Hall holds on for second, Abdirahman third. Ritzenhein fades to fourth.
HOUSTON–Perhaps Meb Keflezighi should never give himself more than 70 days between marathons.
Just 69 days after finishing sixth at the ING New York City Marathon on November 4, Keflezighi rebounded to take home his first Olympic Marathon Trials title on Saturday, breaking the tape in a personal best 2:09:08, 22 seconds up on 2008 Trials champion Ryan Hall. It was eerily reminiscent of 2004 when Keflezighi claimed silver at the Olympic Marathon in Athens, only to follow it up with a then personal best 2:09:53 to finish as runner-up in New York just 70 days later.
“To be on my third Olympic team is all I dream about,” said the 36-year-old Keflezighi. “It’s an honor.”
Rounding out the top-3 to make up the squad that will represent the United States in London was Abdi Abdirahman, who surprised many with his 2:09:42 finish. Abdirahman qualifies for his fourth Olympic team, and Hall his second.
“The crowd is so great I didn’t want to disappoint them,” Abdirahman said. “I’m so glad to be on the team with these two great guys.”
Hall asserted himself from the start, bolting to the front shortly after the sound of the starter’s gun. He clicked off consistent, quick opening miles of 4:50, 4:51, 4:51, 4:48 and 4:43 to lead the pack which included Keflezighi, Abdirhaman, Dathan Ritzenhein, Joseph Chirlee and marathon debutants Mo Trafeh and Brian Ollinger.
“I was feeling good,” Hall said afterward. “You never know what’s possible on the day. I was being me. I knew I just needed to air it out. That’s the way I run best. After running 2:04 at Boston I feel like anything’s possible for me. I get excited by running fast.”
The next 5 miles were much of the same with splits ranging from 4:44 to 4:53. Hall led through 10 miles as the pack completed their first of three 8-mile loops after an initial 2.2-mile opening lap. Abdirahman was the first runner to lead for more than a few strides when he surged heading into mile 11 (4:49) before Hall reclaimed it shortly afterward at a water stop.
After a slow 12th mile (4:57) Abdirahman again move into the lead, opening up a small gap that was quickly closed by Hall, Keflezighi and Ritzenhein. Ritzenhein, who sat in the pack for much of the first half of the race, moved to the front for the first time at the 20K mark. The group of four was over a minute ahead of the chase pack heading into the half-marathon check point, passed in 1:03:25. At that point it appeared that Hall’s Trials record of 2:09:02 was going to be obliterated.
Miles 14 and 15 were passed in 4:55 and 4:56, respectively, with Hall still at the front. The Californian swerved back and forth across the road in an attempt to shake his pursuers, but it didn’t work. By mile 17, which was passed in 4:59 (the slowest of the race to that point), Ritzenhein and Abdirahman were in the lead with Hall and Keflezighi in close pursuit.
Just before 30K Abdirhaman threw his hands up in the air, seemingly summoning energy from the crowd, and surged into the lead–a move which dropped Ritzenhein, the runner-up at this race in 2008. Abdirahman briefly lost his balance after inadvertently running into Hall just past the 30K mark, but found his stride again quickly. Ritzenhein continued to drop back as the pace started to slip, with the next several miles being passed in the low-5-minute range.
By mile 21 Keflezighi had taken over the lead as Hall and Abdirahman hung closely on his shoulder. Ritzenhein had fallen 25 seconds back by that point, and the chase pack was 2:05 behind the lead group.
“Meb looked over at us and said ‘let’s make this team together,” Abdirahman said of the talk going on amongst the group at that point.
Just before mile 24 Keflezighi threw in a huge surge, breaking Abdirahman, and the race for the win was on. Hall dropped back briefly before rejoining Keflezighi. At the race’s final water station with a mile-and-a-half to go, Keflezighi threw his knockout blow, surging yet again and dropping Hall for good. With a half mile to go Keflezighi sensed that victory was his, and he pumped his arms as he passed a pack of female runners on their penultimate lap.
Keflezighi savored his victory as he ran down the final straightaway, waving a small American flag and pointing to the sky. After breaking the finish line tape he was met by family members and hoisted in the air by his father, a customary occurrence in the Keflezighi family after a notable achievement.
“I knew I could win this, or at least make the team,” Keflezighi said. “I just wanted to make my third Olympic team for my three girls.”