Sun aims to be queen of capital
Clifford Coonan in Beijing
After record-breaking victory last year, Chinese champion will be the centre of attention in Beijing International Marathon
Sun Yingjie is history's third fastest woman over the full marathon - two hours, 19 minutes and 39 seconds. Crucially, she ran this formidable time at the Beijing International Marathon last year.
Only Briton Paula Radcliffe and Kenya's Catherine Ndereba have run faster marathons than the Chinese woman.
A lot of people will be watching the 27-year-old Asian record-holder defend her title at this year's marathon in the Chinese capital tomorrow. Her form is good coming into the race. Sun won the IAAF World Half Marathon title on October 3 in New Delhi, setting a Chinese national record of 1:08.40 in the event, which was held for the first time on Asian soil.
She ran a great race, making a strong break just before the 10-mile mark, and then surging ahead over the closing miles to finish in 1:08.40.
Sun was born into a poor farming family in Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning province. The area is on the northeastern plateau at altitude and is the mainland's distance running stronghold.
It was here that coach Ma Junren, whose world-renowned 'family army' of female runners shone in the mid-1990s, imposed his tough training regimen on superstars like Wang Jungxia, who holds an Olympic 5,000 metres title and the 10,000 metres world record.
Wang and the rest of Ma's athletes were Sun's inspiration as a 15-year-old youngster competing for her city team in Shenyang.
'They were my heroes,' she said. 'I wanted to achieve what they were doing.
Wang Junxia has described Sun as 'very strong'.
However, she didn't come under Ma's tutelage.
Sun said that Ma's methods of training probably wouldn't have suited her. Others say Sun's strange, duck-like running style exasperated Ma.
Instead, Sun took up with coach Wang Dexian. He has guided her career carefully, focusing on making her name slowly but surely, similar to that of Radcliffe, the world record-holder.
Sun, who joined the national team in Beijing in November 1995, first made the headlines when leading the field in the 1999 Boston Marathon before fading to finish in 11th place.
Over the next three years she established herself as a contender but often showed a tendency to fade in the latter stages, particularly in marathons outside China.
Even though she has long maintained that the marathon is her speciality, it was her third-place finish in the 10,000 metres at the world championship in Paris last year that drew a new set of admirers.
A knee injury in June 2003 had affected her preparation for the world championships, while in December last year she fell on the treadmill and fractured her collarbone.
This same collarbone injury confined her to ninth place in the Olympic 5,000 metres and her knees took a pounding in Athens, too.
Before Athens she had been called the best Chinese runner in a decade but since then her reputation has gone off the boil a bit.
More attention has been focused on her teammate, Xing Huina, who took everyone by surprise with her terrific victory in the 10,000 metres in Athens.
But some time out of the limelight may have worked to Sun's advantage and in New Delhi she played down the significance of her win.
'I'm a bit surprised, and very happy, to come first, as I didn't come here expecting to win,' she said.
As well as her great skill, it is Sun's quirky running style that has made her a distinctive figure on the track.
When she runs, she barely moves her arms - much of the time running with her arms down by her side.
As her coach Wang Dexian points out, a strange style of running worked for Michael Johnson - the straight-backed American sprinter - and Sun herself laughs at the suggestion that she runs like a duck. 'I don't base the style of my running on any creature,' she said.