Liza Hunter-Galvan was an easy winner of the women's section of the SBS Christchurch marathon at Lincoln yesterday, her first competitive race since ending, on May 29, a two-year suspension for a positive drug test.
By international standards the time was not fast at 2hr 45min 31sec, but Hunter-Galvan was delighted to win and even happier to learn that her time yesterday was 63sec faster than she had run in 1999 when she also won the title.
The 41-year-old mother of four, who admitted being nervous about the reception she would receive from fellow athletes before the race, said she need not have worried.
"It was not too bad. Some people looked at me sideways.
"Dale (Warrander) has been incredible. I really appreciate people like him. I went to Athens (Olympics in 2004) with him. He is a sweetheart.
"When I caught up with him all of a sudden I didn't feel nervous any more."
Gabrielle O'Rourke, a former New Zealand representative, expressed reservations about Hunter-Galvan's entry earlier in the week, but was among those who congratulated her after the race.
Hunter-Galvan, who ran for New Zealand at the Beijing (2008) and Athens Olympics and the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, tested positive in an out of competition test in early 2009 to the blood-boosting drug, EPO.
She said she had continued to run on and off after her ban.
"I wouldn't say it was training but more running. For the amount of chocolate I was eating I had to do something.
"That was my comfort food early on," said Hunter-Galvan.
Hunter-Galvan admits the decision to take EPO was a bad one.
"It was stupid what I did but it is not a reflection of me as a person." She said she took bad advice.
"All the pressures of trying to get onto teams and keep running fast didn't help.
"It was a really tough time and I never want to be in that situation again."
Hunter-Galvan could not say if the EPO helped.
"To be honest I don't know if I raced after it."
Tracy Crossley (Auckland) was second in 2hr 59min 46sec.
Kate Seibold-Crosbie (Australia), one of the favourites for the race withdrew near the halfway point.
The men's race yesterday was won by a Singapore doctor, Ying Ren Mok.
Last year he did the half marathon and liked Christchurch so much he decided to return this year.
He was supposed to come to Princess Margaret Hospital in May but his elective was cancelled because of the February 22 earthquake.
"But I'd already booked the tickets so I decided to shift the dates and just arrived yesterday."
He was not perturbed about leaving temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius to run in a temperature of about 8degC yesterday.
"I love running in these temperatures."
Mok was chasing the Singapore marathon record of 2hr 24min but the wind on the course put paid to that thought, a strong southerly hitting runners soon after the start.
Mok was involved in a battle for the lead for most of the race with former Canterbury runner Phil Costley, now of Nelson.
Costley said his aim was to get under 2hr 30min and he made it by half a minute.
"It was a good ding-dong battle," said Costley.
"I managed to get back on him a couple of times but with about 6km to go I got nailed to the wall and it was an uphill battle from there."
- © Fairfax NZ News
Would you still go and watch the NZ Open if Lydia Ko was not playing?Related story: What if the Lydia Ko-show becomes no-show?