Boston, USADeena Kastor made sure Sunday that she will be lining up for the women’s marathon in Beijing. The Athens bronze medallist in the marathon passed Magdalena Lewy Boulet late in the race to win the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials-Women’s Marathon in 2:29:35.
“It just an honor to be on the U.S. team again,” said Kastor, who will be joined on the team by Lewy Boulet (2:30:19) and Blake Russell (2:32:40).
It wasn’t easy. On paper, Kastor was a huge favourite - her qualifying time of 2:19:36 was 12 minutes faster than the next fastest- but soon after the gun the race dynamic changed instantly when Lewy Boulet charged off into the lead.
From the gun, Lewy Boulet takes command
A native of Poland who received her U.S. citizenship in 2001, Lewy Boulet had a 35-second lead on a large pack that included Kastor just two miles into the race. By five miles (28:48) that lead was 65 seconds, and growing.
Lewy Boulet was not a pretender. She had a 2:30:50 PR from St. Louis in 2004 and had recently run a PR for 10,000 metres on the track, running 32:33 at the Stanford Invitational. She set about running 2:30 pace, since it was common knowledge that 2:30 would get you on the team.
“I was a little surprised that no one was coming with me,” she said. “I just wanted to run an even pace. That’s what I trained for. I was not in the position to go out in 1:16, 1:17 for the half and then go 1:12, which I know Deena can do. I just did what I was capable of doing.”
By half-way, a pack of Kastor, Russell, Mary Akor, Samia Akbar, Elva Dryer, Kate O’Neil, Melissa White, Desiree Davila, Desiree Flicker, Zoila Gomez and Ann Alynak was almost two minutes behind.
Strong second half for Kastor
But that’s when Kastor started giving chase. She ratcheted up the pace, while Akor and Russell held on. By mile 15 (1:25:26 for Boulet and 1:27:15 for Kastor and company) the small chase pack was running faster than Boulet for the first time in the race. A half mile later, Kastor struck out on her own, and she started closing.
“I thought for many miles that I may have misjudged,” she said. “I wanted to be as comfortable as possible the first half of the race, and there was a good portion of the middle section where I may have misjudged Magdalena’s strength. But as I picked up the pace half-way through the crowds kept yelling I was a minute 40 seconds back. So I picked up the pace a little bit more.”
At 20 miles two races were unfolding. The first was between Lewy Boulet and Kastor. Could the early leader hold off Kastor’s challenge? And the second was a tense battle between Russell and Davila. Who would nab the third and final spot on the team?
The first question revealed an answer when Boulet slowed to a 5:57 21st mile, while Kastor was running at a pace that was almost 30 seconds faster per mile. The second revealed itself when Russell, who was fourth at the 2004 trials, dug deep to hold off Davila, who could get no closer than 8 seconds.
“Redemption, finally,” said Russell. “It means a fourth place finish isn’t my claim to fame. The goal was top three by an inch or a mile. And I knew that’s what I had to do.”
Yet the final miles were really all about Kastor. The American record holder passed Lewy Boulet at 23 ½ miles, and then used her exaggerated arm action to power away, showcasing some beautiful solo running in the final miles to the delight of thick crowds along the course. She also grabbed a small American flag on the homestretch and waved it to the crowds.
“I accomplished my two major goals coming into this race,” said Kastor. “First was to make the team, to solidify a spot. The second was to win.”
Kastor’s first place finish means that she has qualified for three straight Olympic teams (she ran the 10,000 metres at the Sydney Olympics).
“Deena is following in Joan Benoit’s footsteps of establishing a big legacy in the sport,” said Mary Wittenberg, ING New York City Marathon race director. “While making the team was all that really mattered to most people, what really mattered to Deena is that she wanted to win this one. It’s part of that intense competition - to go for it, to push yourself beyond doing what you have to do. Deena has always gone for it. In every race she runs she has always gone for it.”
Dave Kuehls for the IAAF