My eyes welled up with tears as I watched Constantina Tomescu run into the Bird’s nest as she finished up the Olympic women’s marathon. Every four years, I wait in anxious anticipation for the finish of this prestigous race. While in the marathon we run along the streets with cheering crowds, I cannot imagine how enthralling it must be to finish a race by running up into a foot-ball like stadium where people from all over the world are watching and cheering; where you are finishing a race not only for yourself, but for your country. That must be the most powerful feeling in the world. It chokes me up every time.
While Michael Phelps and Dara Tores were preparing for their final races, 38-year-old Constantina Tomescu of Romania was sailing through the streets of Bejing. She was moving fluidly and easily as she maintained at 57-second lead against 7 other younger and faster maratoners.
When the gun went off at Tiananmen Square at 7:30 AM on August 17, Tomescu was not running in the very front of the pack. In fact, she was unnoticable among the likes of England’s Liz Yelling who lead the race in the first few miles with confidence but at an almost too-comfortable pace. In fact, race commentators were surprised that no one wanted to take the lead, that the women were all running at a very conservative pace. Yelling basically decided to stay in front of the pack and everyone seemed to let her, until about the half way mark, when all hell broke loose.
The day started out completely different than what people had expected. The air was surprising clear for the smog had lifted and the temperature was a balmy 72 degrees. The runners, many of whom prepared for months and had expected terrible conditions, may have been surprised by the break in the forecast. None of them changed their running plan. Tomescu, therefore, was merely biding her time. She held back and ran out of the public eye. The comentators were focusing on the chinese women and England’s other superstar runner, Paula Radcliffe, who dropped out of the 2004 Olympic marathon due to injury. This 34-year-old mother won the New York City marathon only 9 months post partum. This amazing mother is world renown for her efforts, her Wiki page full of accomplishments and was hoping to win her first Olympic medal, but it was not to be.
Radcliffe was in pain. A nagging back injury and leg pain hampered Radcliffe’s progress.
So when Tomescu, a mother with a teenage son from the Eastern block finally increasd the pace and took the lead, Radcliffe could not chase her. In fact, no one could.
It was surprising that no one paced Tomescu as she took the lead. It was like all of the women behind her, who had mentally prepared to run a conservative race because they assumed there would be high pollution levels and deadly heat, could not think freely enough to change their plans to catch Tomescu. Her break away from the pack was an intellengent move; a strategic maneuver to out wit those who would simply run the race they planned for the day.
But Tomescu’s strategy has not worked for her in the past. In fact, her breakaway tactic has only won her one race, the Chicago Marathon in 2005. So this strategy was potentially cagy but in hindsight it was brilliant. With no one wanting to take the helm, Tomescu’s statement was loud and clear. She was taking the lead, period. She was daring herself as if she knew she was not going to run into a deadly blume of pollution. It’s like other runners didn’t believe her, and stayed back.
It was difficult to understand why the “final four” elite women from China and Zimbabwe wanted to trail so far behind Tomescu for so many miles. They seemed settled on running together as if the gold meant nothing. Tomescu wanted her medal and deserved it. She made it look so easy. She was so relaxed and poised. It was thrilling to watch her.
Tomescu’s husband and coach, rode along the marathon course on his bicycle. While they had planned for Tomescu to bolt at about the half way mark, this tactic that has not worked for Temescu in the past. But in this race on this day, her move won her the gold.
Her finish was emotional for me on a few fronts. First, I was impressed by her age, the fact she is a mother, and the fact that she showed that experience pays off. She, like Dara Tores, raced against women half her age and demonstrated that Olympic moms are in a league of their own.