Dramatic rise for Olympic hopeful

MARATHON: Talented vet Melanie Panayiotou could be looking at a berth in the Olympic Games if she shaves one second off the personal best she set in Glasgow.

The Australia Zoo head vet surprised everyone at the Commonwealth Games when she completed the tough inner-city course in two hours 35 minutes and one second, finishing eighth.

Panayiotou believes a time of 2 hours 35 minutes will be enough to meet the Olympic Games standard and cap off a phenomenal rise that only began 10 months ago.

"If you had of asked me if when I had done my first marathon in October, there is no way I would have believed I could shave six minutes off my personal best," she said.

"It's just been unbelievable how quickly everything has happened. Now that I've seen everything that has happened, I'm not going to put any limits on myself."

The Sunshine Coast-based runner is taking time off to recover from the trip to Scotland before deciding where to tackle Olympic qualification.

She may compete in one of the minor events at the Sunshine Coast Marathon, where she is champion, but will save her energy for qualification bid next year.

Even if she had broken the 2:35 mark in Glasgow, it would not have given her a spot on the Olympic team because the qualification period has not begun.

The 30-year-old is confident she can make even further improvements when she returns to working full-time under respected Canberra-based coach Dick Telford.

"The way things are going, I am still learning so much and there are a lot of things in training that I hadn't been introduced to yet, because it has all been going so fast," she said.

"I'm pretty confident as long as I stay injury-free and healthy I can get quicker."

Panayiotou is also encouraged by the fact her best race came on a course that was not designed to give runners their best times. "I was thinking I would run something between 2:36 or 2:37 because it's a competition course and not necessarily a fast course," she said.

BUT her own experience informs her that Olympic rivals can arrive on the scene at any time.

"I popped up from nowhere, so you never know who else is out there," she said.

Panayiotou only started getting into running eight years ago because she suffered a dislocated shoulder that kept her away from contact sports and she only started taking marathons seriously three years ago.

Last year, on the back of a series of strong performances in Queensland, she finished third in the Melbourne Marathon, Australia's biggest event at the distance, and hired Olympic coach Telford.

In March, Panayiotou finished the Nagoya Marathon in 2:38.26, meeting the Commonwealth Games qualification standard and shaving three minutes off the personal best time she had recorded in Melbourne.

She shaved a further 2.25 minutes off that time in Glasgow, proving that she has plenty of time to improve ahead of the Olympic qualification cut-off.

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