FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Zhou in Mood to Regain Her Title
LONDON, April 23, 2009 -- When Zhou Chunxiu arrived in Britain for the 2007
Flora London Marathon she was a little known runner from China with a
reputation for producing eye-catching performances across Asia but rare
experience against the world's very best marathon runners in the biggest
competitions on the international scene.
She left a few days later with a winner's medal from the world's most
prestigious big city race and a hefty wedge of prize money in her back
Two years later she has returned to London as one of the most famous and
feared women's marathon runners in the world, with World Championships
silver and Olympic bronze medals to her name, and financial wealth beyond
her dreams thanks to her success on the international stage.
Now 30, Zhou is no longer the shy, serious young woman of few words whose
victory in the British capital so impressed the marathon-watching world.
Keen to regain her title, this time she is not afraid to talk up her
chances of victory despite the slight cold she picked up on the long
journey west from her home in Jiangsu province.
"I am very happy to come to London again and grateful for the invitation,"
she says. "Every athlete has the ambition to be a champion here and it is
the same for me.
"Winning here two years ago was my first big success against an
international field and I am happy to be back here again. It is difficult
to say what will happen because every race is different but I am hoping for
a very good performance."
Quite what "a very good performance" means Zhou politely declines to say.
Her best time of 2:19:51 came won she won the Seoul Marathon for the second
time in 2006, becoming the seventh woman to break the magical 2:20 barrier.
Currently, she is the ninth quickest female marathon runner ever, and her
winning time two years ago – 2:20:38 – makes her the sixth quickest ever to
complete the London course.
With the top women expected to go through half way in 71 minutes, there's
every chance she could improve her best on Sunday. Even at that pace, there
is likely to be a big group at the front, however, as Zhou faces a field
containing virtually every major name in world marathon running bar the
world record holder Paula Radcliffe.
Among her opponents will be the reigning London and World Marathon Majors
champion Irina Mikitenko of Germany, Romania's Olympic champion Constantina
Dita, the double world champion and Olympic silver medallist Catherine
Ndereba, plus Svetlana Zakharova of Russia and Gete Wami of Ethiopia who
finished second and third in London last year.
"I am very happy to be competing against lots of good athletes," says Zhou,
who was beaten to the world title in 2007 by Ndereba and then lost the
Olympic silver medal to the Kenyan last year when Ndereba beat her by just
one second in the Bird's Nest stadium.
In the wake of Liu Xiang's demise, Zhou became the host nation's first
athletics medallist in Beijing and its number one track and field star of
the Games. It is a position that has changed her life.
"Being number three at the Olympics made me very happy," she says. "And
everyone at home was very pleased for me too. In my home town of Suzhou
everyone treated me like a heroine.
"The mayor of my home city and the mayor of the province hosted a dinner in
my honour. There's been a lot more interest in me. There'll be a lot of
people watching now to see my race on Sunday."
However, despite now owning her own house, Zhou insists the fame and riches
have not diverted her focus from marathon running. She claims still to be
training upto 180 miles a week during the winter months and is confident of
her fitness ahead of a 2009 season that includes not only the London
Marathon but the IAAF World Championships marathon in Berlin in August and
the Chinese National Games in September when she plans to run both the
marathon and 10,000m.
"After the Olympics my training has been intense," she says. "It never
stopped since Beijing and I am preparing for a lot of important
competitions this year. I am used to the training volume and it has
strengthened my confidence."
After growing up on a farm in one of China's poorest provinces, Zhou says
she's used to living a modest life. "The endurance was good preparation for
marathon training," she says.
Although she is clearly happy to have used some of her hard won riches to
provide her parents with a better standard of living, she says she still
doesn't own a car because she doesn't have time to drive. "I put all my
focus into training," she says. "I don't wear skirts or high heels either.
Since I became an athlete I haven't had a chance. Being an athlete, the
most important thing to me is my performance and inner strength."
It was that inner strength that so impressed when she won here in 2007. She
will need it again on Sunday, but this time no one will be surprised if the
woman from rural China once again conquers the streets of Britain's capital