COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A 37-year-old Anchorage pathologist will be the sole female marathoner representing the United States in the Sydney Olympics.
Christine Clark won the women's Olympic marathon trials Saturday in 2 hours, 33 minutes, 31 seconds, bettering her personal best by more than seven minutes on a humid 80-degree day.
``If you would have told me before the race that I would run 2:33 and win the race, I would have laughed in your face,'' said Clark, an underdog.
``I thought if I had a good day, I could make the top 20 and if I had a great day, I could make the top 10.
``It's indescribable. I'm in shock.''
Clark doesn't follow the prescribed program of most marathoners.
Instead of running more than 100 miles a week, she does 70. Instead of running on the roads regularly, she does about two-thirds of her training on her treadmill because of the icy conditions in Anchorage.
Instead of running full time, she works 25-30 hours weekly in Providence Alaska Medical Center, reporting at 6 a.m. She also is the mother of Matthew, 9, and Danny, 6. Her husband, John, works about 70 hours as a pulmonologist in critical care at the hospital.
``I train as much as my schedule allows me,'' Clark said. ``I have a job and I have two kids, and I don't want to sacrifice any time away from the boys.''
The little-known Clark, who was only the 22nd-fastest qualifier, let Anne Marie Lauck, 10th-place finisher at the 1996 Olympics, set the pace through the first 20 miles. As the two came out of Fort Jackson Army Base, she swept past the tiring Lauck and into the lead.
Maintaining a steady pace, she kept widening the advantage.
Lauck wound up third at 2:36:05, collapsing as she crossed the finish line. She was quickly given fluids intravenously, then returned to her hotel, where race officials said her condition was good.
Joan Benoit Samuelson, 42, the American record-holder at 2:21:21 and 1984 Olympic gold medalist, placed ninth at 2:39:59, her best finish in six years.
Many runners wore red, white and blue ribbons on their race singlets in protest of the Confederate flag atop the Statehouse, but no problems relating to that situation were reported.
The biggest problems were with the weather, but the imperturbable Clark feasted on it.
``If a gal from Alaska can do it in this heat, anyone can do it,'' she said.
Clark is the second marathon runner from Alaska to grab the national spotlight in the past four months.
Former Chugiak High School runner David Morris, who now trains in Japan and New Mexico, broke the U.S. marathon record with a time of 2:09.32 when he took fourth place in the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 24, dropping more than six minutes from his previous best time.
Before winning the trials, Clark's biggest achievements were winning the 1995 Seattle Marathon and being a three-time winner of the Mayor's Midnight Sun Marathon in Alaska.
Now, she has a much bigger accomplishment.
While Clark was elated with a performance that bettered her personal best of 2:40:38 at the Twin Cities Marathon in October, many others were crestfallen, notably runner-up Kristy Johnston and eighth-place finisher Libbie Hickman.
Going into the race, Johnston and Hickman were the only two Americans who had run a race in less than the Olympic standard of 2:33:00. But under rules of USA Track & Field, neither will go to Sydney, denying the Americans an opportunity to field their usual three-woman team.
Had Clark broken 2:33 and no else dipped under that time, then Johnston and Hickman also would have gotten tickets to Sydney. Had the top three finishers all cracked 2:33, all would have gone. Morris has broken the men's Olympic standard of 2:14, but the U.S. men's Olympic Marathon Trials have yet to be held.
The weather was the determining factor. The sweltering conditions slowed the 170-woman field - 141 finished - and very few ran personal bests.
``I'm very disappointed about not making the team,'' Johnston, the fifth-place finisher in 1996, said after running 2:35:36. ``It's very hard. I will try and fight some of the rules but do it in a positive way so I don't take anything away from the first-place finisher. I don't know if that means going to the IAAF ...''
She complained that it was only seven months ago that the International Amateur Athletic Federation changed the standard from 2:35 to 2:33
``I don't see the justice in that,'' she said.
Walter Hickman, Libbie's husband, spoke for his disappointed wife, who ran 2:39:57.
``The last six miles were like a death march for her,'' he said.
Clark, 76th in 1996, was sympathetic.
``If we had the weather we had four years ago, I would have run under 2:33,'' she said. ``I would have liked to have run under 2:33. I felt bad about that.''
Craig Masback, executive director of USATF, defended the choice of Columbia as the site, saying that in February the city's weather usually approximates the conditions the marathoners would be expected to face at Sydney in September.
``Eighty-six degrees turned out to be about 25 degrees warmer than you'll probably get in Sydney,'' Masback said.
``The story of the race is that a woman ran seven minutes faster than her personal best. Today it was extremely fair and it was extremely unfair.''