2012 Olympic Men's Marathon Trials Analysis And Reaction
January 15, 2012
The 2012 Men's Olympic Marathon Trials was a classic. The four fastest and most accomplished marathoners in the field, 2004 Olympic silver medallist Meb Kefelzighi, 2:04:58(a) marathoner Ryan Hall, 2:08:56 marathoner and 3-time Olympian at 10,000m Abdi Abdirahman, and 2:10:00 marathoner and 1st American at the 2008 Olympics Dathan Ritzenhein all brought their "A" games.
In the end, the incredible Meb Keflezighi got the win. Two months after setting a personal best at the 2011 ING New York City Marathon and then missing three weeks of running because of a foot infection, Meb showed why he is the most credentialed current American marathoner. Ryan Hall set an unprecedented-for-the-Trials early pace (1:03:25), but it was Meb pulling away from Ryan the final 1.5 miles for the win as Abdi Abdirahman held off Dathan Ritzenhein's late charge to secure the final Olympic spot by 8 seconds. All 4 went sub-2:10. Prior to Saturday, only one man (Ryan Hall) had ever gone sub-2:10 in a US Olympic Marathon Trials race.
Rather than recap the entire race, we want to give you our insight with athlete reaction. If you want more details on the race, read this excellent NY Times recap, this Running USA story, and check out our mile-by-mile splits, the full results and the live play-by-play message board thread. Without further ado, some quick thoughts on the race ...
Meb, Meb, Meb, Meb
The second you doubt Meb Keflezighi, he proves you wrong. After winning a silver medal in 2004, Meb did not qualify for the Olympic team at the 2007 Trials. Many assumed his career was on the back nine. Meb then won the 2009 ING New York City Marathon. That got him a one-year reprieve from the doubters, as his long-term sponsor Nike abandoned him after 2010. Meb skipped the 2011 spring marathon season, not because he didn't want to run one, but because London or Boston wouldn't pay him a decent enough appearance fee. Meb then signed up to run NYC and get his payday, but less than 70 days before the Olympic Marathon Trials. In NY, Meb got a PR of 2:09:13, but he also picked up a foot infection that sidelined him for 3 weeks. Yet somehow Meb, despite missing 3 of the 10 weeks he had to prepare for the Trials, pulled away from Ryan Hall for the win. Just tip your cap to Meb and never doubt him in the marathon.
We at LetsRun.com have doubted Meb on a few occasions. Meb's brother and agent, Merhawi, has called us out a few times and has instilled it in our head that if it's a non-Championship marathon and Meb is on the line, it means he is ready to run. However, the Trials are a completely different beast. Meb has to run them whether he is ready or not. And we figured he couldn't possibly be ready this year. Once again we were wrong.
Meb had a lot of praise for his coach Bob Larsen. They've been working together for 18 years and clearly have figured out what works.
Meb also had a lot of praise for his 74-year-old father Russom , who was lifting him up at the finish. Meb's father epitomizes the American dream, having fled from Eritrea to Italy to America. Meb has ten brothers and sisters and nearly all of them have an advanced degree. It's pretty amazing. Meb's father has written 700+ pages on his journey from Eritrea to Italy to America that hopefully someone will publish.
And while Meb was quick to praise his dad and coach Larsen, the beauty of distance running is no one succeeds without a lot of hard work. Meb said, "When the camera's not watching, when the newspapers are not there, we work very hard at what we do. It's not easy ... there are so many obstacles as distance runners that we face ... We work very, very hard at what we do. When the opportunities come, you take them ... If you believe and work hard and do the right thing, (then) God has a good plan for me."
Props To Ryan Hall
Ryan may have been the heavy favorite on Saturday and there is no shame in losing to Meb Keflezighi. Nonetheless, Ryan Hall deserves some praise for his race. He went out in 1:03:25 and basically told the field "If you want to beat me, you're doing to have to go to uncharted territory." Meb was able to do that by setting a PR, but Ryan was the one who made this race by leading early on.
Afterwards, Hall said the wind picked up as the race went on and it bothered him a little. Of the slowing pace in the later stages of the race he said, "At that point it was feeling harder. I was just sick of leading."
While Hall's primarily goal was to make the team, he also wanted to prepare himself for London. He said, "The marathon has changed - Sammy (Wanjiru) has changed it. Guys aren't afraid to go out hard. And we've got to be prepared to go out fast ... it's going to take the hand of God to beat them (at the Olympics, the 2:03 guys). It's going to take a race like today ... It was a good simulator for the Olympic Games."
We're not convinced Hall's decision to go without a coach is the best one for him and definitely disagree with his decision to not altitude train. However, he deserves a lot of credit for setting up Saturday's race and running well.
After Making His 4th Straight Olympic Team,
Abdi Finds Out Martin Fagan Tested Positive
And Abdi, Too
It's perhaps too easy to praise the three guys who made the Olympic team, but Abdi deserves props as well. This is his fourth straight Olympic team - something even Meb has not done. And while Meb has been written off many times, Abdi had largely been written off since 2009, but now he's back. Abdi got the job done on Saturday.
Four straight Olympic teams is very impressive. As 29-year-old, Ryan Hall said of Abdi and Meb in 2000, "I watched you guys make the Olympic team when I was in high school."
