far only Samuels and Dixon have gone under the 2:31 mark.
But Samuels, who finished 16th in the world championships in Moscow in 2013, is determined not to be denied a first Olympic place. “This is 20 years of hard work in the making,” she said. “It’s not something that has happened overnight, so it’s a big day.”
To prepare, Samuels has flitted between Kenya, the US and Alicante to avoid the worst of the British winter. “My husband even got on Strava heat maps to find out where we could go that was warm and we could run,” she said. “He’s a bit of a geek but it really helped. It meant I wasn’t having to run in gale force winds when it was raining and horrible outside like back home.”
Paula Radcliffe, who retired after completing her final London marathon in 2015, believes the race for Olympic places is hard to call. “It is going to be cagey, because the likes of Ally and Sonia have already got the qualifying time so it is not in their interests to run hard,” she said. “The onus is on Susan and Charlotte to go out and get the time. I expect them to all be in a group together, so it’s going to be very interesting.”
In the men’s race, Scott Overall should secure his place for Rio, having proved his form by running 2:11.24 in Berlin in September. But a blanket could be thrown on the 10 other British challengers, who include the brothers Callum and Derek Hawkins, who are battling each other for a spot.
Callum is only 23 but showed enormous potential in running 2:12.17 on his debut in Frankfurt last year. “Most of my family are back home watching on the TV, but my mum and dad will come down and watch,” he said. “However, my aunt has got a caravan on some island and she’s trying to get away because she’s too nervous.”
Another wildcard is the former European 10,000m medallist Chris Thompson, who ran 2:11.19 in his only completed marathon in 2014 but has been injured almost ever since. “There is enough things that have gone wrong in my training for me to know that this is going to be a challenge,” he said. “Dipping under 2hr 14 isn’t going to cut it, we’re going to need to run 2hr 12 or 2hr 11, but I believe I can do it.”