Weekend action at the Beijing Olympics ran the gamut. Not only did we get to see the long and short of it; we also got to see the young and old.
Much ado surrounded Dara Torres and her unlikely appearance at these Games. After all, a 41-year-old swimmer shows up in the Olympics about as often as a Chinese gymnast of legitimate age.
What Torres achieved was amazing. A silver medal in the 50-meter freestyle (oh, that hundredth of a second.) and two silver medals in the relays, both of which she anchored.
But in winning those three medals, Torres spent a little over two minutes in the water — 2:08.18, to be exact. And she swam only 250 meters.
Imagine if she had to compete for over two hours — 2 hours, 26 minutes, 44 seconds, to be exact. And run 26.2 miles. That’s what Constantina Tomescu-Dita did. But that was no problem for Tomescu-Dita. She’s only 38.
The Beijing marathons were expected to be ugly affairs, what with the heat, humidity and air you couldn’t see through, much less breathe. Probable conditions scared such stalwarts as Haile Gebreselassie of Ethiopia, the men’s world record holder, right out of the race. He chose to run the 10,000 meters instead, and finished sixth.
Mercifully, the women marathoners were greeted to 73 degree temperatures and a slight drizzle that cleared the air. Somewhat.
“The weather helped a lot,” Tomescu-Dita told Pat Graham of the Associated Press. “I’m very happy because it’s not very hot.”
Tomescu-Dita’s acclimated to cool weather. She lives and trains in Boulder, Colo., with her husband/coach, Valeriu Tomescu and their 13-year-old son, Raphael.
As you might expect of someone who’s 38, she’s been around a few marathon courses. She finished 20th in the Athens Olympic marathon. In 2005 marathons, she took bronze at the world championships, and was second in London. In 2006, she was seventh in London and fifth in Chicago. In 2007, she placed third in London.
In addition, the 5-foot, 3-inch, 106 pound fireball holds the Romanian records in everything from the 5,000 to the marathon.
But she had never won a big race. So, when she took the lead at the midpoint of Sunday’s race, no one seemed concerned.
“I didn’t notice when she disappeared,” silver medalist Catherine Ndereba of Kenya told Graham.
It happened that fast. Tomescu-Dita’s plan was to go at mid-race, if she felt good. She must have felt divine.
“Going into the second half, I thought I could do it,” Tomescu-Dita told Bob Ramsak of the IAAF. “I was pushing very hard, and wanted my gold medal.”
At the 13 mile mark, she held a four second lead. Two miles later, the lead was 24 seconds. Three miles after that, 57 seconds. By the time she hit the 21 mile mark, she led by 70 seconds.
Imagine being able to coast in over the last five miles of an Olympic marathon. Now imagine doing it at the ripe old age of 38. Incredible.
“It was just a beautiful day,” Tomescu-Dita told Diane Pucin of the Los Angeles Times.
Jamaica’s Usain Bolt certainly agrees with that assessment. The 6-foot, 5-inch Bolt flew to the men’s 100-meter championship in the ridiculous time of 9.69 seconds. That’s 3/100th’s of a second under his world record, set in New York in June.
And he won’t celebrate his 22nd birthday until this Thursday.
This guy who doesn’t even know how to run the race yet. He’s only run 100 meter races against world class competition in the past year. His coach wanted him to run only the 200 at the Games. The 200 is his specialty. Imagine.
This guy is so loose, he was pointing to the scoreboard where the times are flashed — before the race. And he began celebrating his victory 20 meters from the finish line.
“I didn’t know I was going to run so fast,” Bolt told Lynn Zinser of the New York Times. “But I came out to be a champion, and I was.”
By a wide margin. Darvis Patton can attest to that. Patton ran in the lane next to Bolt. That’s altogether different from running next to Bolt. “Its not even close,” he told Zinser. “He’s a legend in his own right. The guy’s a phenomenal athlete. He’s a freak of nature.”
Maybe it’s something in that Jamaican water. Sunday night, the Jamaican women put on a similarly stunning display.
Shelly-Ann Fraser, Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart pulled off the first sweep in a women’s 100 meter final. Fraser won in a quick 10.78 seconds, while Simpson and Stewart tied for the silver at 10.98.
Fraser is 21, and still has braces on her teeth. But she let Zinser in on the secret to the speed of the young Jamaicans:
Must be strong stuff.