MOSCOW - "Attack, attack, attack," Maria Michta kept telling herself.
Stride after stride after stride. Kilometer after kilometer after kilometer.
Most popular sports stories
Trouble was that it took a while for that message to sink in Tuesday, as the 27-year-old Nesconset resident faced off against the best of the best in the women's 20-kilometer walk final at the world track and field championships.
Just as she had at the 2012 London Olympic Games, Michta started conservatively, gradually gathered steam, sped past an array of tiring rivals in the second half of the 12.4-mile event, and gained back more ground in the late stages than she'd lost in the beginning.
Her 1-hour, 33-minute, 51-second performance, brought her home in 34th place, tops among American competitors. The starting field of 62 was gathered from 32 countries and five continents. She placed 29th at the London Olympics in 1:32:27, the best time an American woman 20k walker had ever done at the Games.
"Certainly I'd have liked to place higher, but this was still the second-fastest 20k of my life, so I've got to be happy about that," Michta said. "This can't quite match London in a lot of different ways. I had my whole family there rooting for me. The atmosphere there [the race started and finished near Buckingham Palace] was amazing. But this was still pretty good."
Instead of a big supportive entourage for her like in London, Tim Seaman was here to scream solo encouragement.
Seaman, the U.S. men's 20k walker from North Babylon now based in California, is Michta's coach.
"Tim had me right on pace," Michta said.
But she never could match the cadence or turnover of Russians Elena Lashminova (1:27:08) and Anisya Kiryapkin (1:27:11), or China's Hong Liu (1:28:10), who walked off with the medals.
The walkers started on the track inside massive Luzhniki Stadium, which was virtually empty for the 9:35 a.m. start. The walkers completed 550 meters on the track before heading out to a riverside park 2-kilometer loop course, which they covered nine times, before their return to the stadium.
For more than 16 kilometers (10 miles), Michta trailed Oregon's Erin Gray in the race-within-a-race to determine the American leader.
She caught Gray on the final 2-kilometer loop and wound up nine places and 49 seconds ahead of her tiring teammate. The third U.S. entry, Miranda Melville of upstate Rush, N.Y., incurred the displeasure of the judges and wound up on the disqualified list for technique violations.
Michta likes to remind people, too, that "I'm a full-time student [working for a doctoral degree in microbiology at Manhattan's Mount Sinai School of Medicine] competing against all these full-time professional athletes.
"I work 10 to 12 hours a day, and some weekends; they can train all day long if they want," she said. "Sure it's unfair, but that's life."