A London-based Kiwi who ran his first marathon only four years ago is just one good run away from qualifying for next year's Olympics.

Paul Martelletti began running competitively on a whim but, since cracking the three-hour mark in his first race, his personal best time has plummeted to 2:16:49 - the fastest marathon by a New Zealander since 2009.

That time was achieved at this year's Berlin marathon where Martelletti finished 14th, leaving him agonisingly close to reaching the qualification criteria for London. Berlin is a gold-labelled marathon, meaning a top-10 finish all but secures a spot on the Olympic team, regardless of time.

He's now pinning his hopes on January's Xiamen marathon in China, also a gold-labelled race, where finishing inside the top 10 would see him a selector's tick away from wearing the black singlet in his own backyard.

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"Fourteenth in Berlin is pretty close - I was basically 50 seconds off 10th, which you don't know at the time,'' Martelletti said. "I'm hoping I can do it in China. That's my last little crack at it.''

There are other opportunities such as the London marathon in April but, where that race is expected to draw the big guns of the sport, the "obscure'' location of Xiamen could play into Martelletti's hands.

"Because a lot of these guys are professional, if it's not their day, they tend to drop out so they can have another crack later on,'' he said. "Before the race, they put out an elite field list and you might be ranked only 40th but some people don't turn up, other people drop out, other people have bad days.''

Martelletti is relying on a top-10 placing because, despite his meteoric gains over the last four years, he is still a fair way from the Olympic qualification time of 2:12.

"When I first started, I didn't dream I'd get under 2:30 then, all of a sudden, I was looking at getting under 2:20. Now I want to get under 2:15 - I don't think that's going to be much of a problem.

"Realistically, I think I can get under 2:12, but I don't know if I'll do that in time for London.''

If he does qualify for the biggest show in sport, it will complete an incredible rise for Martelletti - from novice to New Zealand's best in four short years.

The 32-year-old moved from Manawatu to London in 2006 for the traditional Kiwi OE, having only ever run to keep fit. That all changed a year later when a friend noticed Martelletti had a penchant for running to and from his work as a software developer. That friend wanted to run in the London marathon and "he thought I was a good candidate to do it with him''.

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"It just went from there, really,'' Martelletti said. "Until then I definitely wouldn't have considered myself a runner. But once I did my first marathon I started getting into it a lot more.''

Just six months after completing his first marathon in 2:58, Martelletti carved half an hour off that time. He thinks he can get better still and, along with representing New Zealand at the Olympics, he has another lofty goal driving him on.

"I definitely think there's more room for improvement. I'm pretty confident I can get a good few minutes quicker than I am.

"And then you're so close to the NZ record (2:08:59, set by Rod Dixon in 1983). That would just be awesome to do that. You just have to keep pushing.''