NO ONE questioned his pre-race favouritism, but when Paralympic champion Kurt Fearnley beat his own race record to clinch his eighth straight Oz Day 10K in Sydney, he might have quietly surprised himself.
"I had a few rough races earlier in the week," Fearnley said. "To get beaten by a lot of my competitors was very different for me. To show up on Australia Day and win it was just great."
Fearnley finished the course in 20 minutes 24 seconds, almost 30 seconds ahead of Canadian Josh Cassidy (20.53) followed by New Zealand's Matthew Lack (21.36). He shaved 0.08s from his record set in 2008 and said breaking the record was the first step in a long journey to Paralympics gold.
"To be the fastest of all time in a race that's been around 23 years - it's a nice way to start 2012," he said. ''But I have a long journey ahead of me for the next eight months."
The Boston Marathon in April is the next step for Fearnley, who says it's one of the few marathons he has failed to win in his 17-year racing career.
Beyond that, there's just one date on his calendar that matters for the 30-year-old, the Paralympic marathon in London.
"September 9, that will be the pinnacle for me," he said. "Even the day after [he won his second Paralympic marathon in] Beijing I said, 'I want to go three straight'… It's all about the three straight for me."
But there could be a battle between the Aussies for Paralympic marathon glory, with 17-year-old Nathan Arkley starting the year by winning the Oz Day 10K men's junior division ahead of highly fancied compatriot Rheed McCracken.
Fearnley says Arkley will be the dark horse for the men's marathon in London, with the young South Australian entering the men's ranks in dangerous form.
"[Arkley] is among the top 25 for the men. He's a really good talent for London and could have a really good finish," Fearnley said.
Making it an Australia Day double, Perth teenager Madison de Rozario took out the women's division in 25.01, just one second ahead of British rival Shelly Woods.
De Rozario's training companion Angie Ballard finished third in 25.17, making it a successful day for their coach, nine-time Paralympic gold medal winner Louise Sauvage.