Denna Kastor was born Denna Drossin, and grew up in Agoura Hills, California.
Kastor started running competitively at the age of 11, and competed in both the North American Youth Maccabi Games and the Pan-American Maccabiah while in high school. After winning five California state titles, Kastor attended the University of Arkansas, where she said she lost her love of running. Although she had a terrific career, winning seven SEC titles (in 2001, Arkansas elected Kastor into the school’s Sports Hall of Honor), she explained, “I resolved to move to Colorado after graduation and see if I could find it again...I guess it’s just consistency in my training. I love running for the right reasons. This season I’d like to make the team for Worlds, and do a lot more travelling in Europe.”
Following her move to Colorado, Kastor emerged as America’s best cross country runner and a top international competitor in track and field. In 1997, she won the 10,000-meter at the World University Games, and finished third at the U.S. Championships. At the 1998 World Cross Country Championships, Kastor finished in 20th place (27:06), the highest finish on the American team; she also finished tenth in the 5,000-meter at the U.S. Championships. In 1999, Deena placed third in the 10,000-meter U.S. Championships and was the top American finisher (11th) at the World Championships.
Kastor blossomed in 2000 as she prepared for the Olympic Games. On March 26, Kastor broke the American road record in the 5K with a time of 15:08; it was also the fastest time in the world that year. Kastor continued her domination in cross country by winning both the 4K and 8K at the U.S. Championships; it was her third 8K title in a row. At the Olympic Trials, she won the 10,000-meter event in a Trials record of 31:51.05, a personal best. She said, “I didn’t have any anxiety at all (in the race)...I just kept thinking of having an ice-cream cone afterwards.” She also qualified for the Olympics in the 5,000-meter but chose to run the longer distance because her training had better prepared her for the 10,000-meter.
A member of the United States track and field team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Kastor finished in eighteenth place in her preliminary heat of the 10,000-meter race with a time of 34:40.56. She did not advance to the semi-finals and placed 36th overall in the competition.
In 2000, Kastor was named Runners World American Runner of the Year. In May 2001, she announced that she would make her marathon debut at the 2001 New York City Marathon. The following month, she won the 10,000-meter at the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships, thus solidifying her as America’s top distance runner. At the 2001 World Championships, Kastor finished 11th in the 10,000-meter race with a time of 32:18.65. A month after the Worlds (September 16), she set a new U.S. record in the half-marathon at the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon with a time of 1:10:08.
In 2002, Kastor continued to be one of the best runners in the United States. At the U.S. Championships, she decided not to defend her 10,000-meter, choosing to run in the 5,000-meter instead, where she finished in second place. In October 2002, she beat her personal best of 2:26:53 in the Chicago Marathon, finishing sixth overall and was the top American woman. The silver medalist in the 8K at the 2002 World Cross Country Championships, Kastor also broke the U.S. record in the 10,000-meter (30:52.32) and the world record in the 5K road race (14:54).
In 2003, at the World Cross Country Championships, Kastor took the silver medal for the second consecutive year and helped the U.S. team capture the bronze medal. Then in April, she finished third at the Flora London Marathon, breaking the 18-year U.S. record with a time of 2:21:16. Following her success in London, Kastor was named the USA Track and Field Athlete of the Week for the third time in 2003. At the 2003 U.S. Championships, Kastor won the 10,000-meter title with a time of 31:28.97.
Considered the top American long-distance runner, Kastor (she changed her name in 2003 after getting married) qualified for the 2004 Olympics in both the 10,000-meter race and marathon. She gave up her spot in the 10K, however, to focus in the marathon. The decision proved to be a wise one as she won the bronze medal, the first medal for an American marathoner in 20 years.
The 2008 Olympics in Beijing marks Kastor’s third time at the Olympics and her second Olympic marathon. Her focus on distance running led her to win marathons in Chicago in 2005 and London in 2006. She set the record for the United States in London, where she ran the 26.2-mile race in 2:19:36. In 2006, Track & Field News magazine selected Kastor as the world’s top women’s marathoner.
Sources: Jews In Sports; The Forward (August 8, 2008)