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BEIJING 2008 : TRACK AND FIELD

It's a gold for Romanian mom, 38

August 17, 2008|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING -- Running through a welcome drizzle that cleared the air and lowered the temperature to a pleasant 73 degrees at the start, Constantina Tomescu-Dita came into the Bird's Nest, the national track stadium, and looked behind her.

When she didn't see anyone, Tomescu-Dita, a 38-year-old mother from Romania, broke into a smile and started waving to the crowd. Her lap around the Olympic stadium track was a winner's lap.

She won the women's marathon gold medal today in 2 hours 26 minutes 44 seconds, 22 seconds ahead of silver medalist Catherine Ndereba of Kenya, the world champion.

Ndereba outsprinted China's Zhou Chunxiu at the end even as the crowd stood and chanted Zhou's name. It chanted again when bronze medalist Zhou grabbed a Chinese flag and held it for her countrywoman, fourth-place finisher Zhu Xiaolin.

The 26.2-mile race began at Tiananmen Square and wound through two universities and into the stadium, where the crowd was estimated to be 50,000.

Tomescu-Dita, who won the marathon bronze medal at the 2005 world championships, afterward said the course suited her. "I felt so good," Tomescu-Dita said. "It was just a beautiful day."

Ndereba, the pre-race favorite, couldn't match Tomescu-Dita's power over the last third of the course. But when Zhou tried to sneak past Ndereba in the last 10 meters, Ndereba lowered her shoulders and was able to sprint.

Tomescu-Dita, a former handball player, is married to her coach, Valeriu Dita. The couple has a 13-year-old son.

It wasn't a good day for U.S. runners. American-record holder Deena Kastor of Mammoth Lakes, who won the bronze in Athens, collapsed onto one knee about three miles into the race and clutched her right foot. After rubbing the foot, she tried to jog in place, then tried to walk through the pain for a few paces, but she went back to her knees and then left the course.

Kastor, 35, said she had felt pain for a week but hoped it was just from training.

"I thought it was just tendons," she said. "Sometimes they get hypersensitive before a race. I was icing it and I thought I trained fine this week.

"But then today I just all of a sudden felt a pop in my foot and I couldn't stand on it. I didn't expect to be finishing the marathon on a bus."

Britain's Paula Radcliffe, 34, who had been the favorite in the Athens Olympics but had to leave the race because of dehydration, had another bad day, but this time anything else would have been a surprise.

Radcliffe, the world-record holder, had been training for months with a stress fracture in her left leg. After arriving in Beijing, Radcliffe told the BBC, "I have a lot of unfinished business with the Olympics."

But after staying with the lead pack for about 20 miles, Radcliffe fell back. At one point she stopped, grimaced and stretched before continuing. She finished 23rd.

The best U.S. finisher was Blake Russell, 33, of Pacific Grove, Calif., who finished 27th in 2:33.13. Magdalena Lewy Boulet, the third U.S. entrant, left the race because of an injury.

--

diane.pucin@latimes.com

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