Unexpected, unbelievable, improbable, extraordinary — use them all to describe Chris Clark’s victory in the 2000 Olympic women’s marathon trials, and you still might be searching for words to adequately recount the achievement.
The win was so shocking for so many reasons, it’s hard to know where to start. But the treadmill is as good a place as any.
Day after day, mile after mile, Clark ran in place in her Anchorage home to prepare for the race.
The trials were in late February in South Carolina, and so to acclimate herself to heat— and because it’s cold, dark and icy that time of year in Alaska — Clark cranked up the thermostat and ran on a treadmill. That’s like a skier training for the Olympics on a NordicTrack.
All the while, she was raising a family and working — she was a mom to two boys under the age of 10 and a pathologist who worked three days a week at the hospital.
She was a true amateur in a professional sport. Some of the women Clark beat in Columbia, S.C., were full-time runners with shoe sponsors and gaudy resumes. Clark pulled off the upset while wearing a singlet from an Anchorage running store, Skinny Raven.
Four years earlier, Clark finished 76th at the Olympic marathon trials. By 2000, at age 37, she was recording personal-bests with startling regularity.
Even so, Clark was ranked 22nd that day in Columbia. After 26.2 miles, having shaved seven minutes from her personal best to win in 2 hours, 33 minutes, 31 seconds, she was No. 1 and headed to the Sydney Olympics. The pros, stunned by the unknown from Alaska, stayed home.
The aftershocks reverberated for months. Even outside Alaska, Clark’s victory was big news, and recreational runners from all over the country wrote to tell her how she had inspired them. “Knowing that success within your sport is possible while having a life is encouraging & reassuring,” wrote a nurse from Massachusetts.
Alaska runners in particular got a boost of energy and motivation from the woman who ran all the way to the Olympics on a treadmill.
“That inspired the hell out of me,” Anchorage runner Will Kimball said. “She’s making it easy for me to get out that door on nights when I’m very tired.”
– Beth Bragg