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Ranking women's marathoners, 1 to 10

Marathon_2 Constantina Tomescu-Dita of Romania was assured of a noteworthy place in marathon history on Aug. 17, 2008 in Beijing.

At 38, she became the oldest Olympic marathon champion of either gender.

In the seven Olympics since the women's marathon made its debut in 1984, seven different athletes have won. And I am a big believer that performances in championships are more significant than times in assessing an athlete's place in history -- especially in the marathon, where course profiles and weather conditions have so much impact.

But does that mean Tomescu-Dita, who will compete in Sunday's Bank of America Chicago Marathon, is one of the top women's marathoners in history?

Not in my mind.

I wrote in a blog during the Beijing Olympics that Kenya's Catherine Ndereba is No. 1 after winning her second silver medal.  The question then was to rank her in comparison with England's Paula Radcliffe, a DNF at the 2004 Olympics and 23rd in 2008.

Now, because we had so much fun after I ranked Michael Phelps sixth among all-time great Olympians in any sport (and then moved him to fourth after his eight gold medals in Beijing), let's make another list as everyone gears up for the 2008 Chicago Marathon.

(One caveat: Because there were no championship marathons for women until the early 1980s, it was impossible to rank any of the standout pioneer female marathoners, like Jacqueline Hansen of the U.S. and Chantal Langlace of France, each of whom set two world records in the 1970s.)

The 10 greatest women marathoners:

Catherine Ndereba 1. Catherine Ndereba, Kenya (pictured here). Two Olympic silver medals.  Two world titles and a second place. Four Boston Marathon titles. One world record. Second-fastest woman ever.

2. Grete Waitz, Norway. World title. Olympic silver. Four world records, including first under 2 hours, 30 minutes. Nine New York Marathon victories.

3. Paula Radcliffe, England. Three fastest times in history. Two world records. Best time is four minutes faster than anyone else's. One world title, in meet record time. Wins in Chicago, New York (2) and London (3).

4. Joan Benoit Samuelson, U.S.  Winner of first Olympic marathon. World record. U.S. record from 1985 Chicago victory stood 18 years. Won Boston twice -- four years apart. Like Waitz, an icon for female runners. Beat Waitz and Rosa Mota (No. 5) of Portugal in 1984 Olympics. Beat Mota and Norway's Ingrid Kristiansen (No. 8) in 1985 Chicago race.

5. Rosa Mota, Portugal. Olympic gold and bronze medals. World champion. Three-time European champion. Three Boston and two Chicago wins.

6. Lidia Simon, Romania.  Olympic silver.  Gold and two bronzes at world championships.  Three-time winner of Osaka Women's Marathon, world's premier female-only marathon. Competed in four Olympics, with a sixth in her debut (1996) and an eighth in 2008.

7. Katrin Dorre, Germany. Olympic and world bronze medalist. Four wins at Osaka over 13 years.  Three wins in London and in Tokyo women's marathon. Won big-city marathons 18 years apart.

8. Ingrid Kristiansen, Norway. World record set in 1985 stood 13 years. Won London four times, Boston twice, Chicago and New York once each. Fourth in 1984 Olympics.

9. Valentina Yegorova, Russia. Olympic gold and silver medals in an otherwise solid but unremarkable career.

10. Naoko Takahashi, Japan. Olympic champion. Asian Games champion.  First woman under 2:20.

-- Philip Hersh

Top photo: Constantina Tomescu-Dita of Romania poses with the gold medal she won for the women's marathon at the Beijing Olympic Games. Credit: Streeter Lecka / Getty Images

Photo: Catherine Ndereba, after winning the silver medal at the Beijing Olympics. Credit: Olivier Morin / AFP/Getty Images

 
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