The 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials were nothing short of incredible this year. Hosted in the city of Los Angeles, California, on Valentine’s Day Weekend, there were some surprising elements, some expected ones, and of course, plenty of heat on a seasonably warm Saturday of 81 degrees. It can be summed up in primarily three large points; Galen Rupp has arrived, Meb Keflezighi has not left, and Amy Hastings returns. In following, there were key performances by Desiree Linden and Jared Ward.
I recently wrote about Galen Rupp being a potential force in the marathon. Well, he did not disappoint. It might have seemed crazy to gamble a debut marathoner as the man to beat, but Galen Rupp proved that he is a safe bet. What did catch me, and I believe a lot of people, off guard is how he managed to win the race with dominance. Early on he tucked himself in the front half of the lead pack, remaining relaxed and controlled in the overly warm environment but also the unchartered territory of the race itself. When Tyler Pennel of ZAP Fitness Reebok made his move around mile 16, there was no fear in Rupp to reel Pennel back in and take over the race on the shoulder of Keflezighi.
As Rupp and Keflezighi dropped Pennel it was clear that this was not so much a race as it was maintaining a lead. Still, Rupp didn’t strategize conservatively to make sure he would make it to the finish on the tail of an experienced marathon, but instead gapped Keflezighi at mile 24 as if he was racing on the track and had decided to sit until the last 400 and kick. It just looked to easy for him considering miles 23 through 25 were splits of 4:47, 4:52 and 4:56. A time of 2:11:45 is not a supernatural debut time, but the fact that he came out on a hot day and absolutely dominated what was suppose to be a tight field is what has me racking my brain on how fast he really is, and if this is the start of an unmerciful tear on the marathon circuit by Galen Rupp.
Outstanding. The performance put on by Mebrahtom Keflezighi, commonly referred to as Meb, just left one speechless. At this point, we ought to have learned that Meb should never be counted out, but he somehow still managed to catch everyone off guard. He will be 41 years old, come the Rio Olympics, and he still came out and competed against all these young runners, and simply said, humbled them.
Yes, Galen Rupp won the Olympic Marathon Trials, but Meb was the people’s champion. Standing along the last 200 meters of the course trying to get pictures of Rupp finishing was difficult, with Meb it was impossible. There were people practically pouring over the barriers, flags waving, and outstretched hands in attempts to get a high five. People’s reactions were that of seeing a childhood idol and something life-changing while Rupp’s applause was more in the spirit of competition, and seeing the winner come by with a few die hard fans sprinkled in.
The story of redemption was Amy Cragg’s on February 13. A four-year nightmare was put to rest as she crossed the finish line. In the 2012 Trials, Cragg came in a heartbreaking 4th place finish. Considering how she ran the 10,000 meters of that year with a vengeance to earn herself a spot on the Olympic Team, one could feel that same determination at the Marathon Trials this year.
She ran an incredible race alongside training partner and close friend, Shalane Flanagan. Together, they managed to lead almost the entirety of the race, and made a surge at mile 10. From there, they were by themselves until mile 25. Flanagan began to drastically fall off and slip into 3rd place, behind a storming Desiree Linden who is on a redemption story of her own after dropping out the 2012 Olympic Marathon. More impressively, these three women all managed to run under 2 and a half hours with Cragg at 2:28:20, Linden 2:28:54, Flanagan 2:29:19, which in the conditions, is quite fast.
Desiree Linden and Jared Ward
Desiree Linden was by no means unexpected in 2nd place, but it was inspirational and a potential moment of foreshadowing. After placing second in the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials she made her way to London, but had to drop out only two miles into the race due to a debilitating hip injury. Following that performance was tough for her not only physically, but mentally, and it was a long road to where she is now through the injuries and setbacks. She boasts a personal best of 2:22:38, is finally healthy, and after a near perfect execution on Saturday’s race, could be a key runner to watch in Rio.
Jared Ward was probably the least surprising performance of this race. Rewind almost a year and you’ll find him running the 2015 Asics LA Marathon in an uncanny similar fashion. Not only did the race take place in mid 70s to low 80 degree weather, but he recorded a 3rd place finish with a time of 2:12:56, while at these trials he ran a 2:13:00, also for third place. The strategy for this race was also quite similar. He did not cover the move made by Pennel earlier in the race, although he did try to stay within striking distance of Keflezighi and Rupp as they caught Pennel, which put him in position to overtake 3rd place by mile 21. This was the perfect race for Ward, considering how he thrives in these hotter races where it pays to negative split, which is the type of runner the U.S. will need in Rio de Janeiro come this August.