Which “Old Guy” — Dathan Ritzenhein, Bernard Lagat, or Abdi Abdirahman — Does the Best at the Olympic Marathon Trials?

By LetsRun.com
February 22, 2020

The 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials are almost here. As we count down the days until the Trials (February 29 in Atlanta), the LetsRun.com braintrust — co-founders Weldon (Wejo, 28:06 10,000m runner) and Robert Johnson (2:23 marathoner, former distance coach at Cornell) and staff writer Jonathan Gault (brains at LRC)— will be answering one pressing Trials-related question per day. You can find previous questions and all the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials coverage here. LRC also in partnership with HOKA has been profiling all the HOKA athletes running the Trials which you can find here.

The question: Which “old guy” — Dathan Ritzenhein (37), Bernard Lagat (45), Abdi Abdirahman (43)– has the best shot to make the team?

Jonathan: With all due respect to Ritz, it has to be either Abdi or Lagat. Which is pretty incredible, since Ritz, at 37, is considerably younger than the other two. But Ritz has only finished one marathon in the last five years, and that was a 2:16 in Boston last year. He just hasn’t shown that he’s durable enough for me to believe he will be much of a factor in Atlanta.

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Before I choose between Abdi and Lagat, can we just pause to appreciate how ridiculous it is that one of them could make the Olympic team in the year 2020? We thought it was remarkable when Meb Keflezighi made it as a 40-year-old in 2016 — because it was remarkable. Yet Abdi is 43 and Lagat, at 45, is older than Meb. These guys both finished in the top 10 at NCAA XC in 1997. That’s the same year Donavan Brazier and Bryce Hoppel were born; now they could be Olympic teammates in Japan. It would be the sixth Olympic team for Lagat (two for Kenya, four for the US) and the fifth for Abdi (he missed in 2016).

Logic says Abdi is the pick. He has a far more impressive marathon resume than Lagat, making the team in 2012, and he’s coming off a US masters record of 2:11:34 in New York last fall. That’s faster than Lagat’s 2:12:10 last summer — which came on a faster course at Gold Coast.

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But part of me wants to go with Lagat. He’s been out crushing training in Kaptagat, Kenya — home base of Eliud Kipchoge and Geoffrey Kamworor — and when I see workouts like this or, especially, this (just look at all the climbing, and remember it’s at elevation) — I start to think Lagat is a serious contender. I could see him hanging in a large lead pack for the first 20 miles and then kicking for the third spot. Plus he’ll have the Alphaflys, though I suppose Abdi will as well.

Rojo: This is crazy to even be considering. Lagat is basically my age — just 504 days younger than me. Why is that relevant? Because normally when you are in your mid-40s, you are like me — resorting to paying a studio $20 to put yourself through a workout on a treadmill. Jonathan, I know a few days ago you expressed to me bewilderment as to why I would pay someone to go running when I could just run for free outside, so let me answer. You do so because it feels good when the 55-year-old woman on the treadmill next to you glances over, sees your speed and gives you a fist bump and says, “You’re crushing it.”

Abdi Abdirahman, Dathan Ritzenhein and Bernard Lagat share a light moment before the 2013 NYC Half (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)

Yes, that feel-good feeling only lasted for about 20 seconds yesterday as I soon realized I was celebrating running my former marathon pace for a 45-second interval, but it’s the truth.

Anyways, age isn’t the only crazy story about Lagat. We need to remember, he’s a former miler – the 2nd fastest 1500 man in history.

Based on age, the answer should be Ritz without question, but he’s not the answer for me. It feels like he’s done nothing for years, but that’s really only true at the marathon distance. He actually ran 61:24 in New Orleans last year and in 2018 at the NYC Half he beat the likes of Fauble, Derrick, and Abdi. But I feel like at this point he’s not fully committed to racing. It seems as if he’s more into being there for the family and developing himself as a coach.

Contrast that to someone like Lagat. I just read today that Lagat has travelled to Kenya to train at altitude. Wow. But the reality is, Lagat is going to have run way better than he ever has in his life at the 26.2 distance at age 45 — that’s not happening. Plus he says he struggles on hills. So by default, I guess the only option is Abdi.

Abdi has better credentials than Lagat at the marathon, and he’s younger. And in November, he was only 49 seconds behind Ward in NY when he was 9th in 2:11:34. I think that’s like a 2:10:00 on a flat course, so he’s my pick.

Wejo: I can’t believe I’m going to dismiss Ritz but I am.

You all do realize at LA 2028, he will be the same age that Lagat is now? Unbelievable.

That leaves Lagat and Abdi. The sexy and easy pick, I think, is Lagat. He is super fast, and he is motivated (going to Kenya to train, which I don’t think he’s ever done). Ignore the fact he is old, as Abdi is nearly just as old.

These guys are both so old that I went on training runs with them…seventeen years ago. Abdi had a cool car with rims and a DVD player. Now no one knows what a DVD player is.

Abdi is the only guy still competing whom I can say I beat in a legitimate race, so I’m picking him solely for that reason. Well I shouldn’t say I beat him, as in reality he let up right before the line at the 2003 USATF 10,000m, and that let me finish one spot ahead of him, so I got to go to the Pan Am Games.

Holy sh**. Look what I found.

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Proof the LetsRun.com singlet raced at nationals. Never even knew that existed. Photos that size took up too much bandwidth back then so that photo definitely wasn’t on LetsRun.com.

But that’s not the photos you should look at. How about these classic photos from the LRC archives from my trip down to Tuscon to run with Abdi and Lagat?

Abdi from 2003 (click for more)
Bernard Lagat “attacking” World Indoor champ David Krummenacker

(The photos don’t even get bigger if you click on them. Bandwidth was expensive back then).

I have to root for Abdi because of the transitive property and my time is running out on that front. 2:11:34 for 9th in New York was a very good run so picking him logically is not a crazy thing. Clearly he runs well on hills.

Lagat isn’t as bad on hills as everyone thinks. He did win the Peachtree Road Race two years ago on the hills of Atlanta, but I’m picking Abdi.

But we’re only 3 people what does LRC Nation think? Share your thoughts in this thread: Which old guy: Ritzenhein, Abdi or Lagat has best shot of making 2020 Olympic Team?

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