RIO DE JANEIRO — With the oppressive Brazilian heat early and strong winds late, Maria Michta-Coffey needed a little extra motivation to finish the Olympic women’s 20-kilometer race walk Friday.
That’s when her husband and coach, Joe Coffey, reminded Michta-Coffey about her motivation for the race.
“With 4K to go, he said, ‘You’ve got to do 4K for Grandma,’ ” Michta-Coffey said of Jenny Michta of Lake Ronkonkoma. “I haven’t shared this with anyone, but my grandmother passed away when I was here, so I dedicated this race to her.
“The whole race was for Grandma.”
Michta-Coffey, a Nesconset native and Farmingville resident, took 22nd place, finishing in 1 hour, 33 minutes, 36 seconds in the race walk, where athletes always have to have a foot on the ground and your knee has to be locked straight before you take a step forward.
Liu Hong of China won gold in 1:28.35. Maria Guadalupe Gonzalez of Mexico won the silver, and Lu Xiuzhi of China earned the bronze.
Liu, the world-record holder, served a reduced one-month doping ban this summer for testing positive for higenamine at the World Race Walking Team Championships in May in Rome, where she won. She was then cleared to compete in Rio.
Michta-Coffey, who took 28th in the 2012 London Olympics, said she used the temperatures in the mid-80s with strong humidity to her advantage as others faded at the Pontal Beach course in western Rio.
“It’s favorable conditions for me doing well, because I know how to race within myself and that’s how I started, and a lot of people come out too hard and get swept up,” she said. “That allowed for a great finish. Even though I’m slowing down, they’re slowing down more so mentally I feel so good about it because I keep picking people off.”
After hitting the 2K mark in 48th, Michta-Coffey started making her move. The U.S. Olympic trials champion only went backward on the standings once in each of the remaining recorded 2-kilometer splits.
At the end, she passed Maria Guadalupe Sanchez of Mexico at the finish line, well within her top-25 goal.
“You have to have expectations that are realistic,” Michta-Coffey said. “I wanted to improve on what I did in London, so I’m really happy with that.”
Michta-Coffey, 30, had a cheering section of her husband, mother and younger sister Katie.
“It was not the crowd we had in London, but I’m just so thankful that we got three people out there,” Michta-Coffey said. “Hearing my sister’s voice, hearing my husband and seeing my mom, she was waiving that flag so proudly, and it just inspired me so much.”
Michta-Coffey, a microbiologist and Sachem High School graduate, also attended gymnastics and diving events in Brazil, along with the Opening Ceremony.
“Watching our girls get gold in gymnastics, it’s probably every little girl’s dream back home to watch that live,” said Michta-Coffey, an LIU Post graduate who also attended Manhattan’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Michta-Coffey said she had no thoughts of dropping out despite the loss of her grandmother.
“This is the Olympics, this is what it’s about,” Michta-Coffey said. “It’s about representing yourself, your country and the people that you love the most, so I hope I did everyone proud back home.”