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Balciunaite Surprises In Barcelona

Lithuanian wins women’s marathon at European Championships.

Written by: David Monti
(c) 2010 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

With a definitive and impromptu move in the 29th kilometer, Lithuania’s Zivile Balciunaite ran into the record books here Saturday, winning Lithuania’s first ever European Championships marathon medal, giving her Baltic nation of 3.5 million people at least one gold medal to celebrate from these championships.

“I can’t say it in words,” Balciunaite said when describing how important her achievement was for her country.  “I think about it so many years. My coach, when we’re training for this championship she told me, ‘you have to go to win, you have to go to win.  It’s your time.'”

Balciunaite was part of a dawdling lead pack of 11 women, led by Portugal’s Marisa Barros, which came through the halfway mark in just 1:16:24.  With the temperature at 27.5°C (82°F) accompanied by 69% humidity when the race started on the Passeo de Picasso, the women took a cautious approach to avoid overheating.  But Balciunaite, 31, thought the weather was excellent.

“I like this weather,” Balciunaite intoned.  “In Beijing for me it was so cold, in Gothenburg for me four years ago it was so cold.”

The 11 women, including medal favorites Barros, Anna Incerti and Rosaria Console of Italy, Olivera Jevtic of Serbia, Isabellah Andersson of Sweden, Tetyana Filonyuk of Ukraine, and Nailya Yulamanova of Russia, were still together through 25 kilometers and running at a pace which would bring them to the finish line in about two hours and 33 minutes.  Balciunaite was planning to hold the easy pace longer, but her coach shouted to her from the side of the course to accelerate.

“My coach called to me, ‘change speed!’ and I change,” Balciunaite explained.

The surge was fairly gentle, but the pack did not react.  By the 30K mark, she had a 19-second lead, and was rapidly pulling clear of the field.  She knew at that moment she would win.

“My coach, my friends, people they believed [in] me,” she said.  “They said, ‘it’s your weather, it’s your day.'”

Wearing her white Lithuania team cap pulled low and sporting enormous sunglasses which hid her blue eyes and freckles, Balciunaite did not give the other women a chance to catch up.  She covered the 10 kilometers from 30K to 40K in 34:59, far faster than the rest of the field.  Shooting one more look over her shoulder as she entered the finish straight of the flat, four-lap course for the last time, Balciunaite rolled uncontested to the finish line in 2:31:14.

Behind her, Yulamanova and Incerti were locked in the battle for silver.  The Russian was able to pull away from the tiring Italian before the 40K point, and took home the silver medal in 2:32:15.  Incerti, her arms raised high, waving to the crowd, crossed next for bronze in 2:32:48.  Well behind the top-3, Filonyuk (2:33:57) and Andersson (2:34:43) rounded out the top-5.  Overcome by the heat, Incerti’s teammate Console finished tenth in 2:36:20.

In the European Cup team competition, Russia earned the top spot with a total time for their top-3 finishers of 7:44:39.  Italy was second in 7:46:18.