Kenya's Tegla Loroupe says she'll be bolder in London this weekend

Earlier this week, the organizers of the London Marathon felt the need to reassure foreign entrants that the race on Sunday would be unaffected by the foot-and-mouth crisis, but at least one of them among a field of 30,000 runners has already had to come to terms with the disease.

Tegla Loroupe of Kenya, the defending women's champion, knows what Britain's farmers are going through. Her own prized herd of dairy cows, paid for out of her race earnings, recently contracted foot and mouth. Her problem was dealt with differently.

"The British kill them, we treat them," Loroupe said.

Loroupe's herd was rustled from her farm and smuggled across the border into Uganda. Such is Loroupe's fame in East Africa that the Ugandan government got involved and demanded the thieves give them back.

They were returned but, unfortunately, with foot-and-mouth. They are now back to full health after vets treated them with an alcohol-based vaccine.

"The milk yield is as high as ever," Loroupe said. "I do not understand why the British are doing what they are doing."

Loroupe hopes that incident signals an end to her recent run of bad luck, which started on the eve of the Olympic marathon in Sydney, where she was favorite for the gold medal.

She went to bed in the athletes' village confident of achieving her longtime ambition only to wake up at 2 a.m. on the day of the race suffering from food poisoning. Severely weakened, she finished 13th.

There is the chance for a measure of revenge on Sunday as Lidia Simon, last year's runner-up and Sydney silver medalist, and Joyce Chepchumba, Loroupe's training partner, Olympic bronze medalist and two-time London winner, are among her main rivals, along with Ethiopia's Olympic 10,000-meter champion Derartu Tulu.

But what happened in Sydney was a shattering blow for Loroupe, 27, whose 2:20:43 finish in Berlin in 1999 is the fastest marathon time ever by a woman.

Loroupe blames the Kenyan federation for forcing her to move into the athletes village before the race. She says they have a vendetta against her because she is a woman and from a small tribe.

"They don't like me opening my mouth to complain."

After Sydney, Loroupe was ordered home by the federation.

"I think I was being punished," she said. "It was very disappointing but there is nothing I can do except make London my new goal."

At 4'11", it looks as though a puff of wind could blow Loroupe over, but she is one of the strongest women around.

"God has given me a plan and no man is going to close the door," she said. She took two months off after Sydney yet remains confident of running faster than in last year's London Marathon, which she won in 2:24:33, blaming a hip injury and the fear of losing to her rivals for her unusually cautious approach.

"We [the women] could have run faster if we had the courage not to watch each other," she said at the time. "I will run faster next year."

Even the fact that Loroupe finished only fourth in the Lisbon half-marathon earlier this month in 68:16, behind Tulu, has failed to dent that belief.

"Everything is going OK," she said. "I will be at my best in London."

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