Amy Cragg Wins, Desi Linden Runs Smart, and Shalane Flanagan Hangs On: Full Recap and Analysis of 2016 Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials

by with Race Results Weekly
February 13, 2016

LOS ANGELES – Pundits expected the quartet of Shalane Flanagan, Desi Linden, Kara Goucher, and Amy Cragg to battle for the three Olympic spots today at the 2016 US Olympic Marathon Trials as they did exactly that, but that doesn’t mean things went according to form. Cragg, the least accomplished of the four at the marathon, pulled away from Flanagan after the first 25 miles looked like a Bowerman Track Club training run to win comfortably in 2:28:20.

2011 Boston Marathon runner-up Desi Linden caught the fading Flanagan in the 26th mile to finish second in a big negative split of 2:28:54 (75:04- 73:50) as a struggling Flanagan held on for third in 2:29:19. Flanagan’s former training partner Kara Goucher ended up fourth in 2:30:24.

Amy Cragg and Desi Davila Celebrate Amy Cragg and Desi Linden celebrate

The Race

By mile 10, Flanagan, Linden, Kellyn Taylor (6th 2:32:50) and Sara Hall (DNF after 17) had a small gap on the rest of the field. A mile later, Taylor was the only one with Flanagan and Cragg and by mile 12, the Bowerman Track Club teammates were all alone up front as Linden and Goucher were content to go out more conservatively. Linden, with Goucher running 10-15 seconds behind her for most of the race, would move into third around the 15.5-mile mark but the Flanagan/Cragg lead would grow to as much as 1:02 by the 21st mile before Linden began to come back on the leaders.

Cragg and Flanagan appeared to have first and second locked up, but the heat was starting to get to Flanagan as she started to fall a half step behind Cragg. Chris Lotsbom of Race Results Weekly described it well.

Those visions vanished on the final six-mile loop. Flanagan, who appeared fine for much of the race, suddenly turned bright red. Cragg watched her best friend hit the marathon’s wall head on, and became increasingly worried about her well-being.

Earlier in the race, Flanagan had provided verbal support for a hurting Cragg, assuring her that they’d work together to make sure both could be 2016 Olympians. Now it was Cragg’s turn to return the favor.

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Looking in Flanagan’s direction step after step, Cragg barked words of encouragement. The pace slowed to a crawling 6:05 split between mile 24 and 25, with Cragg refusing to leave Flanagan’s shoulder. Together they’d make it within two kilometers of the finish, all the while a fast-closing Desiree Linden came into the picture.

Cragg left Flanagan behind only after turning around to see Linden and Kara Goucher approaching. Her husband Alistair Cragg screamed what the gap was from the sidelines, furthering her decision to go. She did so with hesitancy at first.

“It was incredibly tough [to leave Shalane],” Hastings told RRW. “I was so nervous for her at that point. She didn’t look good, she just didn’t look good. I was really nervous.”

Rebounding from a heart-breaking fourth place finish at the 2012 Trials, Cragg cranked the tempo up a notch and won going away in 2:28:20. A second after celebrating, she turned to see if Flanagan could make it.

Despite losing a spot to Linden, Flanagan would qualify for her fourth Olympic team by finishing third in 2:29:19.

Kara Goucher was 4th, Janet Bawcom 5th, and Kellyn Taylor 6th.

Full results here.  Analysis and video below.

Top 10

1 Amy Cragg Portland 02:28:20
2 Desiree Linden Washington Twp 02:28:54
3 Shalane Flanagan Portland 02:29:19
4 Kara Goucher Boulder 02:30:24
5 Janet Bawcom Flagstaff 02:31:14
6 Kellyn Taylor Flagstaff 02:32:50
7 Maegan Krifchin Silver Spring 02:33:28
8 Serena Burla Stafford 02:34:22
9 Katja Goldring Beverly Hills 02:35:21
10 Alia Gray Boulder 02:35:47
Amy Cragg Helps Shalane Flanagan at Finish Amy Cragg helps Shalane Flanagan at finish

Quick Take #1- The Big 4 Delivered As Expected But With A Surprising Order of Finish

Coming into the race, most pundits, including ourselves, hyped up the chances of Desi Linden, Shalane Flanagan, Amy Cragg and Kara Goucher. On paper, they were the most likely top four in some order and they lived up to their billing by going 1-2-3-4.

