London calling: Nesconset native Michta makes mark at World Athletic Championships in UK
By Anthony Lifrieri
Thursday August 24th print, story on page 15.
It’s been a long road for Maria Michta-Coffey, but she always finds a way to keep walking it.
The Nesconset native and two-time Olympic race walker, finished 25th of 61 race walkers and was the top American in the 20 kilometer race walk at the International Association of Athletic Federations World Championships in London, England, Sunday, August 13th.
“I am proud of my performance but I am not 100% satisfied nor settling,” Michta-Coffey said. “Despite having the fastest time by an American, it was only good enough to place me 25th. My goal is to continue moving up in world rankings and to do so it will require me and the next generation to get stronger and faster.”
Michta ran the race in 1:32:14. She went through the first 5 kilometers in 22:42.37, passed the 10 kilometer mark in 45:29.28, and the 15 kilometer mark in 1:08:49.28.
“Overall, the race went well,” Michta-Coffey said. “It was by far the warmest day of my stay in London, without any reprieve from clouds. But for a summer championship, it could always be much worst. The race went out rather slow the first kilometer, as no one wanted to command the lead. From there, it got rolling and never stopped. I went out near the middle back and worked on staying smooth and looking ahead to pick people off. By 5 kilometers, I was already in 38th place.”
“The whole race, I kept my eyes focused on the next girl or group of girls ahead of me and worked on closing the gap until they were caught,” Michta-Coffey said. “Having my husband [Joe Coffey] there to cheer me on live really helped, as each lap I looked forward to spotting him and hearing his shouts of encouragement. I also responded to challengers from several racers who tried to come up on and pass me, especially in the final 2 kilometers. A girl from Belarus, who I had traded positions with back and forth during the race, put on a really big surge, but I answered back and refused to let her pass me.”
Along side the support of her husband, Michta-Coffey is also grateful for the support of her hometown. “Throughout my athletic journey I have always been fortunate to have the support of my community,” she said. “It made the journey transcend beyond me. It also makes me feel when I race it’s not just for me, but also for everyone back home who made it possible for me to get to the starting line wearing ‘USA.’ I am very thankful for this.’
The World Championships were a welcome retread for Michta-Coffey, as it was the same location as her first Olympic Games in 2012. “It was incredible to be back,” Michta-Coffey said. “Everywhere I turned I had a rush of memories. I especially loved being back in the stadium, as well as training in Victoria Park.”
With previous experience in London, she knew the best way to tour the town, both in preparation and following the race. “Sightseeing and touristing is always kept to a minimum before the race,” she said. “With that being said, you need to keep yourself loose and fresh, and light walking around is ideal for that. This time around I finally got to go on the London Eye, and also revisited other iconic landmarks like Tower Bridge and Buckingham Palace. After the race, I stayed a day longer in England to visit Stonehenge and then took a mini vacation to Paris.”
Although she already has represented the country twice in the Olympics, Michta-Coffey is still proud to wear “USA” on her jersey. “Representing the United States of America will always be the greatest honor,” Michta-Coffey said. “I don’t think it is something that I will ever not appreciate. The focus of each season is to prepare, gain strength and endurance so that I am the best version of myself when I race against the best in the world. The mindset is to always be your best when representing the best.”
Michta-Coffey’s performance comes fresh off her victory in the 10 kilometer race walk (45.31.4) at the USA Track and Field National Championships in Englishtown, New Jersey. “ I am very happy with how I have raced domestically, as winning a National Championship is something you should never take for granted,” she said. “However, I also aspire to be better internationally and cannot settle for being the top American without improving my international placing.”
The national championship and world championship performances shows the grit of Michta-Coffey, who’s struggled through physical and mental obstacles. “Considering the challenging year I had, marked by a car accident and a meniscal tear as a result of a weight-lifting injury, I am very proud of how I persevered and how much I overcame,” she said. “It took an awful lot just to make it to the starting line, nevertheless being fit enough to do well in the race. In the end, it may not have been an ideal season but it was still one marked with many successes.”
Michta-Coffey will next take part in the Hoka One One Mile race at St. Anthony’s High School, Wednesday Septemer 6th, before calling it a season. “This race is really unique in that it’s an all comers race open to the public with three signature races at the end: the 1 mile race walk invitational and the elite men and women’s 1 mile run,” she said. “It’s such a great atmosphere, giving local track fans old and young a chance to be part of the excitement both as an athlete and as a spectator. After that, my season will officially be over and I’ll finally have knee surgery later on in September. After that, I’ll ease back into the next season of base training while my academic semester revs into full swing.”