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Romanian runs away with Olympic women's marathon

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BOB BAUM | August 16, 2008 10:32 PM EST | AP

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BEIJING — Romania's Constantina Tomescu-Dita soared into the Bird's Nest, turning the Olympic marathon into a one-woman race.

Tomescu-Dita pulled away from the lead pack near the halfway mark Sunday to win by 22 seconds over her nearest challenger.

Reigning world champion Catherine Ndereba of Kenya outsprinted China's Zhou Chunxiu for the silver to the disappointment of the roaring crowd at National Stadium. Still, the bronze was China's first medal in track and field. Another Chinese runner, Zhu Xiaolin, was fourth.

The 26.2-mile race was expected to be the biggest test yet of what impact the polluted skies of Beijing would have on the Olympic endurance events. Instead, the weather provided the runners with relief. Gray skies replaced the blue of the previous two days with a light rain falling at times and a temperature of 73 degrees.

Tomescu-Dita won in 2 hours, 26 minutes, 44 seconds. Ndereba, a pre-race favorite, finished in 2:27:06, one second ahead of Zhou.

Tomescu-Dita, 2005 world championship bronze medalist, blew kisses to the crowd and raised her arms in triumph as she crossed the finish line.

As thousands lined the streets through the Chinese capital the 38-year-old Romanian ran away from the rest to lead by more than a minute through the race's later stages. She steadily increased her lead from there. Until near the end _ and by then, it was too late.

American record holder Deena Kastor, the bronze medalist in Athens four years ago, pulled out just over 3 miles into the race with an injured right foot. She said she had experienced soreness for the past week and "felt something pop."

The 35-year-old Kastor went to one knee in pain, the limped off the course.

"As athletes, we have ups and downs," she said. "Unfortunately, you can't pick the days they come on."