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Profiles/Interviews: The Favorites | The Contenders | Khalid Khannouchi Interview | Up Close with Abdi | A chat with Meb
Extras: Video Coverage
2008 USA Men's Olympic Trials - The Contenders
by Sharon Ekstrom
The USA Men's Trials field will be the strongest and deepest in history. In most any other year, the men listed below would make the Olympic Team with little trouble and included in this list are Olympians and the past Marathon world record holder. But with the 2008 Trials field what it is, we can only list these men as the second-tier - albeit very strong - group of contenders. Any of these men can make the team, but they may have their work cut out for them.
See also: The Favorites
DOB: 12/22/71 - Meknes, Morocco
Home: Ossining, NY
Coach: Sandra Khannouchi
Trials Qualifications: London (Marathon - 4/23/06 - 2:07:04)
The Fastest American. The ex-World Record Holder in the Marathon. The American Record Holder in the Marathon. The only man to ever run sub-2:06 three times. The fastest qualifier for the USA Men's Olympic Team Trials.... Khalid Khannouchi has an incredible history of running performances. This four time winner of the Chicago Marathon is also the American record holder with his 2:05:38 win at the 2002 London Marathon. Beginning in the early 1990's, Khannouchi, showed running potential in his native Morocco, but after being refused sponsorship funds for training he chose to leave for the USA. He found a job as a dishwasher in Brooklyn, NY, settled in and focused on serious training. Khannouchi quickly made a name for himself with spectacular finishes at high profile races such as the Peachtree 10K and Philadelphia Distance Classic. His marathon debut earned him the fastest debut in marathon history with a win at the 1997 Chicago Marathon in 2:07:10. Khannouchi suffered several setbacks since 2002, predominantly injuries, including recent foot neuromas, causing him to curtail training and miss the 2004 Olympic Trials among other races. In 2006, he returned to the London Marathon placing 4th in 2:07:04 - his qualifying race for these Olympic Trials. Yet, 2007 hasn't been an astounding year for Khannouchi who dropped out of the 2007 London Marathon at mile 16 and placed 14th at the 2007 Healthy Kidney 10K in New York City's Central Park (Dathan Ritzenhein placed first). Despite years of injuries and inconsistent recent performances, Khannouchi still remains a strong contender at the Trials - with five marathon finishes in times faster than anyone else who will be running the Olympic Trials.
Why: The ex-World Record Holder is by far the fastest marathoner in the Trials, but it is possible that his best times may be behind him. Khannouchi knows that this may be his last chance to run an Olympic Games for the USA. Couple that with the fact that Khannouchi owns five marathon finish times that are faster than anyone else in the Trials and his years of experience running and training in New York City in Central Park. A healthy Khannouchi could blow away the competition....
DOB: 9/15/72 - Fort Worth, TX
Home: Louisville, CO
Coach: Steve Jones
Trials Qualifications: Boston (Marathon - 4/17/06 - 2:11:02); Palo Alto (10000M - 4/29/07 - 27:50); Indianapolis (10000M - 6/21/07 - 28:34); Walnut, CA (5000M - 4/13/07 - 13:33)
The Defending Champion. If there is a top American field, expect Alan Culpepper to be part of the line-up. This veteran runner began his running career in a summer track program and won five Texas high school championships, but declined to run for his team his senior year in High School, instead running in College races as an unattached runner. Culpepper made the 2000 US Olympic Team in the 10,000 meter and debuted in the marathon distance at the 2002 Chicago Marathon with a sixth place finish in 2:09:41 that is still his personal best. His second marathon was the 2004 Olympic Trials in Birmingham which he won in 2:11:42. His later marathons are generally consistent and strong: Culpepper placed 12th in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens (2:15:26), 4th in the 2005 Boston Marathon (2:13:39), 12th in the 2005 Chicago Marathon (2:13:20) and 5th in the 2006 Boston Marathon (2:11:02). And while these times are not as fast as some, 2007 has been a strong year for Culpepper who won the USA Cross Country 12K Championships, a title he previously held in 1999 and 2003 and placed 6th at the New York City Half Marathon with a 1:03:34. With over 100 men vying for three spots on the US Olympic Team, Culpepper's previous experience will prevent him from being foolish with strategy on race day. Most importantly, his cross country background will be an advantage for the trial's criterium course which includes several long hills and few flats.
Why: Alan Culpepper knows what it takes to win the Olympic Trials Marathon - he has done it before. Culpepper is always a strong competitor and can always been seen in the lead pack - that's where he chooses to run and at 6'1" he is also a visible presence... There are faster runners and for Culpepper this will be a game of attrition and Culpepper should be in the race until the end.