The big surprise was obviously the win by Amy Cragg, who finished 4th four years ago.

“Four years ago it was pretty heartbreaking to finish 4th. I worked really, really hard the last four years to move up one position. I am so excited to get out there and represent the United States in Rio.”

Cragg has clearly greatly benefitted from her move at the end of 2015 from Providence, R.I., to Portland, Oregon so she could train with Shalane Flanagan under Jerry Schumacher.

Quick Take #2: Take a bow, Amy Cragg

Cragg ran a spectacular race today and is a deserving champion, but she also played a pivotal role in getting Bowerman Track Club teammate Shalane Flanagan to Rio. You won’t see many marathons where two athletes spent more time talking to one another. At first, it was Flanagan who kept Cragg going, as Cragg said she was really hurting on the third lap but Flanagan told her to remain focused and that.

“No matter what, I’ll be here,” Flanagan told her.

Later on the final lap when Flanagan was starting to suffer from heat exhaustion, Cragg tried her best to keep Flanagan going, even going so far as to grab two water bottles from an aid station: one for her and one to offer to Flanagan.

Amy Cragg Olympic Trials Champion Amy Cragg Olympic Trials champion

“[Amy] is the epitome of what a best friend is and a teammate,” Flanagan told NBC. “There was a point I thought, ‘I’m done, I can’t do this.’ She completely talked me through it and sweet baby Jesus, I’m so thankful for her.”

Indeed, Cragg looked afraid to let Flanagan go as her teammate began to really struggle over the final miles. It was becoming apparent that Linden was going to catch the pair if they did not speed up, and the deficit between them had been cut to 18 seconds with just over a mile left in the race. Cragg clearly had a lot left in the tank, and once husband (and Irish Olympian) Alistair yelled at her to take off at the 25-mile mark, she said goodbye to Flanagan. Cragg looked over her shoulder frequently for the next minute to check on Flanagan, but eventually focused all her attention forward, putting 15 additional seconds on Linden from 25 miles to the finish.

It would have been very interesting to see if Flanagan would have held on without Cragg to motivate her over the final miles. Though she wound up 65 seconds ahead of Goucher at the finish, Flanagan was definitely struggling in the latter stages. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter to Flanagan, however, who amazingly made her 10th straight U.S. Olympic/World Championship team (dating all the way back to Athens 2004).

MB: Amy Cragg just denied Kara Goucher an Olympic berth

Quick Take #3: Desi Linden: “That was the toughest 26.2 ever. It felt so much longer.”

As is her custom, Desi Linden ran a very smart and calculated race. At 20 kilometers, Linden was 12 seconds back of Kellyn Taylor in third place. But if there’s one thing Linden has learned over the course of 12 career marathons, it is to be patient.

Fans watching at home may have been worried about Desi, but she purposely let the field go as she felt they were running too fast. Desi said at the post-race press conference (full video below), “I was very dialed into what I was capable on the day and I circled 5:40s (per mile) as the magic number. They started picking off 5:35s and a little bit quicker even and I felt that was going to unsustainable the second half of the race.”

Was Desi worried they were not going to come back and she wouldn’t make the Olympic team? “No. You just trust the plan.” she said.  “The marathon is so tricky and so difficult, yet it is so predictable. After 20 miles it is always the marathon, people fade and comeback.”

