Romania's Tomescu-Dita wins women's marathon
Constantina Tomescu-Dita of Romania won the women's marathon in a walk at the Summer Olympics in Beijing on Sunday morning.
Tomescu-Dita, 38, blitzed the field of 83 competitors in capturing the gold medal in a season-best time of two hours, 26.44 minutes.
It was a sterling effort from the Romanian veteran, who first made headlines by winning the 2005 world half-marathon championships in Edmonton.
Tomescu-Dita led unchallenged for more than an hour, running alone for more than half of the race — a remarkable achievement given the quality of the Beijing field.
"It was a great performance," she told reporters.
"At the world [half-marathon] championships in Canada, everybody said I could not run. But I showed today what I can do."
Reigning world champion Catherine Ndereba of Kenya won the silver medal by one second in a sprint to the finish over China's Zhou Chunxiu, who earned bronze.
"I'm not disappointed," Ndereba said. "Disappointed is not in my vocabulary when I'm doing this."
Ndereba finished 22 seconds behind the winner in 2:27.06, but she never truly threatened, hanging four seconds behind the chase group before making her move.
No Canadians competed in the event.
Tomescu-Dita looked strong as she entered the National Stadium to a rousing ovation from the crowd of 60,000.
The cheers reached a crescendo as she emerged from the tunnel entrance, but Tomescu-Dita circled the track with purpose until safely headed for home.
With a scant few metres remaining, the exhausted yet jubilant winner finally relaxed enough to blow kisses as she broke the tape.
"I pushed hard and wanted my gold medal," Tomescu-Dita said. "I was looking back the whole time."
The gruelling course snaked through the streets of Beijing from Tiananmen Square to the Bird's Nest, and its topography boasted four hilly sections, with the zenith at roughly the point where Tomescu-Dita took control.
Tomescu broke from the pack halfway through the 42-kilometre race, setting such a relentless pace that she pulled ahead by as much as 1:17 with 20 minutes to go.
The chase group, reduced to seven by that point, was led by Zhou, who shared teammate Zhu Xiaolin's water bottle to stay hydrated and in contention.
Zhu finished fourth in a season best 2:27.16, nine seconds behind the bronze medallist.
Britain's Paula Radcliffe, one of the pre-race favourites, paused momentarily to vomit at the midway mark, but she scampered back and led the chase group for several kilometres before leg problems forced her to stop and stretch.
Radcliffe crossed the finish line in 2:32:38, nearly six minutes behind Tomescu-Dita in 23rd.
It marked the first time that Radcliffe had finished a marathon — and lost.
"In my mind, I felt good," she told CBC Sports. "But my legs didn't have enough running behind them … I felt like I was just running on one leg."
Radcliffe, who has owned the world record of 2:15.25 since 2003, began to labour and fall back over the final half hour, in part because of a stress fracture that forced her to expedite her training.
Finishing became a personal challenge for the courageous Brit, who entered the Beijing marathon billed as something of a sentimental favourite following her distraught withdrawal at the 2004 Athens Games, when she was overcome by the oppressive heat and humidity.
"They told me when it [the stress fracture] was diagnosed that it would be impossible for me to be here," she said, breaking out in tears.
"I just wouldn't believe that. I wanted to come and try it."
The weather co-operated nicely in Beijing, with a high of 22 C and slightly overcast skies that helped keep the runners cooler than in Greece fours years ago.
With files from the Canadian Press