London: Liliya Shobukhova, the defending London marathon champion, says she does not fear the return of Paula Radcliffe.
Russia's 33-year-old world No. 1, who won the London and Chicago marathons last year to claim the World Marathon Majors crown, has faced Radcliffe only once, in a 5,000 metres race in 2004, but says she is not concerned at the prospect of competing against the Briton for the Olympic marathon title in 2012.
"I respect her but I don't fear her," Shobukhova said of the world record holder, whose personal best is five minutes faster than her own 2hr 20min 25sec.
"I ran with her in the 5,000m before, in the European Cup in Bydgoszcz [Poland] in 2004. Paula was No. 1, I was No. 2."
That day Radcliffe posted a new British record but Shobukhova says she is more interested in competing against the Briton over the longer distance. "I would love to run against her in a marathon," she said.
That possibility is not entirely out of the question. Both athletes plan to run an autumn marathon and both have earmarked either Chicago or Berlin as their preference, although with Shobukhova a two-times defending champion in the windy city it is more likely that she would choose the transatlantic option.
The two could meet before then in a 10km road race. After having her second child, Radcliffe is due to make her competitive comeback at the Great Manchester Run in May.
Shobukhova may compete in that race.
"She's still thinking about Manchester. We're thinking about two races after London the New York mini-10k and Manchester. We're negotiating with Manchester, put it that way."
Shobukhova has only one 10km road race under her belt an event in which she posted a time of 32min 19sec, whereas Radcliffe's best is 30min 21sec, when she broke the world record in 2003.
Could racing against Radcliffe in Manchester and winning give Shobukhova a psychological advantage going into 2012?
She shakes her head. "Paula is great runner but it's a race. You can win you can lose. It doesn't matter who is in the race. She is the same as any runner coming to the starting line."
Famed for her sprint finish last year in London, where she finished 13sec ahead of second placed compatriot Abitova, Shobukhova laughed at the suggestion that her speed could undo Radcliffe.
"If Paula runs 2:15 or 2:17 it will be hard to be with her at the finish line. I don't know what my speed would be like then."
Shobukhova faces stiff competition in defending her title on Sunday as she takes on former London marathon winners Irina Mikitenko and Zhou Chunxiu.