Defending Olympic marathon champion (and mom!) loves her life in Colorado
Constantina Dita holds dual citizenship and lives a double life. In Colorado she is an anonymous suburban soccer mom who hates to miss her 17-year-old son’s games. In Romania she is a national hero, even though she has lived in Erie for seven years.
In Beijing four years ago Dita won the Olympic marathon. Last week she was delighted to learn her son, Rafael, made one of the Rapids’ under-18 teams.
“She’s a very committed soccer mom,” said her friend and massage therapist, Binesh Prasad. “She will change a massage schedule just to be there. ‘I have to go for the soccer.’ I say, ‘Let Rafael be taken by someone else. It’s not the end of the world.’ She says, ‘No, no, no, I have to be there. I have to watch him.’ ”
Dita doesn’t get a lot of attention in Erie, a small community 10 miles east of Boulder, but Romanian media have been all over her at the London Games. One Romanian newspaper, Gazeta Sporturilor, posed her at a memorial for Lady Diana near Dita’s hotel. “Lady Dita with Lady Diana,” they called it.
After Dita got back from Beijing, her neighbors threw her a surprise party with champagne and cake. Then she was summoned to Romania to be honored by the president and the prime minister. When she shook the hand of President Traian Basescu, he wept.
Now she’s back for her third Olympics, starting to feel her age at 38 but thrilled to be part of the world’s great festival of sport .
“I’m feeling great,” said Dita, who grew up on a vegetable farm in the village of Turburea, milking cows every morning. “At the opening ceremonies, I have emotion going to the stadium; it was first time going to the stadium in London. It was very, very emotional going in the stadium with the Romanian team and see everybody, all the countries. It was amazing.”
The last time she entered an Olympic stadium, in Beijing, she got the ovation that goes to the winner as she finished the marathon. “When I go into the stadium, I see all the people, my skin is coming like bubbles (goose bumps),” she said. “I had amazing em- otion. This day I don’t forget, never.”
Four years earlier in Athens, Dita fell victim to heat stroke on Mile 19. She wanted to drop out, walked a mile but then resumed running — because it was the Olympics. She finished 20th.
In Beijing, she made her move at 20 kilometers — just before the midway point. “When I pass 20K, I’m looking to my watch and say, ‘Hey, this is slow pace. They are very strong in the last 5K-10K, I need to pull away and see what (happens).’ I start increasing like two, three seconds every kilometer, not too much. I’m waiting for the runners coming with me, but I was surprised they didn’t. Maybe they thinking, ‘Constantina, she going fast again, maybe she die at the end.’ ”
Instead she cruised to victory, 22 seconds ahead of runner-up Catherine Ndereba of Kenya.
“It would (have been) nice if I take a medal, one for Romania, one for the United States,” Dita said. “Both, they are my country now.”