Random thoughts and observations deep in the heart of Texas as the Olympic Marathon Trials are less than 48 hours away:
All In the Family. Keith Brantley and his new bride Kim Pawelek Brantley were spotted at the Intercontinental Airport arriving for the big race weekend.. Kim will be in the women's Trials race on Saturday morning. With a qualifying time of 2:41 and change - which she posted in the 2010 Jacksonville Bank Marathon - Kim is a realist about this weekend's big race. Although she knows that a top three finish is not a realistic outcome on Saturday, Kim views her Trials race as a "personal challenge." Keith, who assists in devising Kim's training, was a U.S. Olympic marathoner in the 1996 Games.
Meteorological Dream Sequence. While prevailing conditions can always change, it appears that the Weather Gods may be smiling on Houston on race day. Currently, Saturday calls for clear and sunny skies with dawn temperatures in the mid-40's. While the thermometer may creep to the upper 50's by the end of the race, conditions should be ideal. It will be, as Frank Shorter says, a "no excuses" day.
How Will The Race Unfold? You can't go anywhere without overhearing conversations about the race, the strategy, and how the end game may be played out. Various theories abound. Will the dominating presence of Ryan Hall and Desiree Davila inspire others to attempt to find ways to slow the early pace? Will a bold, new talent seek to push to an early lead? Will the race finishes feature furious battles over the final kilometers - like the men's Trials race in 1984 when Pete Pfitzinger upset Alberto Salazar and John Tuttle held off Dave Gordon for the final Olympic team spot? Or will the races feature clean breaks early where a clearly-defined trio gaps the field and works in truce-like unison to capture the top three spots - as was the case in the 1992 men's Trials race when Steve Spence, Ed Eyestone, and Bob Kampainen broke away early and worked together to seal their Olympic positions?
The Rupp Factor. Another topic of incessant conversation and speculation has been the on-again, off-again entry of Galen Rupp. Several weeks ago, when it was announced that Rupp, the American record holder in the 10,000, had unexpectedly entered the Trials, it caught many off stride. Immediately, the blog chatter took off: "Is he ready?" 'How could he not be?" "He would never enter if he wasn't ready to go." Then the real theorists crept in: "Rupp isn't a serious entrant." "He's entered only to provide pace support for Dathan." "He'll drop out - because he'd never want to bypass that debut marathon payday.' "Won't the pure marathoners fear what would have to be impressive closing speed?'. Then, this last week, just as surprisingly, it was announced that Rupp had withdrawn. Did that end the speculation? Not a chance. While most believe the Rupp story is now closed, some knowledgeable marathon aficionados believe there could be another twist to this story...a twist that puts Galen on the starting line on Saturday.
Trials Format: Too Big? Too Small? Qualification Or Open? Another topic bandied about in some quarters this week has been the format of the Trials itself. Are the fields to big? Does it really make sense to bulge the field with participants, who, albeit elite, harbor no real chance to place in the top 3? Or should the Trials maintain a field of reasonable size to cultivate broad-based and inspired performances by America's distance runners and to reward those achievements with a life-shaping opportunity to participate in this glorious event? The conversation has also included fervent discussion about a concept floated several years ago - to do away with qualification and to open the Olympic Marathon Trials to all - a sort of 21st Century all-inclusive celebration of running.
Sharing The Stage. Smiley Pool, photographer for the Houston Chronicle, has covered the town's marathoning pursuits for years. Without question, Smiley notes, Houston has parlayed the 40th anniversary of the Houston Marathon with the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials to create an opulent and well-coordinated spectacle which is poised to be memorable event in all respects. What no one planned was for the Houston Texans to be playing in their very first NFL playoff series this same weekend- an unexpected development which is deflecting some attention away from the Trials.
Coming Next: Conversations With Selected Trials Participants - Their Strengths; Their Lingering Concerns; And Race Day Rituals That Send Them To The Line.