Alright, I wanted to get this article posted before this weekend's race. I actually wrote this article 5-6 weeks ago. Yesterday I tweaked it a little because one of my dark horses is not going to run the race now. Also, after watching the TC 10 Miler, I moved Jason Lehmkuhle from a Dark Horse to a Contender, while moving Dan Browne in the opposite direction.
Olympic Trials – Men’s Marathon Preview
By Chad Austin 10/31/07
I’m excited! Not only is the U.S. experiencing another running boom in terms of the number of people enjoying the sport, but also in terms of performance on the world stage. Americans Meb Keflezighi and Deena Kastor each brought home a medal from the marathon in the 2004 Olympics. More recently, at this year’s World Championships in Osaka, Japan, Bernard Legat won gold in both the 1500 and 5000 meters, while Duluth-native Kara (Wheeler) Goucher won the bronze in the 10,000 meters. What a great way to head into next year’s Olympic season.
For U.S. men looking to make the Olympic team in the marathon, their opportunity is closer than you think. The Trials takes place November 3 in New York City and the field is considered the deepest since 1984. That year featured runners, such as, the 1980 Trials champion Tony Sandoval, world recorder holder Alberto Salazar, 1983 Boston Marathon champion Greg Meyer, four-time Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon champion Bill Rodgers, Minnesotan Garry Bjorklund, along with nearly a dozen other runners who could threaten the 2:12 barrier.
This year’s race will have a little bit of everything; a two-time former world record holder, all three Olympic marathoners from 2004, including the reigning silver medalist, multiple 10,000 meter Olympians, veterans looking to take one last shot at their dream, a handful of up-and-coming stars and a whole bunch of guys whose long-term goal was just to qualify for this race.
This article will break the top runners down; the favorites, the contenders, the dark horses and the locals. And just for fun, we’ll also include the top-3 choices by our “expert” panel.
Meb Keflezighi. Age: 32, PR: 2:09:53, Qualifier: 2:09:56, Boston (’06).
It’s hard not to single the 2004 silver medalist out as the favorite. In addition to two sub-2:10 performances, Keflezighi is also the American Record holder for 10,000 meters, 27:13.98. Speed and experience make him as much of a lock as anyone in the field. Plus, as 2000 Olympian Rod DeHaven said, “This pick satisfies the ‘Mark Coogan Rule’ that there’s always one carryover from the previous Olympic team.
Abdi Abdirahman. Age: 30, PR: 2:08:56, Qualifier: 2:08:56, Chicago (’06).
Abdirahman is already a two-time Olympian, qualifying for the 10,000m in both 2000 and 2004 where he finished 10th and 15th, respectively. Earlier this year, he placed second to Haile Gebrselassie at the New York City Half Marathon where he ran the second fastest time by an American, 1:00:29. At the World Championships in August, he placed 7th place in the 10,000m and more recently, he won the TC 10 Mile in 47:34.
Ryan Hall. Age: 25, PR: 2:08:24, Qualifier: 2:08:24, London (’07).
Typically, I wouldn’t include a 25-year-old along with the favorites. However, Hall’s recent jaw-dropping performances are too spectacular to leave him off the list. In 2006 he set an American Record for 20K (57:54), then earlier this year he broke a 21-year-old record as he became the first American under an hour for a half marathon (59:43). He simply followed that up at the London Marathon with the best debut ever by an American, 2:08:24. The fact that Hall trains with Keflezighi doesn’t hurt either. However, having only run one marathon, his lack of experience could be a drawback.
Brian Sell. Age: 29, PR: 2:10:47, Qualifier: 2:10:47, Chicago (’06).
At the 2004 Olympic Marathon Trials, Sell gained a cult-like following by taking the lead at mile 7. His bold move lasted until mile 22 when he was swallowed up and eventually faded to 12th place. With two sub-2:11 performances under his belt since then, I’d like to think that Sell doesn’t need to be so aggressive this time around. However, given the number of runners with faster track backgrounds, he may need similar tactics to make the team. Of the four favorites mentioned here, the difficult New York City course is probably best suited for Sell, who’s considered more of a strength runner than the others.
Khalid Khannouchi. Age: 36, PR: 2:05:38, Qualifier: 2:07:04, London (’06).
Leading qualifier; check. Former World Record holder; check. Only person to run sub-2:06 three times; check. Even with all those credentials, he’s is not amongst my list of favorites, mainly due to age and injuries – and the fact that no one is really sure if he’ll even start the race. And although there’s no denying Khannouchi’s ability to run fast times in the past, he has received criticism for his ability to run tactical races, such as the Trials tend to be.
Alan Culpepper. Age: 35, PR: 2:09:41, Qualifier: 2:11:02, Boston (’06).
After winning the 2004 Trials, Culpepper went on to finish 12th at Athens. Another Trials victory this year would make Culpepper only the second man to win the event back-to-back, the other being Frank Shorter. Like Khannouchi, age is not on Culpepper’s side. However, in February he showed that he’s still competitive when he won the USA Cross Country championship on a 12K course suited for marathoners.
