By Pat Butcher in Beijing
Published: August 17 2008 06:24 | Last updated: August 17 2008 06:24
Constantina Tomescu-Dita on Sunday won the women’s Olympic marathon in two hours, 26min, 44sec, a triumph for a 38-year old woman who has probably run almost as many marathons as the rest of her rivals put together.
Her win was in sharp contrast to the previous athletics gold, won the evening before by the 21 year old neophyte sprinter Usain Bolt.
Better known by her maiden name of Dita, the Romanian has never been adverse to pushing the pace at the front of races, often to her own detriment. But when she forged into a lead just before the halfway stage of a race run in relatively clement conditions, it proved to be a masterstroke.
Dita had a lead of half a minute at 25 of the 42.195 kilometres, and while the chasing pack did little more than watch one another she just kept plugging away and building up her lead. At 30km, she was almost a minute ahead, and by the time local favourite, Zhou Chunxia broke up the pack to take up the chase the damage had been done. Five kilometres later, Dita had 70 seconds in hand, and although she was showing signs of stress the race was as good as won.
While Zhou and colleague Zhu Xialin, along with Kenyan pair Catherine Ndereba and relative newcomer Martha Komu made inroads in the final kilometres, it was far too late and Dita was able to enjoy her final lap of a packed stadium in splendid isolation to win gold. Although Zhou responded to the urging of her compatriots, Ndereba sprinted past the Chinese to win silver in 2.27.06. Zhou took bronze in 2.27.07.
The major casualty, again, was world record holder Paula Radcliffe of the UK. She was at the front of the race for 15km and still in the pack chasing Dita at 30km, but lacking training following a stress fracture it was always going to be an uphill struggle.
Having dropped out of the Olympic marathon in Athens four years ago at 36km, she looked to have mirrored that experience when she stopped after just one kilometre further today. But it was only to lean against a barrier in order to stretch her hamstrings before setting off again.
But she had already lost touch, and was limping through the final 10km, ultimately hobbling across the line in 23rd place at 2.32.38, a time she would usually do in a training run of this length. In nine marathons the only ones she has lost are the two Olympic races.
After two gorgeous days for the start of the stadium athletics there were overcast skies and light rain for the marathon. At 20C, the temperature was nowhere near as hot as it could have been, and even with the 80 per cent humidity, the conditions were much better than feared.
The course was run through central Beijing, beginning at Tiananmen Square, going south past the Temple of Heaven, before cutting back to Tiananmen, the Forbidden City and the National Theatre, then snaking north through the grounds of Qinhua University, and near the Summer Palace, before heading east to finish in the Bird’s Nest.
Recognising that many people, including rivals, have seen her as a ‘workhorse’ in the past, Dita, who finished 20th in Athens said,”At the world (half-marathon) championships in Canada (which she won) everybody said I couldn’t run, but I showed today what I could do. It was a great performance. Sometimes I have lost time in the last kilometres, but this time I stayed in.”
“I talked to my coach (husband Valeriu Tomescu) before the race. He told me, if the pace is slow for the first half, you can push. That’s all”.
That was enough, and Dita became the oldest Olympic marathon winner, one year older than Carlos Lopes of Portugal, when he won the men’s race in Los Angeles 1984.
Radcliffe, who looked extremely distressed at the end, said, “I knew I was pushing it to come here. I would have been doing all that work for nothing if I hadn’t got to the finish line. It felt like I was running on one leg, it was really sore. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for 2012 (London Olympics)”.