Analysis Of The Women's Olympic Marathon Trials

January 18, 2012

Similarly to the men's Trials, the 2012 Women's Olympic Marathon Trials was a great one. The three favorites all delivered as expected and the race was not decided until the final mile-and-a-half when Shalane Flanagan pulled away from Desiree Davila to get the win. For a recap click here, for results here. We give our analysis below with 10 points on the 2012 Trials.


1) Shalane Flanagan Delivers

To the victor go the spoils. Shalane Flanagan won the Olympic Trials on Saturday and you should not be surprised. Shalane has been the best female long distance runner in the US the last 4 years without question. A bronze at the Olympics at 10,000m and a bronze at World Cross-Country speak for themselves

Flanagan also had a runner-up finish in NYC in her only previous marathon.

Most of the LRC faithful picked Desiree Davila to win (but not us - we picked Shalane) on Saturday and Flanagan proved them wrong.

Now Flanagan has earned the chance to try and get her second straight Olympic medal. It will be interesting to see what Flanagan does in a marathon with a bunch of 2:20 runners. She has yet to run a super-fast marathon but she's only 20 seconds from being undefeated in the marathon, so you can't really blame her for not being faster.

2) Desi, Desi, Desi

Desi Davila has come an incredibly long way the last 4 years and a lot in the last year. She's come so far that after making her Olympic team on Saturday she was definitely the least excited of any of the six Olympic qualifiers in Houston. Why was she not excited? Because she expected and wanted to win.

Losing to Shalane Flanagan is nothing to be disappointed about. Shalane Flanagan is a better distance runner than Desi. There is no question about that. But Desi may prove to be the better marathoner. The jury is definitely still out. Desi did more of the work on Saturday up front, but there are no style points in the sport of running for leading. The goal is to cross the line first and Desi was disappointed she did not do that.

But Desi shouldn't hang her head too much as she has come a really long way in four years to be the favorite over Flanagan. 3 years ago heading into 2009, Flanagan had a 10,000 PR of 30:22 and an Olympic medal to her name. At the same time, Davila had a 33:18 10,000 PR and a 2:31 marathon to her name. The fact that we are even having this discussion is an incredible testament to Davila.

The good news for Davila fans is the favorite-underdog roles will be reversed in London and Desi seems to thrive as the underdog.

Jo-Ann Barnas of the Detroit Free Press did a nice job of chronicling Desi's run. Barnas notes that Desi's parents at first were reluctant to support her joining the Hansons-Brooks program when she got out of college, but that Desi's sister talked them into it. Barnas doesn't say why they weren't supportive but they probably figured it was time for Desi to get a real job. Desi was a very good (All-American at Arizona State) but not a superstar collegiate runner. Good-but-not great runners rarely go onto to tremendous post-collegiate careers. Desi deserves a lot of credit for believing in herself, but so do her coaches Kevin and Keith Hanson. With Brian Sell and now Desi, they now have Olympians in the last two Olympic cycles, and they are not starting with top of the food chain talent.

3) Kara Gets It Done

Of the 3 Olympians on the women's side, Kara Goucher's run may have been the most surprising. Not because Kara is not a fabulous runner. But after coming back from childbirth in 2011, she got injured before the World Championships, missed time after it, and then switched coaches. Her one tuneup race was far from stellar and yet there was Kara right on the heels of the two favorites Shalane and Desiree.

This thread summed up Kara's run best: "Anyone else shocked by Kara only nine seconds off Desi?"

The first poster in that thread asks, "Could she be our #2 by London?" Our thinking is, "Could she be our #1 by London?"

Kara is a better track runner than Desi but not as good as Flanagan. Nonetheless she's a better half marathon runner than both of them. The jury is still out on who is the best marathoner. They all have their accomplishments they can point to but none of them has shown themselves to be a top 5 marathoner in the world. All 3 will get the chance in London. At this point, all three are in the same boat. They need to improve in the marathon if they want to walk away with a medal. Sub-2:22 type marathoners medal at the Olympics; none of them has reached that level yet. None of them has shown they have mastered the marathon (well, we'd say Davila has mastered it for the level she was as she PRed in her first 6 marathons before the Trials, but can she still master it now at a low 2:20s level?). At this point, Flanagan's track record is actually the best in the marathon, because she has won the Trials and was 2nd in New York in her two marathons. She hasn't run fast, but has never had the opportunity to do so.

4) Best Debut ... And An Incredible Story - Wendy Thomas

Wendy Thomas the marathoner, not Wendy Thomas of hamburger fame, ran 2:34:25 for 12th place in her marathon debut at the Olympic Trials. Impressive in its own right. Even more impressive is Thomas is a 32-year-old mother of 2 with no competitive running background. She used to do a couple of fun runs a year and after an 18-minute 5k at a Turkey Trot, Doug Bell, the owner of Bell's Running in Greeley, Colorado encouraged her to come out and train with his group. Thomas kept getting better and better and this past year she signed up for Scott Simmons and Renato Canova's American Distance Project Group. Canova is a coaching legend of the Kenyan stars, and Scott Simmons has had a lot of success with some top Americans, and Thomas kept getting better and better. She qualified for the Trials with a 1:13:49 half marathon and then she went out and ran 2:34:25 at the Trials. That would have been top 10 any other year. Super impressive. *Nice Profile On Her After Trials In Greeley Tribune *Long Interview With Colorado Runner From Fall Here Where She Talks About ADP (Wendy may be new to running but she sounds like a veteran: "I try to not read" Note. The key word is "try" ;)) *Pre-Trials Article In Running Times *Wendy Thomas' Own Running Blog

