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LI’s Maria Michta-Coffey qualifies for Rio Olympics in race walk

Maria Michta-Coffey celebrates after winning the women's 20-kilometer

Maria Michta-Coffey celebrates after winning the women's 20-kilometer race walk at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, Thursday, June 30, 2016, in Salem Ore. Credit: AP/ Charlie Riedel

SALEM, Oregon — Maria Michta-Coffey is headed back to the Olympics.

Michta-Coffey, who is from Nesconset and now lives in Farmingville, won the women’s 20-kilometer race walk at the U.S. Olympic trials Thursday. She finished with a 1-hour, 33-minute, 41-second performance over a road course that started and finished in front of the Oregon state capital building.

Moments after winning the race, Michta-Coffey emphatically declared that she would be going to Rio despite fears over the Zika virus.

“I have never had thoughts about not going to Rio,” said Michta-Coffey, a Sachem North High School and LIU Post graduate.

And she — of all the Olympians and would-be Olympians gathered in Oregon for the U.S. Olympics track and field trials — knows the subject best.

A valedictorian at Post, Michta-Coffey has earned her doctorate in microbiology at Manhattan’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine and plans to plunge full-time into her career path after her return from August’s Olympics in Rio.

“Yes, yes, I am definitely going,” Michta-Coffey said.

Michta-Coffey, 30, placed 29th in the 20-kilometer race walk at the 2012 London Olympics in a then-personal best time of 1:32:27.

“As a microbiologist, of course, it shows how important it is for you to study all viruses, to be concerned with all of them, even if they are not an immediate, direct threat,” she said. “But you have to look at the facts, too. It is wintertime in Brazil, and in winter it is certainly less of a problem. You have to look at the Zika population there, and it will definitely be lower when we’re there.

“I haven’t really been studying all the literature (on Zika) the last month, either. I just wanted to focus on being ready for these trials.”

Once the race started, there was no holding back Michta-Coffey.

Urged on by husband-coach Joe Coffey, the track and field coach at Sachem East High School, and cheered by a delegation of family members, there were few doubts, especially over the final 10 kilometers.

Gaining full approval of the panel of judges — headed by former St. John’s University track great Maryanne Daniel — she walked home in perfect, technical style.

Miranda Melville, the 27-year-old San Diego resident, traded strides with Michta-Coffey for half the race before the Long Islander broke it open.

Reeling off consistent 4:30-ish splits for each of the 19 one-kilometer loops on Cottage Street, Michta-Coffey walked home a decisive winner.

Even though her time wasn’t close to her career-best of 1:30:49, and Melville did not approach her best-ever of 1:31:49, either, finishing in 1:34:12, it didn’t really matter. Both were well under the Olympic qualifying requirement of 1:36:00.

Both leaders, in fact, had posted qualifying times earlier this year, competing at the Asian Championships.

Loretta Schuellein-McGovern, 38, of Locust Valley, a mom of three and another LIU Post honors graduate, placed 10th in 1:50:40, and Katie Michta, 20, the Molloy College Nursing School junior and younger sister of the winner, was 12th in 1:52:43.

“Our goal in Rio for Maria will be a top-20 finish, and Miranda can be right up there, too,” said Tim Seaman, the three-time Olympian with Long Island roots, too, now based in San Diego, who coaches both of them.

“I am really happy with their performances today, and really excited for their chances in Rio,” he said. “They’re both in great shape. Now they just have to do what they’re supposed to do in Brazil.”


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