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Extras: Video Coverage
Olympic Dreams, Olympic Realities
2008 US Olympic Team Trials - Men's Marathon (Saturday, November 4, 2007)
by Sharon Ekstrom
The 2008 US Olympic Team Trials was a day when dreams came true for some, a day of upsets for others and a day of sadness in the running community. 179 men qualified for the Olympic Trials with marathon, 10000 meter or 5000 meter times - 134 men used their qualifications to enter the race and 131 men started the race. In windy 47 degree temperatures in the heart of New York City's Rockefeller Center, 131 men started the race taking to the criterium course which traveled from Times Square to continue with five laps of New York's Central Park. With notable talents such as Meb Keflezighi, Abdi Abdirahman, Alan Culpepper, Khalid Khannouchi, Peter Gilmore, Dan Browne, Ryan Hall, Ryan Shay, Dathan Ritzenhein and Brian Sell, the race was filled with top notch competition all eyeing the top three finishes to earn a spot on the 2008 US Olympic Team in Beijing, China.
Ryan Hall (25 yrs) crushed the competition in just his second marathon - taking an early lead just before the Half-Marathon point and never letting up. Earlier in the year, Hall's debut marathon at the 2007 London Marathon was a new American debut record of 2:08:24 - good enough to earn an eighth place finish in the deep, deep field. With Hall's recent road racing experience and records achieved on flat, fast courses, doubters believed that the hills of the New York City course could overwhelm him. They were wrong.
The veteran marathoners and favorites for the Olympic Team - Abdirahman, Keflezighi and Culpepper - had a strong start, but it was a day for the young guns and a changing of the guard as the men who made up the top three were all under 30 and two of whom were running in just their second marathon. Hall's finish in 2:09:02 was the fastest Olympic Trials finish of all time and proof that his earlier performance at London was not a one-time performance and that Hall is capable of beating the best marathoners in the world.
Dathan Ritzenhein (24 yrs) was selected for the 2004 Olympic team, but was unable to participate due to an injury to his left foot - in a way, he was looking for a comeback and certainly a trip back to the Olympics. Ritzenhein kept to the lead pack in the race and led - briefly - at the 7 mile mark. At mile 16 when Hall surged, Ritzenhein remained levelheaded as Abdirahman and Keflezighi continued onward with Hall. While Abdirahman would eventually drop out, and Keflezighi would falter due to a calf issue, Ritzenhein would run solo from 35K to the finish placing second thereby earning him a spot on the Olympic Team.
The third place spot had been a bit of a toss up among three contenders - Dan Browne (32yrs), Khalid Khannouchi (36 yrs) and Brian Sell (29 yrs). At mile eight Browne, the 2004 Olympican in the marathon and 1000meters, caught up with the leaders and ran strong. He was returning from multiple knee injuries and surgery and qualified for the trials with a 10000 meter time rather than a marathon qualifier. Khannouchi, who set the World Record twice and is the only person to ever run sub-2:06 three times, was also returning from multiple setbacks over the years, had never participated in the Olympics and for him, this was likely his last shot. Sell who was not the fastest runner in the pack, had the adavantage of one o f the strongest work ethics and the benefit of being part of the Hansons team. By mile 18, Browne pulled to the side to stretch his calf and Keflezighi started losing ground; but Sell pushed onward to the finish. Sell nabbed third place in a time of 2:11:40. Khannouchi placed fourth in a 2:12:34 and will be an alternate for the Olympic Team.
While the Olympic Trials Marathon should have been a celebration of the up and coming American marathoners, the 2008 US Olympic Trials-Men's Marathon ended on a somber note. Competitor and dark horse, Ryan Shay died after going into cardiac arrest during the race after mile 5 in Central Park possibly due to an existing heart condition. Shay (28 yrs) was the 2003 USA Marathon Champion, 2003 & 2004 USA Half Marathon Champion and 2004 USA 20km Champion. From a family of runners, Shay began racing before he was ten years of age under the tutelage of his father, Joe, a high school coach. Shay touched the lives of many in the running community. A former teammate of Ryan Hall, Shay had trained with Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi in Mammoth Lakes before changing coaches and moving to Flagstaff, AZ in the past year, where he trained at times with Abdi Abdirahman and Peter Gilmore. Shay is survived by his wife, Alicia, a fellow professional distance runner, whom he met the day after the 2005 New York City Marathon at a nearby pub, Rosie O'Grady's, and married on July 7, 2007. His vibrancy, dedication to the sport and his sense of humor will be missed and will forever add a pale cast to the 2008 Olympic Trials Marathon.