Fellow Olympians Hall, Abdirahman also earn berths to London Olympics; deepest men’s Trials ever
HOUSTON – (January 14, 2012) – All eyes were on America’s fastest marathoner Ryan Hall at today’s 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon, but it was Hall’s former Mammoth Lakes training partner Meb Keflezighi who stole the show.
Keflezighi bided his time until the 24 mile mark along Allen Parkway in Sam Houston Park, slowly pulling away from Abdi Abdirahman then Hall and hung on in the final miles for the victory in a personal best 2 hours, 9 minutes, 8 seconds. He capped his triumph by carrying a U.S. flag down the final stretch.
Hall followed 22 seconds later in second and Abdirahman surprised many with a third-place 2:09:47. Some 85 elite athletes completed the historic event.
All three earned a ticket to the London Olympic marathon on August 12. In addition, Keflezighi earned $50,000 for the win plus $20,000 bonus if he participates in the Olympic Marathon and another $4000 as USA Track & Field national champion (his second U.S. marathon title). Hall ran away with a total of $43,000 and Abdirahman $32,000 (both will also earn the $20,000 bonus in London).
With the Keflezighi-Hall-Abdirahman card, the United States brings to the Olympic Marathon its oldest and most experienced threesome ever. At 36, Keflezighi becomes the oldest U.S. Olympic Trials champion in the marathon, and with Hall and Abdirahman, the three comprise the oldest average age ever, just shy of 33 years of age.
Amongst the three, they have had six Olympic appearances, including three for Abdirahman.
They also ran some of the fastest Olympic Trials times ever. Except for Hall’s 2:09:02 record in New York at the 2008 Trials, nobody has run faster at this event than Keflezighi, Hall and Abdirahman did today. In fact, today’s race was the first time ever four men ran under 2:10 at the Olympic Trials.
The fast times were a product of a very fast opening pace on the flat course around downtown Houston and Sam Houston Park. Hall pushed the lead pack hard through the first 10 kilometers in 29:53.
Said Keflezighi, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Eritrea, who also made the Olympic Marathon team in 2004 (silver medal): “The race started great. It was tough getting it down to as few people as possible. We got it down to five people and then said “Hey, let’s be on the team’.”
By eight miles, the lead pack was whittled down to five. Hall, who dominated the 2008 Trials and came in today with a 2:04:58 personal best at Boston last year, continued to press the pace, taking the leaders through the half-marathon mark in 1:03:25.
“The pace car was getting me riled up when I saw 2:06 up there for projected finish, and it got down to 2:05 once,” said Hall, who left Mammoth Lakes to train on his own over a year ago. “It got increasingly windy and the concrete was kind of brutal on the quads.”
After 19 straight sub-5:00 miles, the speed caught up with the front-runners, which now was just Hall, Keflezighi and Abdirahman. The three began exchanging encouraging words about all making the team.
“With three guys with four or five miles to go, it was all about being on the team,” said Keflezighi, whose training cycle was shortened by three weeks after his personal best run at the New York City Marathon 69 days ago due to an infection in his foot. “It’s not about being first, second or third. I’m just delighted to be part of these guys to go to London. I’m honored to win this race, but a lot of guys would be glad to be in our shoes and be on this team.”
The last six miles all were run over five-minute pace. As Keflezighi left Hall at the 24-mile mark, it was apparent that his Keflezighi and Hall were going to London.
Abdirahman was not so safe. The 2008 Trials runner-up Dathan Ritzenhein was still within striking range in fourth. But Abdirahman, feeling the effects of the early pace, was able to best Ritzenhein by eight seconds at the finish, notching the third and final spot on the Olympic team.
A disappointed Ritzenhein was designated to the alternate spot in the unlikely event that one of the top three do not run the Olympic Marathon. He has a strong shot at a spot on the 10,000-meter Olympic squad, however.
“I’ve been friends with Meb close to 20 years probably,” said Abdirahman, a naturalized citizen from Somalia. “Ryan took it out at 63 high (half-marathon) pace and I felt good. Meb and I said ‘Let’s work together and make this team’.”
For Abdirahman, the Tucson, AZ, resident had a huge dose of redemption. Entering the Trials with the 14th-fastest qualifying time, Abdi had not run under 2:14 since setting his personal best of 2:08:56 in 2006. He was hampered by injuries for a year and a half but did put together a solid string of races last year. His 2:09:42 today was his fastest marathon since 2006 as he earned his fourth Olympic Team berth at age 33.
The youthful Hall, summed it up. “I was telling them after the race, ‘I watched you guys making the 10K (2000 Olympic) Team when I was in high school! They make me feel very young, and I’m 29. Y