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Olympic Spirit Invades San Diego On Sunday

  • By Duncan Larkin
  • Published May. 29, 2012
  • Updated May. 31, 2012 at 6:34 PM UTC
Defending champion Meb Keflezighi celebrates with his father after winning last year's Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Half Marathon. Photo: Ollie Neglerio

Five London-bound Olympians will take the starting line at the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Half Marathon on Sunday. 

UPDATE [Wednesday, May 30, 5:00 PM] — Shalane Flanagan, U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials champion, has withdrawn from the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Half Marathon. FOR MORE: San Diego Union Tribune

SAN DIEGO — Famous for lining race routes with live bands and cheerleaders, the original Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon & ½ Marathon will celebrate its 15th birthday on Sunday.

This year’s event will feature half of the six-member U.S. Olympic Marathon team that will compete at the London Games this August. Elite athlete coordinator Matt Turnbull secured  the 1-2 finishers in the men’s race at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, Meb Keflezighi and Ryan Hall, as well as the women’s Olympic Marathon Trials winner, Shalane Flanagan, for Sunday’s half marathon.

“Once they qualified for the Olympic team, I knew they would be focusing on London,” said Turnbull, who expects two highly competitive races on Sunday even though the big prize ahead is London. “We identified a couple of the runners who I knew would fit our race. It was good timing. The half marathon is good timing for their full marathon and San Diego fits in that category. Of course, these guys have London in mind, but knowing their personalities, they don’t like to get beat.”

The Eritrean-born Keflezighi, 37, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1998, is the defending half marathon champion in San Diego, winning last year in 1:02:40.

“Winning the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Half Marathon was a turning point for me last year,” said Keflezighi, the 2004 Olympic Marathon silver medalist. “I enjoyed running my home course, where I knew every inch of the way, with family, friends and fans cheering me on. This will likely be my last race leading up to the Olympic Games. This will be a fun race for me.”

Hall, the American record-holder in the half marathon at 59 minutes, 43 seconds, which he ran in Houston in 2007, is also anxiously looking forward to the competition.

“Being a native California boy, I am stoked to have the opportunity to race in my backyard at this year’s San Diego Half Marathon,” said Hall, 29. “Having lived and trained in San Diego before, I’m excited to finally race there having seen the race in years past. This year’s race fits perfectly with my preparations for this summer’s Olympic Games. It will serve as my all-important, last race before the Games. I’m looking at this opportunity as one last chance to learn and tweak my training accordingly before running in what I consider to be the biggest race of my life.”

Keflezighi and Hall waged a stirring battle at the U.S. Olympic Trials at Houston in January. Hall, the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials winner, led most of the route this time before his pace slowed and enabled Keflezighi to take control. Keflezighi earned his third Olympic berth with a personal record of 2:09:08. That race came only 69 days after he set a then PR of 2:09:13 to finish sixth at the ING New York City Marathon. At 36, he was the oldest man to win the Olympic Trials and the first man to win the Olympic Trials and the New York City Marathon.

Hall, the runner-up to Keflezighi at the Trials in 2:09:30, has run the fastest marathon ever by an American, a 2:04:57 clocking at the Boston Marathon in 2011. Since Boston is net downhill and has a point-to-point layout, it is not recognized for record consideration. Hall has also run 2:06:17 for 26.2 miles, achieved at London in 2008.

Hall’s race-day surroundings will be familiar to him because he does much of his training in San Diego.

“But he’ll be going against the hometown favorite (Keflezighi),” Turnbull said. “For Meb, last year’s race was special. He won’t want to be beaten this time, either.”

Also in the men’s race will be Costa Rican Cesar Lizano, who qualified for the London Games with a 2:17:50 clocking at last October’s Chicago Marathon. He has a half marathon personal best of 1:06:42, run in London last month. Lizano has been training in San Diego during the month of May, and is looking forward to racing against Olympic-caliber competition on Sunday.

The women’s half marathon, meanwhile, should boil down to a clash between Flanagan and Kim Smith, the New Zealand Olympian and owner of the fastest half marathon run by a woman in the United States, 1:07:11, which she ran last year at Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia.

“I’m excited to run in the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Half Marathon,” Flanagan, 30, said. “It’s a wonderful place to go and run. The climate will be just right and I’m really looking forward to it. This will be my fourth Rock ‘n’ Roll event, having done Philadelphia, San Antonio and Miami most recently. The race fits in perfectly to my schedule as I continue to prepare for the Olympic Marathon.”

Flanagan set an Olympic Trials record of 2:25:38 in only her second marathon this past January, bettering the previous mark by nearly three minutes. Sometimes, though, Flanagan can be her own worst enemy.

“My strength as a runner is also my greatest weakness,” she said. “Sometimes I am just too stubborn and aggressive.”

Against a veteran like Smith, she’ll have to be very aggressive.

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Duncan Larkin

Duncan Larkin

Duncan Larkin is the news editor at Competitor.com and a freelance journalist who’s been covering the sport of running for over five years. He’s run 2:32 in the marathon and won the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race in 2007. His first running book, RUN SIMPLE, was released last July.

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