HOUSTON (18-Jan) -- Coming off of an injury-riddled year he might
rather forget, Olympic Marathon silver medalist Meb Keflezighi
convincingly demonstrated his return to form with a dominant victory
here at today's U.S. Half-Marathon Championships hosted by the Aramco
Keflezighi, 33, from San Diego, Calif., dropped the hammer early in the race to reach 5 km in 14:07, on pace to break Ryan Hall's course and American record of 59:43. His key rival, 26 year-old Dathan Ritzenhein, was about 8 seconds back and the rest of the field was quickly relegated to running for the minor places. Ritzenhein did his best to keep Keflezighi close, but the gap began to widen.
"I was trying to chase him down the whole way," said Ritzenhein after the race. "It felt rough. The legs didn't quite have anything."
Keflezighi reached 10 km in 28:40 with Ritzenhein 15 seconds behind. He seemed to have the race well in hand, but in the final 3 km he slowed slightly and Ritzenhein was able to narrow the gap. Ritzenhein's coach, Brad Hudson, offered to bet a reporter on the press truck $10 that his athlete would get the win.
It was not to be. Keflezighi stayed strong enough to clock a personal best 1:01:25 to win his first USA Half-Marathon title. Although he had won many other national championships in track, cross country and road running, he said that this one was particularly special.
"It was a rough year, period," he said of 2008 when he battled a stress reaction in his pelvis for the first half of the year which caused him to see some 25 different doctors for help. "This is probably the sweetest national title I ever got. I've won about 15, 16 national titles, but this one is the most special one because of what I've come over."
Ritzenhein finished a solid second in 1:01:35, the second-fastest of the three half-marathons he's run. He considered it to be a very good effort because he has yet to begin his build-up for the Flora London Marathon on April 26.
"I'm still getting in shape," said Ritzenhein.
Finishing a surprising third was McMillan's Elite's Brett Gotcher in a two-minute personal best of 1:02:09. Andrew Carlson, also part of the Flagstaff-based McMillan group, also set a career best time of 1:02:21 in fourth place, as did marathon Olympian Brian Sell of the Brooks-Hanson Distance Project in fifth place (1:02:36).
LEWY BOULET EARNS FIRST NATIONAL TITLE
Magdalena Lewy Boulet, who made her first Olympic team last year at 35 years-old, enjoyed another first here today: her first national title.
Running at a modest pace in the early kilometers, Lewy Boulet mostly stayed at the back of the lead pack, just following the pace.
"My breathing was really under control until ten miles," said Lewy Boulet. "I was itching to go."
Just ahead of the 15-K mark, Lewy was with 44 year-old Colleen De Reuck, veteran Amy Rudolph, and unheralded Kelly Jaske, a 32 year-old lawyer from Portland, Ore., who did no competitive running in either high school or college. Lewy Boulet felt like the group was working together.
"Plenty of ladies were taking the lead," she said.
The drama from there to the finish was subtle, as Lewy Boulet eased away from the pack to set a personal best 1:11:47. Holding the silver belt buckle which is presented to the half-marathon champions here, she was clearly very happy with how her competitive year had begun. She was disappointed about having to drop out of the Olympic Marathon because she had banged her knee while getting off of a bus a few days before the race, and was hoping to make a better showing at the ING New York City Marathon last November where she finished 11th in 2:33:56.
"After New York I was a little down," said Lewy Boulet who lives in Oakland, Calif., and works as an assistant coach at the University of California at Berkeley. She went to Flagstaff, Ariz., to work with her coach Jack Daniels and said she focused exclusively on base work. "Honestly, I hadn't done a single work workout," she added.
Jaske, who is coached Hudson, finished a shocking second in 1:12:06. Last year she was the first woman to finish the open, non-elite division of the Boston Marathon in 2:49:07, and Hudson had never heard of her until she won a local race in Eugene, Ore., he lives.
"She's a huge talent," said Hudson marveling at how she could challenge such established athletes at this level.
De Reuck ran an incredible 1:12:16 for third place (she turns 45 in April), while Desire Davila (1:12:24) and Amy Rudolph (1:12:35) rounded out the top-5.
Both Keflezighi and Lewy Boulet earned $12,000 for their titles and scored valuable points in the USA Running Circuit Grand Prix. In addition, Keflezighi --and the other top-18 men who broke 65 minutes-- received a qualifying time towards the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon. The qualifying window for women has not yet opened.
1 3M Meb Keflezighi San Diego CA 1:01:25 4:42
2 1M Dathan Ritzenhein Eugene OR 1:01:35 4:42
3 12M Brett Gotcher Flagstaff AZ 1:02:09 4:45
4 6M Andrew Carlson Flagstaff AZ 1:02:21 4:46
5 2M Brian Sell Rochester Hills MI 1:02:36 4:47
More results here