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Meb in the Mix at the 2007 Flora London Marathon
January 11, 2007

By David Monti
(c) 2007 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

Flora London Marathon director Dave Bedford didn't hold back when he assembled the blockbuster field just announced this morning.  Seven of Track & Field News's top-10 ranked marathoners of 2006 are in the field, including defending champion Felix Limo of Kenya, world #1 Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia, Olympic gold medalist Stefano Baldini of Italy, and reigning ING New York City Marathon Champion Marilson Gomes dos Santos of Brazil.

But also in the mix is American Mebrahtom Keflezighi, the unexpected silver medalist from the Athens Olympic Marathon, universally known as "Meb."  He's making his first appearance at London after having to withdraw from the race in 2005 after sustaining an Achilles injury in a freak encounter with a dog during a training run.

"The dog came on me and I jumped backward," Meb recalled in a recent telephone interview.  "I felt it a little bit, then the next day was really sore, achy.  I had to stop training."

Meb, who is now represented by his younger brother Merhawi, was in the camp of Global Sports Communications at the time, the Dutch sports management firm owned by Jos Hermens.  But Meb decided to send Bedford a personal e-mail when he had to withdraw.  In addition to explaining his injury he also wrote that he hoped for another chance to compete in London.

"I would be there in the future," Meb recalls writing.  "[Bedford] said that we regret that you won't be here but we look forward to having you here in the future."

The future will be on Sunday, April 22, and Meb has one overriding goal: to run fast.  Despite winning the Olympic medal and finishing twice on the podium at the ING New York City Marathon, Meb's personal best time of 2:09:53 is modest by today's standards.  He's never run all-out on a fast course where he could use his impressive track speed to his advantage.  But by waiting until now, after getting eight other marathons under his belt, he probably has his best chance ever of running a fast time.  His 10,000m track best of 27:13.98, the American record, is ample evidence that he can run in the 2:07 range, or faster.

"Coach Larsen and I decided what we needed to do before Beijing and that was to run on a fast course," Meb said.  "I'm 31 and fit.  I feel like I need a fast course."

Bob Larsen, who has been Meb's coach since he enrolled at UCLA in 1994, sees London as a more logical step in the progression to Beijing than returning to Boston where he finished third last year.

"It is important to get him into a flat course," said Larsen speaking on his mobile phone earlier this week.  "Beijing is absolutely flat.  He's never run on a flat course when he's tuned-up and ready to run well.  It helps in our planning."

Meb hasn't noticed any big changes in his training program, yet; he's is still in his base-building phase.  But Larsen isn't planning to tinker all that much with their well-tested formula.

"As far as training it's not going to vary in a radical way," Larsen said.  "We won't be concentrating on hills as we have before.  This (the marathon in London) is more of a test of staying in your rhythm and maintaining, and hopefully, it will make a PR for him."

At Boston, Meb finished third in 2:09:56 in a herky-jerky race which had many tempo changes.  He went through the first half in 62:45, his fastest half-marathon ever at the time.  Both he and Larsen said that their Boston experience was great, but that London fit their Olympic build-up --which encompasses next November's U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in New York City-- better.

"I had a really positive experience at Boston last year," Meb said.  "They did want me to come back."

London, with their army of pacemakers, should keep the pace smooth, and the first half should be similar to, or a little faster than, what Meb ran at Boston.  That would be OK with him.

"If they try to go that pace I would try to go with them," Meb reasoned.  "By now I'm more experienced.  I've got more marathons in me.  Sixty-three flat would be very comfortable for me.  Coach Larsen and I have to sit down and talk about it."

Is he worried about blowing up if the pace is too fast?

"I have to take some risks to achieve something.  Now, a lot of people, the whole Team Meb is trying to help get me ready for London.  It's always about challenge."

 #  #  #  #  #
*For more on the sick 2007 London's field announced yeserday click here

Meb competes in the U.S. Half-Marathon Championships in in Sunday in Houston.  His personal best time at the distance is 61:28, and the race is offering, in addition to $12,000 for the winner, special bonuses of $4,000 for breaking the race record (62:07), and $5,000 for breaking the U.S. record (60:55).

Meb Keflezighi's Complete Marathon Record (chronological order):

 (9)  New York City      2:12:35 DB   2002
 (7)  Chicago            2:10:03      2003
 (2)  USA Olympic Trials 2:11:47      2004
 (2)  Olympic Games      2:11:29      2004
 (2)  New York City      2:09:53 PB   2004
 (3)  New York City      2:09:56      2005
 (3)  Boston             2:09:56      2006
 (21) New York City      2:22:02      2006

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