5) And A Close Runner-Up - Alisha Williams

Two spots behind Wendy Thomas in 14th place in 2:35:09 was another runner in the ADP making her marathon debut, also coached by Scott Simmons, sponsored by Boulder Running Company and adidas, Alisha Williams. Williams had been 4th at USA Club XC this winter, which earned her a spot on the US team at the Great Bupa Edinburgh XC race in Scotland, which was the week before the Trials. Alisha must have figured she might not get to represent the US again, so she ran in Edinburgh and then one week later ran the Trials. If she keeps running like the she did at the Trials, she'll be on the US Team in the marathon at the Worlds in 2013. Congrats to Alisa, Wendy, Scott, Boulder Running Company, adidas, and Renato Canova. We'll try and find out more about the ADP as they had two great results.

6) Linda Somers-Smith 2:37:36 At Age 50, Faster Than She Ran 20 Years Ago

Linda Somers-Smith is simply amazing. At age 50, she had qualified for her seventh US Olympic Marathon Trials. She had been on the US Olympic Marathon team in 1996 and even won the Chicago Marathon in 1992. What she did on Saturday may have been the most impressive performance yet. She ran 2:37:36 to place 28th at the Trials. In the process, she smashed Joan Benoit's 50+ record of 2:47:59 by 10 minutes. Even more impressive is Linda ran 5 seconds faster than she did in 1992 (2:37:41) when she won the Chicago Marathon. Yes, at age 50 she beat her winning time in Chicago 20 years previously. Amazing.

Deena Ponders What's Next

7) Deena Kastor ...

American record holder Deena Kastor was a very respectable 6th in 2:30:40. As friend of LRC David Graham points out, Deena's time would have made 4 of the 7 previous US Olympic Marathon teams and would have won the Trials in 1984 and 2000.

Deena herself has never run faster than 2:29:35 at the Trials. Does anyone remember that in 2004 when she got Olympic bronze she actually lost to Colleen De Reuck at the Trials? Deena's success raised the bar for everyone else and its no longer possible to run 2:30 and make the team.

Deena had one thing in mind - making the team. After the race, when asked what is next, she said, "I have no idea (what is next). This was not in my plans ... I really thought I was going to book my ticket to London today."

US women's marathon is excelling in 2012. The depth is incredible. However, no one has come close to matching the level at the top that Deena set in the 2000s. An Olympic bronze medal and 2:19:36 speak for themselves.

Deena has earned the right to decide what is next. If she's motivated, we don't doubt she still could run under 2:25 again. Not many American women can say that.

8) Jen Rhines Not A Marathoner

Jen After Another Frustrating Marathon

Jen Rhines has a love-hate relationship, perhaps we should say hate relationship, with the marathon. She ran 2:29:57 to make the Olympic team in 2004. Then after a 2:35 in Tokyo in 2006 she gave up the marathon until New York City this past year, where the lure was likely a payday with all the other American women focusing on the Trials. Jen said she would not run the Trials, but after dropping out in New York, there she was in Houston running 2:43:45 in 64th. The tracking system for the Trials, which was a special system brought in for the Trials and separate from the one the Houston Marathon uses, was a complete disaster, so we have no idea how fast Jen went out in. Her performances in the marathon are baffling. Her husband is marathon guru Terrence Mahon, coach of Deena Kastor and former coach of Ryan Hall. Jen does talk in the interview to the right about how her long runs are going better. Maybe it will help her on the track.

9) American Depth

We've hinted at the American depth throughout this article, but this was the fastest Trials across the board. Five women broke 2:30 for the first time. The top 15 finishers all had the best times for place in the history of the Trials.

No longer is it possible to show up with your non "A" Game and make the team. American women's marathoning has more firepower up front but also in the rank and file.

10) Amy Hastings, The Unlucky 4th Place Finisher

The fourth place finisher is always the most disappointed person at the Trials. Hastings ran 2:27:17 for 4th place. That time was good enough to win every Olympic Trials previously but not good enough to make the team here. Hastings showed a lot of guts during the race, as this clearly was not her best day. In case you haven't noticed, she's becoming a very good runner. Her marathon PR was her debut in 2:27:03 (slight drop on the course) in LA and she made the Worlds team on the track at 5,000m. She fell off the back a few times and then would surge back and take the lead. She managed to hold it together to the line and maybe this will bode well for her on the track. If Shalane and Kara stick exclusively to the marathon, making a track Olympic team becomes much easier.

Shalane indicated she and Kara will run the track Trials but focus on the marathon. She said, "I love the drama of our Trials. I'd love to participate at the track Trials. Kara and I are looking forward to getting on the track to test different fitness, but ultimately everything will be for the best preparation for the marathon."

LRC Men's Marathon Trials Analysis And Reaction

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