39-Year-Old Christelle Daunay Of France Becomes Fastest, Oldest European Marathon Champion
By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
ZÜRICH (16-Aug) — For two hours and 12 minutes, France’s Christelle Daunay and Italy’s Valeria Straneo ran in lock-step at the European Championships Marathon here this morning. Two of the oldest competitors in the race at 39 and 38 years-old, respectively, they were on pace to break both the championships and Swiss all-comers records in one fell swoop, despite having to climb and descend a 44 meter hill on each of the 10-kilometer loops which made up the heart of the course.
“It was difficult course,” Daunay would tell reporters later. “I had to be patient. In this difficult race the four times I had to climb.”
As she uttered those words at the post-race press conference, she looked over at Straneo, the world championships silver medalist from Moscow last August. Her admiration for the Italian, who set an honest pace of 1:12:23 through halfway, was clear. Daunay knew that her strongest rival had given her all today and had been beaten.
“I was looking for Valeria because she’s very strong,” said Daunay. “But, I know I am strong as well, so I attacked at the end.”
Using the final downhill portion of the course, Daunay pushed the pace, slowly left the cramping Straneo, and rolled to the finish line in a championships and all-comers record of 2:25:14, a time the Italian head marathon coach Lucio Gigliotti called “fantastic” given the difficulty of the course.
“I’m very, very happy to have won the gold medal,” said the always modest Daunay. She continued: “I’m proud to be part of the French team, and I wanted to get up on the podium as well. The other gold medal winners from France showed me the way.”
Straneo, who equaled her 2:25:27 time of the 2012 London Olympics, was pleased with her silver medal, despite the expectations of many Italian fans that she was the likely winner.
“Christelle was stronger today,” she said plainly in English. “I was not granted today that I would be at podium. Marathon is difficult. It’s not granted. I’m happy to be on the podium. The podium is wonderful. Wow!”
Behind the first two women, Portugal’s Jessica Augusto had run an intelligent race. After Straneo took the lead group out at a very swift 17:20, she allowed herself to fall back. She realized that was too fast for her today, and she needed to hold something in reserve if she was going to have a chance for the podium.
“I was a little behind the first group, but I listened to my body and went with my rhythm,” she said in French.
Holding a steady pace, she caught, fell behind, then caught again Turkey’s Olympic silver medalist Elvan Abeylegesse who struggled with the steep climb on each loop. With one 10-kilometer circuit left to go, Augusto was about 20 seconds behind the leaders, but well ahead of the fading Abeylegesse, Croatia’s Lisa Nemec (nee Stublic) and Italy’s Anna Incerti, the defending champion. She held that position to win Portugal’s first medal of these championships in 2:25:41.
“I am happy to have won the first medal for Portugal,” she said. “I worked for that medal.”
Nemec (2:28:36), Abeylegesse (2:29:46) and Incerti (2:29:58) rounded out the top six, and were the only other athletes to break 2:30. Two other medal contenders, Spain’s Alessandra Aguilar and Germany’s Sabrina Mockenhaupt, had bad days. Both failed to finish.
The Luik triplets, who comprised the Estonian team, all finished. Liina was 28th (2:41:48), Leila was 43rd (2:45:59) and Lily was 47th (2:48:49).
As for Daunay, she enjoyed a special satisfaction from her victory. While she was a good runner in her 20’s, she didn’t blossom into a star until her mid-30’s. Like Britain’s Jo Pavey, who won the 10,000m earlier this week at 40 years-old, Daunay is thankful for every good day of training she has.
“It is my pleasure to work to continue my career,” she said. “As long as I’m in shape, I’m going to run and continue running with a lot of pleasure. The gold medal I won makes me want to continue to run. I don’t know what my next step will be. In the next few days I’m going to think about it.”
For this evening, however, she said she would celebrate with at least a little French wine.
“Yes, champagne,” she said.