Slowly but surely, she worked her way up to Taylor and then passed her aggressively during mile 16. By the time Linden hit 20 miles, she was 13 seconds up on Goucher for the third spot but still 54 seconds behind Flanagan and Cragg up front, a deficit that would grow to 62 seconds by mile 21. Once again, Linden kept pushing and though no one was touching Cragg today, Linden stormed past a fading Flanagan to finish second for the second Trials in a row.

That’s a performance Linden and coach Kevin Hanson were pleased with. Hanson said he was not worried about Desi falling behind the top three because she told him during the race, she ran a 5:30 mile and the leaders were ahead of her. He knew she was running well and calculated.

Linden said going in she wasn’t 100% for this one as her focus is on Rio; now that she’s punched her ticket, she can afford to be more aggressive in her Olympic buildup as she shoots for the U.S.’s first marathon medal in 12 years.

Full Post-Race Press Conference

Kevin Hanson Talks About Linden’s Race

Quick Take #4: Kara Goucher Didn’t Hide Her Emotions After Finishing 4th In This One

In the women’s race, we knew that by definition at least two Olympians from 2012 wouldn’t make the team today (Flanagan, Goucher, Linden, Cragg (10k) and Janet Bawcom (10k) all ran for Team USA in London in 2012). The one who agonizingly finished 4th was Kara Goucher. We caught up with an emotional Goucher, who was in tears, after this one was over. Her post-race interview shows why the Trials is must-watch drama every four years.

“I kept asking myself if I was doing all that I could and I was.  They were just better. That’s not how I imagined it but they were just better,” said Goucher after the race. “Obviously it’s a hard pill to swallow but they were better.”

Goucher said she purposefully let the lead pack go ahead of her as she thought given the heat there was no need to go out any faster than 2:29 pace. She wanted to try to “outsmart” the others and promised herself that she wouldn’t go with any big moves until mile 20.

“Maybe I’ll look back and regret it but honestly I ran out of gas too,” said Goucher who added that at mile 22, she was tiring and realized she was going to have a hard time running the big negative split she’d need to make team. The stats show that Goucher didn’t slow down too much. She ran 75:08 – 75:16 but she wasn’t able to pull up a big negative split like Desi Linden (75:04- 73:50) and Amy Cragg certainly didn’t die (74:29-73:51). Shalane Flanagan nearly did and had to give it her all to make sure she didn’t totally crater but she ended up running 74:30-74:49 to secure the third spot.

While 4th place is always a tough spot to finish, in many ways 4th was a resurgent performance for Kara as she only ran 2:37 in her last marathon in 2014 and only 15:40 for 5000 in 2015. Goucher credited her resurgence in part to coming clean last year to the BBC about her suspicions that everything isn’t kosher with Alberto Salazar’s Nike Oregon Project.

“People ask, ‘How did you come back?’ Letting go of that shit is how I came back. I lost 200 pounds of fucking baggage I’ve been carrying around. They can’t touch me anymore. I don’t care,” Goucher said.

Goucher added that she believes “justice is coming” and said she has great faith in US Anti-Doping head Travis Tygart. I don’t wish them ill will. I just want them to stop doing what they are doing.”

What do you think of Goucher’s post-race comments? Talk about them on our messageboard. MB: Kara Goucher unloads on Alberto Salazar, Galen Rupp and the NOP – “Justice is coming.”

Quick Take #5 Kellyn Taylor Pays the Price for Leading Early

Kellyn Taylor came in as someone to watch and she ran well enough to place 6th.

She led the race from mile 8 to 11, as she, Amy Cragg, and Shalane Flanagan opened up a gap on the rest of the field. By mile 16, Desi Linden would pass her for the third Olympic spot.

Afterwards, Taylor said if she could do it again she wouldn’t have been out front, but said she got the lead because the others slowed down saying, “It was a grind. I found myself in an unfavorable position being out front that second lap. With my inexperience it definitely a great call for me to be out front. They dropped back. I didn’t pick up the pace… That’s how it played out. Lesson learned.”

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