Pete Gilmore. Age: 30, PR: 2:12:45, Qualifier: 2:12:45, Chicago (’06).
Since placing eighth at the 2004 Trials, Gilmore has been one of the most consistently fast American marathoners. Like Sell, he has a cult-like following, at least on websites like letsrun.com. Gilmore’s following is partially due to being the first American at the 2006 New York City Marathon, where he beat the likes of Keflezighi, Culpepper and Dathan Ritzenhein. The fact that he didn’t have a shoe contract helped make Gilmore the “working class hero” of marathoners.
Dathan Ritzenhein. Age: 24, PR: 2:14:01, Qualifier: 2:14:01, New York (’06).
Besides Khannouchi, Ritzenhein is probably the biggest X-factor in the race. At 24-years old he’s already one of the best runners in the U.S., having qualified for the 2004 Olympics in the 10,000m. Unfortunately, a stress fracture kept him from finishing that race. At this year’s World Championships 10,000m Ritzenhein placed 9th. Like Hall, he only has one marathon under his belt. However, don’t be surprised if he’s still in the mix late in the race.
Jason Lehmkuhle. Age: 30, PR: 2:16:27, Qualifier: 2:19:03, TCM (’06).
Simply put, Team USA Minnesota’s Jason Lehmkuhle is the best 2:16 marathoner in the U.S. After a 2:18:24 debut in 2003, he set a PR at the 2004 Trials, placing 9th. He battled injuries soon after that race, but has been racing very well in 2006 and 2007. This year alone, Lehmkuhle has placed in the top-5 at five different U.S. Championship events. He’s coming off a 1:02:51 half marathon at Houston in January, a 59:42 20K at New Haven on Labor Day, and a 47:48 10 miler in his hometown of Minneapolis – all PRs. If he has a great day, he’ll be in the mix.
The Dark Horses:
Dan Browne. Age: 32, PR: 2:11:35 Qualifier: 28:10.73 (10,000m), Stanford (’07).
In 2004, Browne made the Olympic team in both the marathon and 10,000m, where he finished 65th and 12th, respectively, in Athens. He’s been pretty quiet since then, having battled injuries for most of 2005. As a result, he took advantage of a new rule that allows runners to qualify for the marathon trials by meeting 5,000m or 10,000m standards. Having not run a marathon in awhile, it’s hard to know what to expect with Browne. His recent racing seems to be inconsistent. He won the U.S. 20K title with his 59:17 on Labor Day at New Haven, as well as the U.S. 5K title. However, he followed that up with a 21st place 50:45 at the TC 10 Mile.
Clint Verran. Age: 32, PR: 2:14:12, Qualifier: 2:14:12, Boston (’06).
As a 24-year old in 2000, Verran placed 11th at the Trials. He followed that up four years later with a 5th place effort. With the trials only taking place once every four years; most marathoners have one solid chance of making an Olympic team. 2004 may have been Verran’s best chance.
Ryan Shay. Age: 28, PR: 2:14:08, Qualifier: 2:14:58, TCM (’06).
Shay is a guy that could easily be moved up to the list of contenders. He may be following a path similar to Verran’s. Four years ago, at age 24, he battled injuries leading up to the Trials before finishing a disappointing 22nd. However, since 2003 he’s run 2:14 four times and he recently set a 10,000m PR, 28:03. Having a training partner like Abdirahman may be enough to push Shay to a top-7 performance. He also ran the TC 10 miler as a tune-up, finishing in 51:05.
James Carney. Age: 29, PR: N/A Qualifier: 27:43.64 (10,000m), Stanford (’07).
If you’re like me, chances are you’ve never heard of James Carney. When Rod DeHaven mentioned him as his dark horse, I figured I’d better find out who he is. Carney graduated from Millersville University, a Division II school, before using his last year of eligibility at Penn State. His only marathon experience is a DNF at TCM in 2005. So why does DeHaven like him? He’s got speed, as in the 8th fastest 10,000 meter qualifying time, 27:43. He trains with Jorge and Ed Torres, and Dathan Ritzenhein. And he’s running well, placing second to Dan Browne at the New Haven 20K in 59:38 and following that up with a third place effort at the TC 10 Mile in 48:03.
Chad Johnson. Age: 31, PR: 2:15:03, Qualifier: 2:15:03, Chicago (’06).
Like Carney, Johnson started his college career at a smaller school (UW-Stevens Point) before transferring to a Big Ten school. The former University of Minnesota runner now trains with the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project in Rochester Hills, Michigan, a team which includes guys like Sell and Verran. Johnson, who was the state record holder at 10 miles (48:44) until Abdirahman bettered his time this year, started 2007 off with a 1:04:01 half marathon at Houston and followed that up by winning the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in 1:05:18.
Chris Lundstrom. Age: 31, PR: 2:17:34, Qualifier: 2:17:34, TCM (’06).
