Michigan’s Davila to chase Olympic dream in women’s marathon

Desiree Davilla, who lives and trains in Rochester Hills, will compete in the Women's Marathon on Sunday at the London Olympic Games.

There are no heats or qualifying rounds for this event. It’s a single race, winner takes the Gold. On Sunday, in London at the 2012 Olympic Games, Desiree Davila will strap on her shoes and line up on the starting line with the best long distance runners in the world. Her fate of her quest for Olympic Gold will be decided 26.2 miles later.

Davilla lives and trains with the Hanson-Brooks Team in Rochester Hills. She zoomed to prominence in 2011 when she finished second in the Boston Marathon, running the fastest time ever for an American woman in the historic race (2:22:38). This past January she finished second in the Olympic Trials in Houston with a time of 2:25:55, qualifying for the London games.

The Hanson-Brooks Team is a unique Olympic development program started by brothers Keith and Kevin Hanson and sponsored by Brooks Running Inc. The idea is to identify talented American collegiate runners and give them the resources and training to compete at the world level. A central part of the philosophy is that the athletes all live together as a group in homes in Rochester Hills. They live, eat, and run together. They compete in races in Michigan and elsewhere, getting faster, getting smarter, and focusing on their goals of international and Olympic success. Davilla is one of the most famous members of the team to emerge. On Sunday she’ll see if the training pays off. The distance may seem grueling, but the glory of Gold in the marathon is unmatched in the Olympic Games.

The marathon is the ultimate test for the distance runner. It’s a competition that’s as old as the Olympic Games themselves. Legend has it that it was a fella named Pheidippides in 490 B.C. who ran from the small village of Marathon to Athens to inform the authorities there that the Greeks had repelled the invading Persians. He had taken part in the battle himself, and then went off on his 26 mile+ run. Talk about following orders.

Modern historians debate whether Pheidippides actually ran the entire way and which route he took. The best guess is that he ran about 22 miles, but who’s going to quibble over a few miles? Starting with that heroic jaunt, locals began to recreate the run in Marathon. Ancient Olympic Games included a long distance run from Marathon to Athens, and in 1896 when the modern Olympics were founded, the marathon was one of the first events added to the docket. By 1921 the distance was set at 26.2 miles. Amazingly, it wasn’t until 1968 that the first women were allowed to formally register and run a marathon race. Prior to that it was considered too dangerous for a female to run such a long distance.

But little of that probably matters to Davila – known as Desi in the running circuit. She’ll have plenty of miles to think about ancient Greek history, but she’ll more likely be focused on the lead pack. The Michigan resident is recovering from an injury that has slowed her recently, so she’ll have her work cut out for her when she runs among the best female marathoners in the world. Hopefully, when the leaders run across The Mall at the Olympic Stadium in London, Davilla will be near the front.