Abdi provided some insight on the EPO positive of Irishman Martin Fagan, who was training with Abdi some this winter until one day mid-run Fagan just disappeared. Abdi did not even know of the EPO positive until being questioned by LRC's Wejo. Fagan had told Abdi that Abdi was training too hard for him and he was hurt. More details on that here, but upon learning of the positive, a visibly shocked Abdi said, "It's real bad news for the sport. I'm disappointed with him. I like to associate with people who are clean. I'm really disappointed with him as a person."
Ritz: "I'll have to turn my attention
back to (the track) and focus on that definitely
for the short term but maybe for the long term."
OTB: "Ritz's 4th place a blessing in disguise?"
And That Leaves Dathan
There's no doubt who the saddest guy on Saturday was. It was fourth placer Dathan Ritzenhein. 9th place in the 2008 Olympic Marathon, it will take an injury to the front three for Ritz to try to crack the podium in the marathon in London. Ritz kneeled to the ground at the finish and put his hands on his head in frustration.
Afterwards, he questioned whether he would still be a marathoner in the future. Although this was a PR for Ritz, he was not happy. He said he started cramping in the legs around mile 18, 19. "I tried to ease off and maintain 5:10 pace after that but it was just kind of the same feeling as before. Maybe I'm not made for the marathon. I'm going to turn my attention back to the 10k ... I was 9th in Beijing in the marathon and I thought that would be my best event, but so far I've been better at shorter distances. I'll have to turn my attention back to that and focus on that definitely for the short term but maybe for the long term. I've tried it (the marathon) enough times and it hasn't come together yet. I'm a little bit shocked. My training was better than before and I had the same problems (cramping in the legs)."
Before Ritz abandons the marathon, he should try to realize he was less than 1 second a mile behind Ryan Hall. The marathon is very unforgiving and the track may be Ritz's best event, but finishing 25 seconds behind Ryan Hall was better than Ritz did in 2007 at the Trials. The only difference there was the other guys in the field weren't as good and Ritz made the team. We'll have more on the depth of the field later this week, but stat man Ken Nakamura emailed us, saying spots 2-8 all set best marks for place.
Ryan Hall had praise for Ritz after the race saying, "My hats off to Dathan. He ran really tough finishing as close as he did ... I was really impressed (as he had to battle the wind by himself)."
Best Debut - Andrew Carlson
This was the first Trials where athletes could qualify with half marathon or 10k times. Much ado was made of the fact that Brian Olinger was making his marathon debut never having run a half marathon. Olinger ran like a guy who had never run a half marathon, going with the leaders the first 10k. He'd pay the price by dropping out. The best debut award went to Team Minnesota's Andrew Carlson, who ran 2:11:24 for sixth. Super, super impressive. Carlson is a two-time US Road champion (15k and 25k), so perhaps we shouldn't be totally shocked, but this was a very good debut. Meb, Ryan, Abdi and Dathan were the class of the field, yet there was Carlson nearly beating everyone else in his first marathon - well done.
Runner-Up Best Debut (And Who The Hell Is That?) Goes To - Jimmy Grabow
Jimmy Grabow ran 2:12:29 in his debut for 10th. "Who the hell is Jimmy Grabow?" you all are asking (here, too). He was a Long Beach State All-American and has run 28:35 for 10k and 1:03:37 for the half marathon. US road running has come a long way that a guy with those credentials doesn't turn any heads, but 2:12:29 for 10th in a debut is very, very good.
Looking Ahead To London
47-year-old Colleen De Reuck who made the Olympic team in 2004 was asking who made the teams after her race. Upon hearing the men's and women's US teams she said, "That's an awesome team." And she's right. LRC coaching guru John Kellogg agreed, saying that with the tactical nature and in-fighting of the Olympics, "If he (Meb) can do something like this again, he could get another medal. A 2:09 can get a medal."
Ryan Shay Remembered
The story of the Olympic Trials 4 years ago was the tragic death of American marathoner Ryan Shay during the race. Ryan's younger brother Stephen was a respectable 34th in 2:16:48. Meb, who trained with Ryan, was asked about Ryan at the press conference and he got emotional. You can watch that part here.
Some More Old Timers ... Josh Cox And Dan Browne
In 2000, Josh Cox was the youngest marathoner in the Trials. Saturday, he was 36 and running a near-PR of 2:13:50 for a very respectable 14th. Cox is known for being a public relations machine, but he's also a pretty good runner. And showing how we all age differently, the last finisher at the Trials was also a 36-year-old, Dan Browne. Browne deserves props for finishing in 2:42.
While we didn't get a chance to talk to Browne afterwards, if this messageboard post is to be believed, Browne stopped running in 2009 so his 2:42 is actually pretty impressive. (Editor: Dan's website shows some races in 2010)
It's worth noting that Browne in 2004 made both the 10,000m and marathon teams. Now he's well past his prime, but Meb and Abdi are still doing it.
We'll have much more on the Trials this week. More below.
*Running USA Recap: Meb Keflezighi Captures 2012 Olympic Marathon Title
*NY Times Recap
Women: Flanagan Over Davila, Goucher Gets Third As Top 4 All Break Old OTrials Record
Trials On The Boards: Ritz's 4th place a blessing in disguise?
*Surprises from the Trials
*Will Deena Kastor retire now?
*Will Trafeh ever finish a marathon?
More Men's Video
Men's Press Conference