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The joke in her family is that Zuzana Tomas had to come all the way to America from her native Slovakia to marry a Serbian.

But she also came to reach the Olympics.

A doctoral student and teaching assistant at the University of Utah who emigrated from her native country to run in college and pursue a teaching career, the 31-year-old began running marathons after moving to Salt Lake City six years ago, and now will run the women's marathon at the Beijing Games - 20 years after watching the race at the Seoul Olympics and thinking she could be good at it.

Tomas had not reached the top qualifying standard for the race, so it was up to officials in Slovakia whether to select her to compete in Beijing. Having been in the same position before the 2004 Athens Games and denied the chance to compete, she feared the same thing would happen again.

But about three weeks before the opening ceremony, she received an e-mail with the unexpectedly good news.

Tomas knows she will not win a medal, but takes great pride in her running accomplishment. She met her husband, Aleksandar, while competing for the Utes, and still trains with him and friends she has met through her sponsorship from the Salt Lake Running Company.

Web site: None

Competition dates: Aug. 17


Born Feb. 2, 1977 the only daughter to Dusan and Viera Sarik, in Brezno, Slovakia.

A hunch: In 1988, while watching the marathon at the Seoul Olympics with her father, starts to think she could be a good runner.

Gives up swimming and skiing to concentrate on running in 1990. Lands invitation to local sports high school by a coach who sees her compete. Focuses on middle distances on track, particularly 1,500 meters.

Wins scholarship in 2000 to Division II Western State College in Colorado and emigrates to U.S., ultimately earning All-America honors in both cross country and track.

Earns undergraduate degree in 2002, chooses University of Utah for graduate school in applied linguistics program while becoming teaching assistant. With one semester of eligibility left, competes for Utes and meets future husband Aleksandar Tomas on the team.

Runs first marathon in 2003, winning the Top of Utah Marathon in Logan in course-record 2:47:30.

Runs 2:41:40 in 2004 while finishing seventh at Austin Marathon in Texas to reach provision qualifying standard for Athens Olympics, but is not selected. Finishes master's degree and begins pursuing doctorate.

Suffers illiotibial-band injury in 2005 in leg that costs nearly a year of running.

Marries Aleksandar Tomas in 2006.

Having finally recovered from injury and resumed hard training in 2007, finishes second in Salt Lake City Marathon in 2:53:19.

Runs 2:39:26 this year at the Houston Marathon, reaching the provisional qualifying standard for Beijing Games and becoming only second woman in Slovakian history to break 2:40. Unexpectedly selected to compete in Beijing.

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