Christine Clark was having trouble holding form at a press
conference after winning the U.S. women's Olympic marathon
trials in Columbia, S.C., last Saturday. Her arm carriage was
dropping, and her son Matthew, 9, motioned for her to hold the
microphone higher. "She's not used to it," the young spokesman
explained. He then moved a tape recorder closer to the subject
and shooed away Danny, 6, apologizing that his younger brother
was "very high maintenance."
The celebrity drill is new for Christine, a 37-year-old
Anchorage pathologist whose previous athletic high point was a
win in the 1999 Lost Lake Breath of Life trail run, a 16-mile
climb into the Alaskan wilderness, which is roughly where Clark
came from to earn America's lone berth in the women's marathon
at the Sydney Games in September. "I'm elated for Kristin," said
Joan Samuelson, the '84 Olympic champ, now 42, whose impressive
ninth-place finish left her second in the mother-of-two
division. "Oh, Christine? Sorry. Christine. What she did was
It was also most unfortunate for Libbie Hickman and Kristy
Johnston, the only runners in the race who had previously gone
under the Olympic A standard of 2:33 set by the International
Amateur Athletics Federation. By IAAF rules each country can
send as many as three runners to the Games if all have met the A
standard during the qualifying period (which extended from Jan.
1, 1999, through race day) or a single runner who has met the B
standard of 2:45. Because USA Track & Field decided months ago
to guarantee the trials winner an Olympic berth, Clark, who had
taken the lead from '96 Olympian Anne Marie Lauck at mile 20 and
built a lead of more than a minute by mile 24, was effectively
running the last two miles to earn berths for Hickman and
Johnston. The course's late hills and the 80[degree] heat caused
her to slow as she neared the finish. She crossed the line in
2:33:31, a personal best by seven minutes. Johnston was second
in 2:35:36 and said the outcome made her "just want to die."
Lauck hung on for third, while Hickman faded to eighth.
Christine's husband, John, and their sons left their hotel room,
where they'd watched most of the race on television, to greet
her at the finish. "She wasn't even this happy when we got
married," said John, a pulmonologist she met in medical school
Clark owes her belated bloom to her belief that running
shouldn't preempt life. She enjoyed only moderate success on the
track at Montana State--while earning a biomedical science
degree with a 3.99 average. She ran two low-key marathons in
1988 before taking a seven-year hiatus to complete her residency
and start a family. She qualified for the '96 Olympic trials, at
which she placed 76th and was too intimidated to speak to
Samuelson when she saw her. Not until '98 did she take on a
full-time coach, who also happens to be named John Clark.
To prepare for the trials, Christine, who works three days a
week at the Providence Alaska Medical Center, did a lot of
cross-country skiing and ran most of her 60 to 70 miles a week
on a home treadmill. She was hardly a favorite to make the team.
Last year the Anchorage Daily News ranked her No. 50 on a list
of the state's best athletes, one spot behind a snow-machine
maker. She doesn't have a passport because she's never been out
of the U.S. After arriving in Columbia on Tuesday, Christine
spent most of Wednesday at the zoo with her kids, leaving the
boys to check out the snakes on their own because, said Matthew,
"all girls are scared of them."
Samuelson also hung out with her kids and seemed looser than
usual at a Friday press conference. Asked what pick-me-up she
planned to carry in her water bottle on race day, Samuelson
answered "a genie." She later confessed to a bad case of PMS,
which she defined as "premarathon syndrome." In fact, a day
earlier she had needed a cortisone shot to ease the pain of a
herniated disk. "Running is part of the balance I need in life,"
said Samuelson, who works part time as an elementary school
teacher in Portland, Maine. "When I was injured in college and
had more time to study, that's when my grades slipped and I was
Clark was almost finished scribbling her autograph on shirts and
posters at a postrace reception when she was approached by
12-year-old Abby Samuelson, who asked her to sign a T-shirt.
"Wow, I need you to sign something for me," Clark said to
running's first daughter. Clearly, it was time for the
Samuelsons and the Clarks to be introduced.