A Northfield native, Lundstrom also trains with Team USA Minnesota. In July, he represented the U.S. at the Pan American Games where he placed 6th in the marathon in 2:18:04. Even with only a three month turn around between the two marathons, Lundstrom should be able to improve dramatically from his 53rd place at the 2004 Trials.
Donovan Fellows. Age: 28, PR: 2:19:23, Qualifier: 2:19:23, Chicago (’06).
While at Purdue, Fellows was the 2002 Big Ten champion at 10,000 meters. Lately the Woodbury resident has been racing well. At the Victory 10K he finished second to Lundstrom with a time of 31:08. Two weeks later he avenged that loss with a victory at the City of Lakes 25K, 1:19:58. More recently, he beat Lundstrom by 7 seconds at the TC 10 Mile, finishing in 50:26.
Zachary Schendel. Age: 29, PR: 2:20:36, Qualifier: 2:20:36, California International (’06).
The former Team USA Minnesota member placed fourth at the 2006 TC 10 Mile last year in 51:07. Then two months later he earned his qualifying time at the California International Marathon. Since that time I can only find two 5K results for the Red Wing resident, along with a 51:34 at this year’s TC 10 Mile.
Pete Gilman. Age: 32, PR: 2:20:57, Qualifier: 2:20:57, Chicago (’06).
All Gilman had to do to qualify for the Trials at last year’s Chicago Marathon was drop his 4-year old PR nearly 3 minutes. Not an easy task, considering his other attempts resulted in times of 2:25 and 2:36. He responded by dropping nearly 4 minutes from his previous best. Recently featured in Runner’s World, the Rochester resident also placed fourth at the City of Lakes 25K in 1:23:10.
Ryan Meissen. Age: 29, PR: 2:18:03, Qualifier: 2:18:03 Austin (’06).
Meissen may have started his marathoning career sooner than anyone else in the field, having run his first marathon at the age of 15. The Hudson, Wisconsin native now lives near Milwaukee. He’ll be making his second appearance at the Trials and looking to improve upon his 20th place showing in 2004.
Mike Reneau. Age: 29, PR: 2:17:46, Qualifier: 2:17:46, Houston (’07).
A high school teammate of Meissen’s, Reneau now trains with the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project. 40 years after his dad finished 10th at the 1968 Trails, he’ll be making his first Trials appearance. If he wasn’t listed under the locals, I’d definitely have him penciled in under my list of dark horses. His race results for the year include 1:20:01 for 25K and 47:12 for 15K.
Marty Rosendahl. Age: 29, PR: 2:17:05, Qualifier: 2:17:05, Chicago (’06).
Fridley native Rosendahl is another qualifier from the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project. While at Minnesota State University-Mankato, he earned four NCAA Division II cross-country all-American awards. Earlier this year he represented the US at the World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, Kenya where he finished 103rd.
Alright, that’s my breakdown of the Trials. But rather than simply taking my word for it, I thought I’d include the picks of local experts who know much more about elite running than me.
Dennis Barker – Team USA Minnesota coach.
Spoken like a true coach, Barker found it difficult to list his top-3 without knowing anything about their health or training. His favorites are basically a list of the favorites and contenders listed above. In addition, he listed a couple of names that weren’t on my list above, Fasil Bizuneh and Mbarak Hussein. And obviously, as their coach, he has to go with Jason Lehmkuhle and Chris Lundstrom too.
Rod DeHaven – 2000 Olympic marathoner and South Dakota State University coach.
He picked Keflezighi, Abdirahman and Hall, but also mentioned that Sell could easily bump Hall off the team. His dark horse is James Carney and his sentimental favorite is former SDSU runner, Pete Gilman.
Matt Gabrielson – Olympic Trials qualifier in the 5000m, 10,000m and marathon.
Gabrielson qualified for Trials by running 2:19:53 in his debut at New York City last year. He’s chosen to focus on the track, rather than run the Trials. He thinks Abdirahman and Hall will go first and second and the final spot will be a toss up between Keflezighi, Culpepper, Ritzenhein and Sell. His other contenders are Browne, Bizuneh, Gilmore and Lehmkuhle.
Steve Hoag – Second place finisher at the 1975 Boston Marathon in 2:11.
Hall, Keflezighi, and Sell with Lehmkuhle as his dark horse.
Kelly Mortenson – 12th place finisher at the 2000 Trials.
Abdirahman, Khannouchi and Hall. If Khannouchi doesn’t run, he likes Keflezighi in his place.
Charlie Mahler – Expert running and track & field journalist.
Abdirahman, Keflezighi and Culpepper with Lehmkuhle as his dark horse.
There you have it, the complete breakdown of the top runners who will be at the 2008 Olympic Trials Marathon for men. As Coach Barker said, “I think this is going to be a very tight race for a very long time and there are a lot of guys who could make the team on any given day.”
Whose day will be November 3rd? There’s only one way to find out.