Diṭă victorious at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Marathon

Beijing won the voting to hold the 2008 Summer Olympics, defeating bids from Toronto, Paris, Istanbul, and Osaka. The Chinese government invested heavily in renovating and constructing the venues that would host the competitions. Athletics would take place in the Beijing National Stadium, known as the Bird´s Nest.

The women´s marathon was planned for August 17 following an urban course designed specifically for the event. The main concerns for athletes during the Games had been pollution, heat, and humidity. On marathon day though, cool temperature, overcast sky and occasional drizzle were going to keep the race bearable.

There were 82 women classified for the marathon. The strong field included 6 of the 10 fastest marathoners ever, including 29 runners who had already been in Athens 2004, including the three medallists Noguchi (Japan), Ndereba (Kenya) and Kastor (USA). Again, among the favourites was Paula Radcliffe, from the UK and WR holder, trying to overcome her earlier Olympic failure.

Constantina Diță was born in Turburea, Romania, in 1970. She grew up in a farm, where she spent much time running around the animals. At high school she played handball but changed to running after participating in a race where she managed to win all the guys. As many other runners she started competing in cross country events, although she included many other distances in her racing calendar. Her first marathon was in 1997 when she won a silver medal in the European Championships of 1999. Focused more on the 42k distance she was 10th at the World Championships of Edmonton 2001, 20th at the Olympics of Athens 2004, and 3rd in the World Championships of Helsinki 2005. Her PB of 2.21.30 achieved on the Chicago Marathon of 2005 was her best credential for Beijing 2008.

The race started slowly, with many runners in a big group when crossing the 10k in 36.10 for an expected finishing time over 2h30m. Despite this, Deena Kastor, one of the favourites, was already out by the 5k.

Around the 16k, another of the medallists from Athens 2004, Ndereba, started to lose contact too, although she managed to keep the leading group close enough to maintain her ambitions. The half marathon was crossed in 1.15.11.

At that point things got interesting, when Diță decided to shake things up. She went in front and run the next two kilometres in 3.20 each, opening a 30 second gap with the still large group of around 20 runners. But they were not prepared to make things easy for Constantina: none other than the WR holder Radclilffe took the responsibility for the chase.

Nevertheless, they lacked coordination, and Ditä´s lead continued to increase. With Radcliffe suffering and the chasing group down to 10 runners, Zhou Chunxiu of China went in front pursuing Diță, who crossed the 30k in 1.45.04, 57s ahead of them. Ndereba, coming from behind, caught with the group again.

With 7k to go, Diță had an advantage of 1.10. Her 5k intervals had been unreachable. But she still had to suffer before grabbing the gold medal. Her pursuers efforts were paying off in this last section, with the gap between them closing fast. But it wasn´t enough, and Diță crossed the finish line first, in 2.26.44, only 22s ahead of Ndereba, who managed to get again the silver medal after surpassing the local runner Chunxiu in the track of the Bird´s Nest by only 1s.

It had been a tight end: a total of 7 runners finished the marathon below 2.28.00, among them other of the Chinese runners, Xiaolin Zhu, in 4th, and the other Romanian, the veteran Lidia Simon, 8th in her 4th Olympic appearance.

For Constantina Diță her victory in Beijing 2008 was the pinnacle of her sports career, at the late age of 38. She managed to classify for the marathon in London 2012, although she couldn´t repeat her success.

Her PB obtained in the 2005 Chicago Marathon (2.21.30) is still the Romanian national record.



Beijing National Stadium (Bird´s Nest)

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