This past Saturday was monumental for the sport of running in the United States. Not only was it the first time in history that the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials would air live on national television, but it was also the first event that would conclude with the naming of the 2016 Olympians. Temperatures were nearly double of the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials’ 40-degree-weather, adding another element to the 26.2-mile battle that ensued on the streets of Los Angeles.
Meb Keflezighi toed the line on the men’s side as the reigning Olympic Marathon Trials champion, just as Shalane Flanagan did on the women’s side. Keflezighi, the 40-year-old veteran, had all eyes on him. Although he came in as the race favorite, some doubted he could even finish in the top three.
Technically, Meb came into the race with the fastest qualifying time, 2:08:37, from his Boston Marathon win in 2014. The multi-time Olympian and U.S. champion looked as cool as the other side of the pillow as he tied his racing flats just minutes before the start. But despite his look of calmness, Meb had a tough field of runners that he had to beat — many of them new, many on the verge of a major breakthrough. The toughest of them all was eventual race winner, Galen Rupp.
Rupp came into the Trials a first-time marathoner but carried the best credentials of the field. He’s the 2012 Olympic silver medalist in the 10,000m, holds four American records on the track and is an 8-time U.S. champion on the track as well.
Meb had control of the race heading into the final 10K, with Rupp near, as well as Tyler Pennel and Jared Ward. Although Pennel and Ward were hard to miss in their bright orange race kits, they weren’t mentioned much before the race.
Galen Rupp won the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in his debut marathon with a time of 2:11:11. He finished the second half nearly two minutes faster than the first. Meb Keflezighi qualified for his fourth Olympics by finishing second in 2:12:20. Meb had fallen back a bit when Rupp opened up a gap just after 22 miles. A surprise to many, Jared Ward, a former BYU All-American, finished third in 2:13:00, making his first Olympic team at the age of 27.
On the women’s side, much of the talk before the race was the debate to see if the 2012 race would repeat itself. Four years prior, Shalane Flanagan, Desi Linden and Kara Goucher finished in the top three to secure their spots on the Olympic team for the United States. Amy Cragg (who has since joined Flanagan’s training group in Portland, Ore.) placed fourth, missing the Olympic marathon team by a heart-wrenching one spot. (Amy made up for that by making the Olympic team in the 10,000m.)
Times have changed since the 2012 Trials in Houston. Athletes have gotten older, some have retired and some are injured. But there are many women who have excelled at the marathon distance during the last four years, posing a large threat to the top four from the last go-around. Sara Hall, Megan Krifchin, Kellyn Taylor and many other women had been posting fast times. They looked to take a spot on the podium.
Once the race got underway, it looked as if everyone wanted to let Shalane and Amy Cragg control the pace. Both members of the Bowerman Track Club — out front with their white tops and black bottoms — worked together the entire race. They had Kara Goucher, Kellyn Taylor, Desi Linden and Sara Hall just behind them for most of the journey.
As the race steered into the final six to seven miles, the wheels began to fall off for many. Flanagan and Cragg opened up a gap on the field. Goucher found herself in third and Linden sat in fourth with just over five miles left. The later the race went on, the worse the heat got on the asphalt of LA.
About two more miles into the race, Cragg felt strong. But her teammate Shalane felt as if she might not make it across the line. Her body started to overheat. Amy handed Shalane water and told her to pour the whole thing over herself so that she’d cool off. This might have helped a bit, but Shalane started to fade. Fast-charging Linden passed Goucher to get into third. She then overtook Flanagan to reach the second spot.
Amy Cragg won the race. Happy as could be, she clutched her husband for a huge hug. She then turned back, looking for Shalane, waiting for her to make the final turn into the finishing straight. Around the bend came Desi Linden with a wide smile, knowing that her second-place finish was sending her to the Olympics. All eyes were on the finish, as Shalane Flanagan came into sight. Despite not looking her usual strong self, Shalane crossed the line in third. She collapsed into Cragg’s arms, completing the three-women Olympic team. Kara Goucher, 2012 Olympian in the marathon, finished fourth.