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Olympic Marathon Trials – Mens' Preview

Published by
Scott Bush   on Jan 12 2012, 02:47 PM

Few Olympic Trial events have ever had the intrigue and suspense as this year’s Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston, Texas. With over 300 competitors toeing the starting line, the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials promise to be one to remember.

On the men’s side, Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi and Dathan Ritzenhein are the pre-race favorites, but up to a dozen other competitors have a legitimate chance to break into the top three and earn them a glorious trip to London, England. Whether the race is fast or tactical, the men’s race should be full of suspense, making it a perfect start to Team USA qualifying.

The Favorites

For months, talk of this race has had Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi and Dathan Ritzenhein leading the way. These three men are all former Olympians, have been in the national spotlight since their prep days and have been considered each at one point to be the greatest hope in American distance running. Each brings a wealth of experience to the race, but also a few question marks.

Ryan Hall – Despite running the Chicago Marathon in October, Hall seems poised and ready to take on the field, showcasing his talents and once again proving he is the class of American men’s marathoning. His 2:08:04 places him over a minute faster than his nearest competitor (Keflezighi) and over two minutes ahead of the next closest PR in the field.

In 2008, American marathoning fans were amazed by the power and ease of Hall crushing the field in New York City at the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials. The question remains, will he take out the pace equally as fast and dominate in the same manner? If his past results are any indication, the answer to at least the first part of the question is a resounding yes.

Meb Keflezighi – After running a new personal best of 2:09:13 at the New York City marathon in November, Keflezighi came down with a foot infection that took some time to go away. While the foot infection could have been a blessing in disguise, forcing him to rest and recuparate before starting a quick ramp up in miles, Keflezighi seems poised to take on Hall and earn his spot on another Olympic Team. His experience is his advantage over the rest of the field, as he should be able to run at sub-2:10 pace for most of the race and cover whatever is thrown his way, and don’t forget that he earned the Olympic silver medal back in Athens.

Dathan Ritzenhein – The roller coaster ride known as Ritzenhein’s running career continues in Houston, as the gutsy Michigan native takes another shot at earning a spot on Team USA. Racing for only his third time since the 2012 New York City Marathon, Ritzenhein has much to prove. He’s dealt with injuries, but seems poised to line up healthy, which should scare all of his competitors. While his marathon best marathon over the past two years is a mere 2:12:33, ranking him seventh heading into the race, his tenacious racing fury and big race experience give him an edge.

Next Up

While Hall, Keflezighi and Ritzenhein are the three favorites on paper, there is little question that a handful of others competitors have a very good shot to upset the Big Three and make the U.S. Olympic Team.

Brett Gotcher – The McMillan Elite standout has fond, and not so fond memories, of running marathons in Houston, debuting at the distance in 2010 in an awe-inspiring 2:10:36, while finishing a disappointing 2:19:30 in 2011. Despite his ups and downs, Gotcher is considered one of the strongest runners in the field. Over the course of 2011, Gotcher earned numerous top five finishes in U.S. road championship events, including a recent third place showing in Minneapolis at the 10-mile U.S. Championships, where he finished in 46:51.

Jason Hartmann – While he didn’t run a marathon in 2011, Hartmann is easily considered one of the favorites in Houston. His 2:11:06 Chicago Marathon finish in 2010 ranks him as the fifth fastest competitor heading into Saturday’s race, while his 2009 Twin Cities Marathon performance of 2:12:09 shows he is consistent across the distance. Hartmann focused more on speed in 2011, with big performances in the 10k and half-marathon. The Boulder-based runner is overlooked a bit, but should never be discounted.

Jason Lehmkuhle – Maybe it’s because he trains in Minnesota, but Lehmkuhle has been one of the more overlooked runners heading into the Olympic Trials. The 34 year-old veteran, who’s main training partner Matt Gabrielson should not be overlooked either, is running strong after finishing second in the U.S. 20k Championships and fifth in the U.S. Half-Marathon Championships in 2011. He has experience competing for a top three finish at the Olympic Trials, as he was fifth in 2008.

