A class act from a real legend

A class act from a real legend


sporting act: Derartu Tulu (left) helps out Paula Radcliffe at the New York Marathon finish last Sunday. AFPDerartu Tulu was more than halfway to the most unexpected laurel crown of her career, her 37-year-old legs churning over the Queensboro Bridge, when she turned to the struggling runner next to her and extended a lifeline.

"Come on," Tulu said to Paula Radcliffe, the defending champion and world-record holder from Britain. "We can do it."

When Radcliffe, with a painful left hamstring, dropped back on the slope of Fifth Avenue, about four miles from the finish line, Tulu waited for her. Radcliffe could barely lift her legs, though, and Tulu raced back to the diminished lead pack with plenty in reserve.

With a quarter-mile to go last Sunday in the 40th running of the New York City Marathon, Tulu burst past 41-year-old Ludmila Petrova and flashed a familiar finishing kick from her track repertory. Gliding on the leaf-strewn homestretch in Central Park, Tulu broke the tape in 2 hours, 28 minutes, 52 seconds, and became the first woman from Ethiopia to win the race.

Her victory came 17 years after she had become the first black African woman to win an Olympic gold medal in the 10,000 meters at the Barcelona games, and more than a year since she nearly abandoned a comeback after the birth of her second child.

"I did not come here necessarily expecting to win," Tulu said through an interpreter. "But I knew I could be a good competitor. I'm very happy to have won."

Tulu's only previous victory at this distance came in London in 2001, and she knew she was the beneficiary of cruel marathon fortune. Radcliffe, the prerace favorite, succumbed to another injury in a pain-filled career.

They have been competing against each other for two decades. So when Radcliffe limped to fourth place in 2:29:27, crying and grabbing her knee, Tulu hugged her -- a final act of sportsmanship.

"That's Derartu," said Radcliffe, who set the world record of 2:15:25 in London in 2003. "She's always lovely like that."

It was the first loss for Radcliffe in her fourth New York City Marathon and only the third marathon she has not won in 10 starts. "I have beaten her on the track and cross-country," Tulu said, "but in the marathon, let alone beat her, I have never been able to run very far with her. I had always hoped I would one day, but in today's race, I was disappointed to see her struggling and falling back. I am disappointed that she was not able to run that well."

For three years after giving birth to her second daughter by cesarean section, Tulu had struggled with her weight and form, running no faster than 2:34 in three marathons. But in September, she ran a half-marathon in Philadelphia, finishing fourth in 1:10:33. That race, she said, proved she was fit enough to return to New York, where she finished third in 2005.

Tulu, who won her second Olympic gold medal at the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, has been carrying the banner for Ethiopian women since 1992. She owns a hotel and has a school named for her in Addis Ababa. The mother of Tsion, 11, and Ruth, 3, Tulu has raised four other children who are teenagers.

"I've been out of the sport for some time, so to have been able to come back after all of that and to accomplish this tells me what it is possible to do at any age," Tulu said. "If you work at it, if you're determined, you can be a good competitor."

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