Hours after winning the U.S. Olympic Women's Marathon Trials in
St. Louis last Saturday, Colleen De Reuck finally hit the wall.
At a reception with her fellow runners, De Reuck stood at the
dais, where those who had placed from 20th to second lined up to
congratulate her, and got so emotional she could barely complete
a sentence. "It was the ultimate goal to make this team," said De
Reuck, wiping away tears. "I called my mother back home and...."
More tears. Finally De Reuck excused herself and stepped next to
runner-up Deena Kastor, the prohibitive trials favorite whom De
Reuck had passed in the final two miles before finishing in
2:28:25. "You've done this before," Kastor said.
"Yeah, but this one is different," De Reuck replied. "This one is
De Reuck, who turns 40 next Tuesday, will be the oldest American
woman ever to run an Olympic marathon. She is an Olympic veteran,
having competed in the last three Games--twice in the marathon
and once at 10,000 meters--for her native South Africa. A year
after finishing ninth in the marathon in Barcelona in '92, she
and her husband, Darren, who coaches her, moved to Boulder,
Colo., where they fell in love with more than the beneficial high
altitude. "It's a beautiful life; great people, no stress," says
De Reuck, her Americanisms conveyed in a thick South African
accent. "Really it's a whole new ball game for us. Our daughter,
Tasmin, is nine, and she's an all-American girl. Home is where
you make it, and this is our home."
Two months ago Colleen took Tasmin to see Miracle, the film about
the 1980 U.S. hockey team. Colleen welled up at the drop of a
puck. "You know the line where the coach tells his team that they
play for the crest on the front of their jerseys rather than the
names on the back?" she says. "That just killed me. Tasmin was
like, 'Mom, stop, it's a movie.'"
Over the years De Reuck often clashed with South African track
federation officials, who criticized her for spending so much
time in the States. Tensions peaked at the World Cross Country
Championships in Morocco six years ago, when she insisted the
federation didn't need a group of 50 functionaries to accompany
20 athletes to the event. "I lost my patience," says De Reuck,
who became a U.S. citizen in December 2000, three months after
finishing 31st in the marathon at the Sydney Games.
But patience paid off for her on Saturday. De Reuck hung back as
Blake Russell maintained a one-minute advantage at 12 miles, and
she stayed within 45 seconds of Kastor once the favorite took the
lead at mile 18. When De Reuck pulled even at 24 miles, Kastor
couldn't stay with her. "Keep working, Col," Kastor said, warning
De Reuck not to fall into her fading pace. Kastor finished 1:13
behind De Reuck, and Jen Rhines took the third Olympic berth,
another 19 seconds back.
De Reuck's kick notwithstanding, the best U.S. medal candidate in
Athens remains the 31-year-old Kastor (formerly Deena Drossin), a
two-time world cross-country runner-up who in London last April
ran 2:21:16 to break Joan Benoit Samuelson's 17-year-old U.S.
marathon record. At 5'4", 105 pounds, she is a soft-spoken wisp
with single-minded resolve. She married Andrew Kastor, her
physical therapist, last September and lives in Mammoth Lakes,
Calif., in a house with no television. Running in the Sierras
last year, she once came within 10 feet of a family of bears that
merely stared and watched her pass. On another run she scared off
a pack of howling coyotes that had begun running alongside her by
flinging rocks at them. In 2000 she finished 12th in the world
cross-country race after having swallowed a bee that stung the
inside of her throat 100 meters into the race. As an aspiring
fiction writer and chef, she is meticulous about everything,
carefully managing her words, mileage, diet and daily naps, which
complement her 10 hours of nightly zzz's. "Sleeping takes work,"
Kastor says with runners' logic. "Can't overlook anything."
De Reuck and Kastor give the U.S. its best hope for a women's
Olympic marathon medal since Benoit Samuelson won the inaugural
women's race 20 years ago in Los Angeles. No American has
finished higher than 10th since then. But at last the road ahead
COLOR PHOTO: BILL GREENBLATT/UPI PHOTO UNFLAGGING De Reuck, a South African immigrant, celebrated her trials win.
COLOR PHOTO: THANASSIS STAVRAKIS/AP
Race with Time
The marathon has been billed as a marquee event at this summer's
Olympics: a chance for competitors to trace the route
Pheidippides ran 2,500 years ago to bring Athens news of a great
victory. But the project to widen and repave the 26.2-mile course
has, like so many others for these Games, been plagued by
delays--an AP writer last week described the route as a
"wasteland of dirt, pipes, rubble and cables." Greek officials
say the course will be finished by mid-June, but contractors may
need four more months. At least there's no roof to build.