She has been competing since the Atlanta Games in 1996.
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Lidia Simon left her Boulder, Colo., home this past weekend bound for the London Olympic Games and a date with history. On August 5, Simon will become the first woman ever to compete in five Olympic Marathons since the discipline was introduced to the Games for women in 1984 in Los Angeles.
“Yes, I am proud of this accomplishment, because I don’t think anybody else has been able to do it,” said Simon, 38, in a statement. “It is a long time since 1996, and qualifying again this year is something I also wanted to do for myself.”
Simon (who pronounces her name “see-MOAN”), finished sixth in her Olympic debut in Atlanta in 1996 in 2:31:04. She was just 22. She would win a bronze medal at the IAAF World Championships in Athens the following year, and again in Sevilla in 1999, setting up her epic dual for gold with Japan’s Naoko Takahashi at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. In that race, the two women broke away from the field just past the 20K mark, and Simon battled back bravely in the final kilometers after Takahashi had pulled away between 35 and 40 kilometers. Simon was nearly sprinting inside the stadium, closing the gap on her Japanese rival to just eight seconds at the finish. Her time of 2:23:22 is still the fastest-ever silver medal performance in an Olympic Games.
Simon would make it to the top step of the podium nearly one year later when she won the world title in Edmonton in 2001. At the Athens Olympics in 2004, Simon failed to finish, and in Beijing in 2008 she finished eighth, her third Olympic top-8 finish. She said yesterday she hopes to run well again in London.
“Also, though, I’d like to run well,” said Simon who only weighs 44kg (97 lbs). “A medal might be impossible, but I would like to once again make at least the top ten. This course looks tough.”
The soft-spoken Simon, originally from Târgu Cărbunești in southern Romania, also won four medals at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships (one silver and three bronze), and is a three-time Osaka Women’s Marathon champion. Remarkably she’s run sub-2:30 for 11 out of the last 14 years going back to 1998.
“While rivals such as Japans Yuko Arimori, Naoko Takahashi, and Reiko Tosa have long since wound down their competitive careers and moved to the TV announcers booth, under the guidance of her coach and husband Liviu Simon, Simon has continued to find motivation in the challenges of training and racing well even as she approaches her 39th birthday,” commented her agent, Brendan Reilly, in an e-mail message yesterday.