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2008 Beijing Olympic Games Women's Marathon - Post Race Coverage
by MarathonGuide.com Staff
The 2008 Women's Olympic Marathon was set to be one of the greatest marathons of all time - with all of the elements in place to create a race for the ages: the athletes, a fast/flat course and a some unknowns including the potential for terribly hot weather, humidity and pollution to affect the runners.
photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images Sport
The starting list for the marathon was in flux until the morning of the race and certain women who were expected to contend for a medal did not make it to the finish line, but the field that did start was undoubtedly the deepest seen in women's marathoning since the previous Olympics. And among the media and those in the know, there were some strong favorites: Catherine Ndereba, Paula Radcliffe, Zhou Chunxiu, Gete Wami, Berhane Adere, Deena Kastor. These were women who knew how to win marathons and were proven performers - and there were others, but they would be longer shots. Personally, we knew (because we're so smart) that Catherine Ndereba would win - but anything could happen in a marathon...
There were 82 women representing 46 countries at the starting line of the marathon. But by the end only 69 would finish. Thirteen of the women would drop out - casualties of injury, overtraining, inexperience, and to a lesser extent warm weather which was not the factor that it was expected to be.
The race started in a painfully slow fashion and at the 5K mark in 18:25, there were still 70 women in the lead pack. 70!!! The average pace of 5:56 per mile would have these women finish in a time of 2:35:25 - not Olympic calibre. But no one seemed willing to push the pace and as we watched we could not see any of the recognizable women - all hidden deep in the pack. Leading the race was Mamorallo Tjoka of Lesotho - hardly a household name and, in fact, a runner who had never bested 3 hours in the marathon. What was going on, we asked ourselves... Ironically, one woman dropped out before the 5K mark - Deena Kastor, who by x-ray would later be diagnosed as having a broken bone in her foot, was forced to stop the race. We say ironically because it was Kastor who four years earlier had proven to be the most resilient of the runners and managed to gain the bronze medal by withstanding the conditions and outlasting so many other runners.
Paula Radcliffe, Gina Brunovese and Liz Yelling were some of the better known runners who took to the front of the pack and moved the pace along - slightly over the next 5K (10K in 36:11), but the pace was still very slow, with more than 50 women remaining in the front pack - an incredible and unbelievable number. We would expect fewer than half that number to be in the front, but the women were being overly conservative - worried, perhaps, that the heat would have a greater affect, or deciding to conserve all energy for the later stages of the race.
At eleven miles into the race, one woman became antsy and decided that it was time to begin to push the pace. Looking repeatedly at her watch, Constantina Tomescu-Dita began to push the lead and developed a small gap on the rest of the pack. By the halfway mark - two miles after Tomescu-Dita started her move, she had just five seconds on the rest of the pack. But her lead would continue to grow and either by design or good luck, Tomescu-Dita had chosen to start her push at the area of the course where curves in the road would allow her to escape from the view of the following runners.
By 30K, Tomescu-Dita had built a lead of nearly one minute - while the following pack still held a dozen very cautious runners, including Martha Komu, Zhou Chunxiu, Xioalin Zhu, Mara Yamauchi, Irina Timofeeva, Lidia Sikmon, Souad Ait Salem, Salina Kosgei, Zivile Balciunaite, Dire Tune, Madai Perez, Paula Radcliffe and Catherine Ndereba. Not unlike the New York City Marathon of 2006 where the field just let Jelena Prokopcuka run away for the win, this field seemed utterly unconcerned with Tomescu-Dita even when the course returned to its typical long straightaways and the field was able to see how far Tomescu-Dita had moved ahead.
While Tomescu-Dita continued to push forward alone - and would continue that way all the way to a Gold medal. A wholly separate race was building behind. The pack of a dozen women slowly disintegrated as some weaker women dropped back and Paula Radcliffe succumbed to a strange calf problem... After Mara Yamauchi, Irina Timofeeva and Lidia Simon dropped off - the race for silver and bronze became a strange spectacle of Kenya versus China - and perhaps this was the plan all along.
Wearing their respective colours, Chunxiu Zhou and Xiaolin Zhu of China and Martha Komu and Catherine Ndereba of Kenya began their race to sort out places 2 through 4. Knowing these runners, we would expect Zhou and Ndereba to be the strongest and as these two stepped onto the track in the Olympic stadium, the race turned into a 400 meter sprint to the finish.
With Tomescu-Dita still on the track waving and smiling to the fans as she approached the finish and her Gold Medal (2:26:44); behind her Ndereba, the reigning marathon world champion and previous world record holder had little trouble fending off Zhou and earned her second consecutiive Olympic Silver medal (2:27:06). Zhou finished in third position one second back (2:27:07) for bronze. Xiaolin Zhu finished fourth (2:27:16) and Martha Komu finished fifth (2:27:23).
We have no doubt that had she wanted to, Catherine Ndereba could have chased down Constantina Tomescu-Dita, but the world champion seemed content with waging her own race against Chunxui Zhou and accepting the Silver. We left the viewing of the race a bit confused - but happy to have seen a magnificent and gutsy performance by Tomescu-Dita.
photo: Olivier Morin/AFP
The day saw a number of casualties as a number of top prospects failed to finish, including: Berhane Adere, Gete Wami, Reiko Tosa, Olvera Jevtic, Galina Bogomolova and Deena Kastor.
1. Constantina Tomescu-Dita 2:26:44
2. Catherine Ndereba 2:27:06
3. Chunxiu Zhou 2:27:07
4. Xiaolin Zhu 2:27:16
5. Martha Komu 2:27:23
6. Mara Yamauchi 2:27:29
7. Irina Timofeeva 2:27:31
8. Lidia Elena Simon 2:27:51
9. Souad Ait Salem 2:28:29
10. Salina Kosgei 2:29:28