DOB: May 11, 1977
Home: San Mateo, CA
Coach: Jack Daniels
Trials Qualifications: Boston (Marathon - 4/17/06 - 2:12:45); New York (Marathon - 11/5/06 - 2:13:13); Boston (Marathon - 4/16/07 - 2:16:41)
The Marathon Specialist. If consistency had a name it would be Peter Gilmore. Gilmore, who started running in high school and college, spent early years after graduation with the Nike Farm Team. While it took time for him to break into the sport as a professional athlete, Gilmore, attracted to longer distances, debuted at the 2002 Chicago Marathon with a 2:21:47 (37th place). Humbled by his debut marathon, he returned to the 2003 Chicago Marathon and finished 18th with a 2:17:32. Gilmore continued to focus on the marathon distance and went on to place 8th at the 2004 US Olympic Trials with a time of 2:15:43. (Gilmore actually finished 9th, but Eddy Hellebuyck was disqualified for doping.) He followed the 2004 Trials with a 2:14:02 performance at the 2004 California International Marathon. Beginning in 2005, Gilmore began running the New York City Marathon as his Fall race and the Boston Marathon as his Spring race. His finish of 2:12:45 at the 2006 Boston Marathon placed him near the top of the American finishers, while his 2:13:13 at the 2006 New York City Marathon earned and 2:16:41 at the 2007 Boston Marathon were the best finishes in those races by an American. Strong finishes at the 2007 Ohme-Hochi Road Race (30K in 1:37:22) and the New York City Half (1:05:06) and focus on the Trials prove that Gilmore will be among the top and a strong contender for a spot on the Olympic Team.
Why: Gilmore is one of the most focused runners we know - and he has been focusing on the Trials. Gilmore is consistently one of the top American finishers, even if he is not always attacking the race from the front. Depending on performances by the expected leaders, Gilmore could surprise those who do not know him with a top three finish. Those who know him will not be surprised.
Home: Rochester Hills, MI
Coach: Kevin and Keith Hanson
Trials Qualifications: Chicago (Marathon - 10/22/06 - 2:10:47); Boston (Marathon - 4/17/06 - 2:10:55)
The Workhorse. The poster-child for the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, Brian Sell is one to watch for at the Trials. Sell had been synonymous with the word "champion" beginning in high school and college where his talent in the 1500 meter up through the 10,000 meter was evident from the start. Ready for the longer distances in 2003, Sell raced the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships and finished as first American in 23rd place with a time of 1:03:53. He went on to race the 2003 USATF Championships 20K (road) and finished with the 5th fastest American 20K time ever in 59:18. Sell's next challenge was the marathon where he debuted at the 2003 Chicago Marathon finishing in 28th place in 2:19:57 which qualified him for the 2004 Olympic Trials. At the 2004 Trials, Sell made a name for himself as he led the pack from mile seven through twenty-two before being caught and fading to twelth place in in 2:17:20. Sell followed his trials performance with consistent improvements over the years including 10th place at the 2005 Chicago Marathon (2:13:21), winner of the 2005 USA 25 km Championships (1:15:27) ninth at the 2005 World Outdoor Championships (2:13:27), second at the 2005 USA 10 Mile Championships (47:37 PR). Sell's times continued to improve in 2006 as winner of the USA Half-Marathon Championships (1:02:39 PR), 4th at the Boston Marathon in 2:10:55 and 6th at Chicago Marathon in a 2:10:47 PR. Sell does it all with hard work and as part of his team's philosophy is one of the few top American distance runners who does not train in altitude. Coached by the Hansons who believe in hard work and the benefits of team training, Sell continues to shine going into 2007 with a first place at the 2007 USATF 25K Championships. Sell does have a shot at the US Olympic Team. His roadwork will be a product of his hard training, high mileage and Trials course simulations.
Why: Sell has had the full support of one of the great American training programs - the Hansons and their group training regime. With the courage to lead the 2004 Trials Marathon and the experience of the last few years, Sell could easily sneak into the top three.
