Maria Michta takes 29th in Olympic 20-kilometer walk; Russia's Elena Lashmanova sets world record with win

Maria Michta of the United States, center, competes Maria Michta of the United States, center, competes in the 20-kilometer women's race walk competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics. (August 11, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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LONDON -- For Maria Michta, it was all joy.

"I walked the fastest 20k of my life in the biggest race of my life; that's as good as it gets," the 26-year-old Nesconset resident exulted Saturday after completing the women's Olympic 20-kilometer walk in one hour, 32 minutes and 37 seconds, good for 29th place in the 61-athlete starting field.

She did a whole lot more than walk the 12.4-mile distance -- in a 10-lap race staged over a 2k loop in the Mall area of Green Park, with Buckingham Palace as a backdrop -- quicker than ever before.

She cut a huge two minutes and 25 seconds off her previous personal best and she walked the distance faster than any American 20k walker had ever gone in the Olympic Games.

She wasn't close to reaching the podium -- the medals went to Russia's Elena Lashmanova (in the world and Olympic record time of 1:25:02) and Olga Kaniskina (1:25:09) and China's Shenjie Qieyang (1:25:16) -- but she beat over half the field in an event in which the U.S. has never excelled.

And, maybe, just maybe she inspired other American athletes to give the sport a try.

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"It was a dream race for me," said the Sachem High School and LIU Post honors graduate now pursuing doctoral studies in microbiology at Manhattan's Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

"On July 1 [at the USA Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore.] I got to become an Olympian, but today I actually became an Olympian. That's became, with an 'a' in it, so this was my 'a' standard.

"I had my whole family here, too. My mom, my dad, my sister, my brother, my fiancé and this was his birthday, his sister and his parents.

"And USA team distance coach Rose Monday was great, too, giving me plenty of encouragement."

Michta started conservatively, then began moving up. She was still 46th at the 10k midway point but got there in a personal-best time of 46:02.

Then she continued picking off rivals in the second half of the race, moving to 36th place at 12k, 32nd at 14k and 29th at 16k, and that's where she remained. She'd hoped to walk a negative split race (second 10k faster than the first) but that didn't happen. Her second 10k was 46:25.

"At the end, a lot of the other people were dying more than me, but I just kept on moving up.

"I was just full of emotions; adrenaline carried me through.

"All in all, it was the best race of my entire life. I could never have planned it better."

The 1:32:27 easily topped the 1:34:15 performance by New Hampshire's Joanne Dow in 2008, as the best by a U.S. woman at the Games, Lashmanova came on with a huge rush in the last of 10 laps to overhaul a front-walking teammate.

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Kaniskina, the former Olympic record-holder with her 1:26:31 performance at Beijing in 2008, had hoped to become the first woman to repeat as 20k champion.

"This is difficult for me to deal with," Kaniskina said. "But I'm pleased for my teammate, she deserved it."

"I would never imagined something like this," Lashmanova said.

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