By Barbara Huebner
Coming into Sunday's NYC Half 2013, it's the athlete with the most-recent international triumph who may be the least known in the pro field, at least in the United States.
Sara Moreira of Portugal won the European Indoor Championship 3000-meter title on March 3, and soon afterward she was invited to make her U.S. racing debut at the NYC Half. Indeed, it is the first trip to this country for the 27-year-old from Santo Tirso, a city of about 14,000 in northwestern Portugal, less an hour from the Spanish border.
Moreira's win two weeks ago was her first international title, but her resume includes three other European Championships medals and a fifth-place finish at 3000 meters in the 2010 World IAAF Indoor Championships. Reflecting the expectation in Portugal that its athletes be versatile, Moreira's two Olympic appearances have been in the 3000-meter steeplechase in 2008 and at 10,000 meters in 2012. A 15-time national champion, she has helped Portugal to three bronze medals in the team competition of the European Cross Country Championships.
And wedged between her European gold and Sunday's NYC Half, she finished second at last Sunday's national cross-country championship over an 8K course.
"She's not deterred at all," said David Monti, NYRR elite athlete consultant. "She's a gamer."
Case in point: When an official mistakenly entered her in the 1500 meters for the European Indoor Championships instead of the 3000 meters, she ran anyway and finished seventh in the final.
So is she famous in her home country?
"The king is soccer," she said through a translator at a press event on Friday. But after her gold medal in the European Championships, she added, "Portugal actually woke up to the fact that there are other possible shining stars."
A great performance on Sunday could add to her luster. Coming in race-sharp against many women who are opening their seasons, Moreira also brings a half-marathon personal best of 1:10:08 that ranks as the ninth-fastest in the 28-woman pro field.
Moreira, who expects to eventually move up to the marathon distance, said she plans to focus on 10,000 meters for the IAAF World Championships this summer and up until the 2016 Olympics.
When she arrived in NYC on Thursday night, her first foray into the city was for a run in Central Park. It was 8:00 p.m., and she couldn't believe what she found: people. Lots of people.
"It was astonishing to me to see the amount of people, the enthusiasm," she said. "In Portugal, at night, no way."
Like any visitor, she hopes to see the Statue of Liberty, stroll along the famous avenues, and get in some shopping. Calling herself a fanatic for technology, she said that a trip to the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue is at the top of her list.
"I must check to see what is going to be my treat," she said of her Friday afternoon plans.
But she also said that she will have no problem focusing on the task at hand come Sunday, despite the race's course through the heart of Manhattan. "If there is one thing that is innate to my work," she said, "it is to concentrate. I will first and foremost run, and have to observe the landmarks at another time."