Home: Boulder, CO
Coach: Brad Hudson
Trials Qualifications: New York (Marathon - 11/5/06 - 2:14:01); Stanford (10000M - 4/30/06 - 27:36); Indianapolis (10000M - 6/21/07 - 28:32); Brasschaat (5000M - 7/21/07 - 13:16); Indianapolis (5000M - 7/21/07 - 13:17); Rome (5000M - 7/14/06 - 13:18); Eugene (5000M - 4/21/06 - 13:26)
The Young Gun. Dathan Ritzenhein will be just 24 years old at the Trials and has run just one marathon in his life - but the youngster has proven that he has the drive to succeed in the marathon distance. Throughout high school and college, Ritzenhein was a natural runner excelling in both cross country and track. In his debut 10,000 meter on the track, Ritzenhein placed 6th at the Stanford Invitational 10,000 meter in a time of 27:38.5 which qualified him for the 2004 Olympic Trials and earned him the American Collegiate Record. Rather than run with the collegiate classification, Ritzenhein turned pro in the summer of 2004. Soon after, he was injured with a stress fracture to his foot. Refusing to be sidelined, Ritzenhein ran the 10,000m at the Olympic Trials breaking his foot in the process and finishing in 22nd place with a 31:13.91. Having qualified as an alternate for the Olympic Team with his previous A-Standard 10000M time, Ritzenhein made it to the start of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens when Meb Keflezighi and Bob Kennedy withdrew from the 10000m race (Keflezighi to focus on the marathon distance and Kennedy due to an Achilles injury.) But complications from the foot injury caused Ritzenhein to drop out of the Olympic race. In 2005, Ritzenhein made a comeback setting a then personal best in the 5,000 meters (13:22.23), and winning the USA Cross Country Championships (12 km). In 2006, Ritzenhein returned to longer distances, placing third at the Great North Run (half marathon) in 61:25 and ran his first marathon at the New York City Marathon, finishing in eleventh place in 2:14:01. In 2007, Ritzenhein placed third at the 2007 USA Cross Country Championships in Boulder (37:47) after being the early leader, won the Healthy Kidney 10K in New York with a 28:08 personal best and finished in fifth place at the Flanders Cup 5000M in a personal best time of 13:16.06.
Why: Before crashing and burning in his first marathon, Ritzenhein was pushing to drop the other runners in the New York City Marathon. That courage, combined with lessons learned from that race, combined with excellent track speed, mean that Ritzenhein is capable of an upset...
Home: Minneapolis, MN
Coach: Dennis Barker of Team USA Minnesota
Trials Qualifications: Twin Cities (Marathon - 10/1/06 - 2:19:03); Stanford (10000M - 4/30/06 - 28:33); Indianapolis (10000M - 6/23/06 - 28:44)
The Wild Card. As an all-American in the 5000m and 10000m, Jason Lehmkuhle was still in college (Drake University) when he qualified for the 2000 Olympic Trials in the 10000M. Although his main focus remained on the 2000 NCAA Division I Championships where he placed third, Lehmkuhle ran the trials in a 30:32 (25th place). In 2001, Lehmkuhle joined the newly formed Team Minnesota USA, a post-collegiate elite training group. In 2003 he dove into long distance racing with a debut at the Chicago Marathon. His finish time of 2:18:24 gave him 20th place, but the time qualified him the "A" standard for the 2004 U.S. Men?s Olympic Marathon Trials. At the 2004 Trials, Jason finished ninth overall with a personal best time of 2:16:27 which remains his current personal best. In 2005 he ran the World Championships Cross Country 12K, Half Marathon and Marathon distances finishing in 39:14, 64:58 and 2:22:46 respectively. He went on to run the 2006 Twin Cities Marathon in a 2:19:03 (7th place). In 2007, Jason has had a year of personal bests - 5th place with a 1:02:51 at the USA Half Marathon Championships in Houston, 9th place with a 38:26 at the USA Cross Country Championships 12K, 5th place in 44:17 at the USA 15K Championships and 1:21:58 at a USA 25K Championships to name a few. Lehmkuhle put in a good effort at the 2007 Boston Marathon. Having broken away from the pack with Peter Gilmore, Lehmkuhle fell off the pace finishing at a disappointing 2:38:05.
Why: 2007 has been a full year of racing for Lehmkuhle - one of personal bests showing a steady state of improvement from the 3000M to the half marathon distances. Lehmkuhle is most definitely an outside contender but he may be on the verge of a breakthrough.
Home: Portland, OR
Coach: Ed Eyestone
Trials Qualifications: Palo Alto (10000M - 4/29/07 - 27:56); Walnut, CA (0:27:56 (5000M - 4/13/07 - 13:26)
The Debutante. As one of the eight men who qualified and then entered the Olympic Trials without a marathon qualification (Josh used the 10000M standard), Josh Rohatinsky will debut in the marathon distance at the 2008 Olympic Trials. As shocking as the decision to move into the Marathon for the Trials is the fact that Rohatinsky only qualified for the trials in April 2007 and could not have thought of doing a marathon until May - a big jump from the 10K to the Marathon in such a short time. When speaking with Rohatinsky, we were told that his longest pre-Marathon run was 18 miles. Rohatinsky, predominantly a track runner, spent the first half of the year making personal bests in the 5,000 m and 10,000 meter distances - 3:46.59 in the 1500 meter, 27:55.86 in the 10,000 meter at the Stanford Invitational and 13:25.53 in the 5,000 meter at the Mount Sac Relays. Rohatinsky?s foray into road racing was at the 2007 Great North Run (half marathon) where he finished in 5th place with a time of 62:54.
Why: Anything is possible. We like to put the doubters to shame; but in truth for Rohatinsky to make the Olympic Team - he needs to get a quick lesson in marathon strategy and marathon physiology and he'd better hope his training has been as thorough as it could be in such a short time.