Nick Arciniaga – Gotcher’s training partner Arciniaga is coming off an injury, which makes him a little less of a favorite compared to if he was entering Saturday’s race fully healthy. Despite that fact, the current McMillen Elite athlete has run two sub-2:12 marathons (2:11:30 and 2:11:48) and has shown time and again that he can rise to the occasion when necessary. He was the fourth finisher for Team USA at this past summer’s World Championships, despite dealing with a nagging injury.

Mike Morgan – One of the most experienced veterans in the field, Morgan doesn’t possess a the same level PR as many of the other top competitors in the field, as he’s only run 2:14:55, but he does possess momentum. Morgan finished as the top American in the field at the World Championships this past summer, while having some tremendous workouts as of late. The Hansons-Brooks standout will most likely employ his team’s usual strategy of running their own race, which generally means coming from behind, but do not discount Morgan at any point throughout the race.

Jeff Eggleston – Not nearly as notable as the men mentioned above him, Eggleston has quietly established himself as one of the top 10 marathoners in the U.S. In 2011, Eggleston won the Pittsburg Marathon, despite entering the race as a rabbit, then came back a month later to set his marathon PR at Grandma’s Marathon (MN) in 2:13:12. The Flagstaff-based Eggleston then competed for Team USA at the World Championships, placing 39th overall and third American in 2:23:33. His consistency and race experience give him an edge over some of the less experienced competitors in the field.

Ryan Bak – Retired from the sport a year ago, Bak seemed ready to move on from the sport. However, a move to Bend, Oregon reignited the running flame and Bak has shown he is ready to tackle the marathon trials with a full head of steam. In early December, Bak jumped in the Cal International Marathon, debuting in the event and not knowing what to expect. As he crossed the finish line, he made noise across the running landscape, finishing in a surprising 2:14:17. Despite a short amount of recovery time (one month), Bak is healthy and inspired, which bodes well for his chances in Houston.

The Darkhorses

One of the most intriguing storylines heading into Saturday’s race are the numerous darkhorse runners, who have either never run a marathon or haven’t run one in some time, while having much success at shorter distances. All of these individuals possess the talent to run close to 2:10 for the 26.2 mile distance and challenge for the top three.

Mo Trafeh – When Galen Rupp was entered in the Olympic Marathon Trials, people were assuming that he’d challenge Hall, or at least challenge for a top two finish. While Trafeh’s track credentials don’t match Rupp’s, his road credentials cannot be overlooked. The Moroccan-born, self-trained, road race star brings with him a 1:00:39 half-marathon and U.S. road titles at 15k, 10 miles and half-marathon, to Houston. He dropped out of London this past April after going out much too fast. Better pacing and more marathon-based training makes him a legitimate threat to finish top three.

Brent Vaughn – Over the past few weeks, Vaughn has said time and again that his move to join Jerry Schumacher’s Oregon Track Club group initially had him questioning his fitness heading into the marathon Trials, but the past few weeks he’s rounded into prime shape and is poised to take on all comers. While Vaughn won’t have the ability to push the race with teammate Tim Nelson, who recently dropped out, Vaughn still has the half marathon (1:02:04) and track speed to challenge for a top five finish.

Patrick Smyth – Despite dropping out of the London Marathon in April of 2011, Smyth has shown his strength is more than adequate to handle the marathon, after finishing 1:02:01 in Houston in 2010. He’s trained by Terrence Mahon, and as we all know, the Mammouth TC tends to do fairly well in national championship events.

Fernando Cabada – One of the most inconsistent runners over the past few years, Cabada has shown that he can run with nearly anyone in the country when he is healthy and focused, but hasn’t seemed to put it together as much since winning the U.S. 25k Championship in 2010. He also carries a 1:02:32 half-marathon best.

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2014 1 21 8 25  
2013 1 16 11 42  
2012 1 45 10 584  
2010 1 12 6 18  
2009 1   4    
2008 1   3    
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2006 1   3    
2005 1   3    
2004 1   7    
2003 1   1    
2002 1   1