She pulled away from Anne Marie Lauck who had beaten Clark by 73 places at the last Olympic marathon trials at the 20-mile mark, finishing in 2:33:31, a PR by almost seven minutes (Clark qualified for the Trials with a 2:40:38 third-place finish at the 1999 Twin Cities Marathon).
Lauck ended up third (2:36:05), behind Clark and Kristy Johnston (2:35:36).
Clark's winning time of 2:33:31 was superb under arduous conditions (temperatures on the hilly course climbed into the 70's), but nonetheless was 31 seconds too slow to allow anyone else to join her at the Olympics.
USA Track & Field had decided well before the Trials that if anyone but Libbie Hickman and Johnston the only two U.S. women who had met the Sydney Olympic Games top-level ("A") qualifying standard of 2:33 won the race in a time slower than 2:33, then the winner would be the sole U.S. Olympic representative.
"I was furious when I heard about it," Johnston said of the decision made by the USATF in December. "I didn't agree with it from the beginning. Especially because they made the rule so late. The IAAF set the qualifying time, and so I went out and got a qualifying time. Then, a few months later, they change the rules. I don't see the justice in that."
Hickman and Johnston competed valiantly Saturday in the hot conditions.
"(This was) the hottest marathon I've ever run in," Johnston said. "I had a hard time getting enough water. At about 17, I started to feel it. I got dizzy. I thought for awhile I might drop, but I managed to pull it back together, get through that bad patch."
Johnston had met the Olympic "A" standard with her 2:32:34 finish at Chicago in October.
However, Clark's winning time of 2:33:31 left Johnston as a sub-2:45 "B" qualifier. According to USATF rules, if a country sends a "B" qualifier to the Olympics, it can send no other athletes in that event, even "A" qualifiers.
The third Olympic berth would have gone to the next finisher at Columbia behind Johnston who could still run 2:33 or better in another marathon Hickman, who finished eighth on Saturday.
So as things stand, Johnston and Hickman as well as every other finisher behind Clark won't be running the Olympic Marathon.
"You can either fight to change (the rules) or accept them," Johnston said. "I think that we'll try and fight, but in a positive way. I don't want to take anything away from the winner here and what she did. That somebody can come and do what she did, that's the beauty of this sport. She deserves to go, and the race organizers and the people of Columbia have been great, and I don't want to do anything that could take away from what they've accomplished."
Early in Saturday's race, Lauck tried to pick up the pace, and motioned for Kim Pawalek (seventh, 2:39:26) to run with her, but Pawalek soon dropped back.
"I was feeling good, and everything was under control," Lauck said." I went through the halfway at 1:15:30, which I knew because of the course and the heat was what we needed to run 2:33."
With all but two women in the field needing to run sub-2:33 to get an automatic Sydney Olympic qualifier, Lauck was sure there would be a pack of six to eight keeping company at a 5:50-per-mile pace, but it didn't materialize. She didn't want to see a big pack in the hunt with a few miles to go, but running by herself was certainly not her desire either.
By the time Lauck came out of Fort Jackson at 20 miles, she was starting to suffer from stomach cramps and dehydration, and just hoping to keep the momentum going to the finish.
When Clark went by at 20 miles, Lauck was stunned. "I couldn't believe it," she said. "I had no idea who she was, but I could tell she was for real. She looked so powerful.
"I'm actually not that bummed out, because I can always turn to the (Olympic) 10,000 meters," Lauck said, reflecting on her race. "But I really feel for Kristy Johnston. She did everything right. She got an 'A' qualifier, and she finished in the top three in the Marathon Trials, but now the rules say she can't go to Sydney."
In a similar case last summer, several weeks after the World Championships Marathon in Seville, the International Amateur Athletics Federation decided to grant "A" status to the top 20 finishers in both marathons even though some ran well off the "A" standards because of the extremely hot conditions. In the women's race the top 17 did break 2:33, but the 18th through 20th finishers ran 2:35:25, 2:36:28 and 2:36:49 respectively.
There were 141 finishers at Saturday's Trials, out of approximately 170 starters. Among them were the four women who had a chance to complete all five Olympic Marathon Trials ever held: Julie Peterson (43rd), Bev Docherty (72nd), Jane Welzel (126th), and Janice Ettle (139th).
Visit Runner's World Daily for full coverage of the 2000 Olympic Women's Marathon Trials