BEIJING – The residents of Boulder County, Colo., are well accustomed to seeing world class marathon runners. For years, the altitude of that picturesque part of the Rocky Mountains attracted athletes from the most historic of all Olympic events to have their lungs fortified and minds steeled by the surrounding rare air.
Yet when Constantina Tomescu-Dita says a piece of her marathon gold medal belongs to Boulder County, she is not just talking about the specialized training conditions provided by the Colorado atmosphere.
Tomescu-Dita, who surged ahead of the pack just before the midway point on Sunday morning and held the lead to the finish line, has called the area home for the past seven years.
"The atmosphere helps me a lot," she told Yahoo! Sports. "It is important to have a settled base where you can train well and live happily. Colorado has been good for me and my family and is part of the reason I have been successful.
"In terms of training, the conditions are very good. We like the people and the place and it works well for us."
As one of Romania's most high-profile and popular athletes, Tomescu-Dita is afforded little privacy when she returns to her native country. After blowing away a world class field and surging to victory in the Bird's Nest, demands on her time will increase further.
But back in Erie, a town of 17,000 just outside Boulder, she can walk the streets with 13-year-old son Raphael and husband Valy in relative anonymity, noticed only occasionally by long-distance running aficionados.
"I don't think that will change much even now," said Tomescu-Dita, who came in at 2 hours, 26 minutes, 44 seconds – 22 seconds ahead of silver medalist Catherine Ndereba of Kenya. "I hope not."
Boulder's reputation as Runner City has grown since 1972, when Olympic marathon champion Frank Shorter relocated for training purposes and ended up staying. Many other athletes have followed, from as far a field as Great Britain, New Zealand and Kenya.
The Romanian influx began with former New York Marathon winner Anuta Catuna more than 10 years ago. Compatriots Lidia Simon and Nuta Olaru also have bought homes in the area, like Tomescu-Dita.
What began as a training base and an opportunity to get in some tough work at altitude (up to 7,000 feet on the grueling Magnolia Road route) became a new home and a new way of life.
Her family has embraced Colorado, with Raphael and Valy regulars on the ski slopes, although Tomescu-Dita has to stick to sledding for fear of injury.
"Sometimes all the Romanians can be together, and it's nice when we only have to drive 20 or 25 minutes to meet," said Tomescu-Dita, who at 38 became the oldest winner since the women's marathon was introduced at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Sunday's triumph is the highlight of an impressive career, which included a dream run in 2006 with bronze in the World Marathon Championships, gold in the Half-Marathon World Championships and second place in the Chicago Marathon – all in the space of 56 days.
Tomescu-Dita sweltered her way out of contention four years ago in Athens, left to melt down in 20th place in conditions that did not suit her aggressive approach. On a mild Sunday morning in Beijing, though, she found a burst of speed that no one could keep up with.
"I was so glad that it was not too hot because I really don't like it when the temperature gets up," she said. "I decided to stay with the group for the first half and then push after that. I made my break and I was surprised no one came with me.
"I have a lot of experience and maybe my age helped. Maybe they thought I couldn't hold on, but I race very well for this age."
Thanks to Colorado.