2012 US Olympic Trials-Marathon, Men: Eight Seconds, Battle for Team Berths is War of Attrition, by Dave Hunter, note by Larry Eder

Dathan Ritzenhein, 2012 US Olympic Trials-Marathon,
photo by PhotoRun.net

Oh for forty more yards, Dathan Ritzenhein must have thought. Having fallen back forty seconds, Dathan dug in, and clawed himself out of the deficit, and found himself in that cold corner of hell called fourth place in the US Olympic Trials-Marathon. No one could understand the agony, and nearness of a position on the Olympic team, but, then, it was near, not, on the team.

Dathan Ritzenhein and Amy Hastings, to me, exhibit the Olympic spirit and focus. The US Olympic Trials -Marathon, like our Track & Field trials is tough. One competitor told us the day before the marathon, " You will have to run your best to make the team, for all three positions." Fighting the good fight, challenging oneself to see just what one is made of, that is what high school, college coaches whisper in our ears each day for years. Dathan got it. He embraced it. He has made two Olympic teams before, he wanted to make this team badly. It just will not be in the marathon.

Dathan noted that we will see him on the track shortly, as he goes to make his third Olympic team, at the 10,000 meters.

After the race, I watched Dathan get off the elevator with his wife, and two kids. After such a emotional race, one that many would have been proud of, Dathan is back with the people who love him and who he loves.

Dave Hunter wrote the superb piece on Amy Hastings earlier this week, so we asked him to give us his read on the battle for the team, and third, and eventually fourth place on the men's race. This is how he saw the mens' race, and Dathan Ritzenhein magnificent run.

8 Seconds

Battle For Team Berths Is War Of Attrition

mens team.JPG2012 US Olympic Trials, photo by Margaret Hunter

As the sun began to rise to reveal a crystal clear day with crisp, bracing temperatures, a robust field of America's best marathoners answered the gun at the start of U.S. Olympic Men's Marathon Trials -  the first step toward the 2012 Olympic Games in London.  

Of the 111 starters, only little more than a dozen runners could realistically harbor hopes of a top three finish which would be required to make the team.   No sooner had Frank Shorter fired the starter's pistol than pre-race favorite Ryan Hall surged to the front to assume command of the early pace.  With an opening mile of 4:50, Hall signaled to the field that there would be no warm-up miles today.  The race was on.

An impressive pack - Abdi Abdirahman, Meb Keflezighi, Dathan Ritzenhein, Mo Trafeh, Brian Olinger, and eventually Joseph Chirlee - gathered behind Hall and locked in for the challenge they suspected would be coming from the defending Trials champion. Keeping the pressure on, Hall began to string together seemingly-unending mile splits ranging from 4:43 and 4:57.  By Mile 8, Chirlee dropped back.

With the clock car displaying a fore-casted finish time of 2:06, Hall continued to challenge those who dared to hang with him.  Olinger, a talented steeplechaser and 10,000 meter runner, was the next casualty.  Prior to Trials race day, Olinger had never raced longer than 7 miles.  After a 4:49 9th mile, he went out the back door - soon to drop out.

With the lead pack down to 5, the half was passed in 1:03:25.  After a 15th mile in 4:56, Trafeh - showing the strain - dropped back quickly.  In less than 2 miles, Trafeh would be 1:10 behind the four leaders.

Once only four remained, the mind games most certainly began.  A negative thinker in this little pack would know that one in this quartet would not be making the team.  The optimist would realize "Hey, I only have to beat one of these guys and I'm going to London."

As this foursome began the final 8 mile loop in front of the finish line crowd, Abdirahman - the Black Cactus of Tucson - began waving his arms in an overt effort to exhort the fans.  The crowd's eager response of louder support was enough to ignite an adrenaline-induced Abdi to surge to the front - a lead position he clearly relished, but held only momentarily.

In the 19th mile, after an unending diet of sub-5:00 minute miles, evidence of strain and fatigue was detectable.  Ritz, working the hardest, was beginning to lose contact.  Even after two slower miles (5:00 and 5:01 - the slowest of the race at that point), Dathan was 24 seconds behind the lead trio at the 21 mile mark.

In the ensuing miles, conversation among the three leaders was observable.  Was a "deal" in the works? There was. In a post-race finish line interview, Meb confirmed the pact; "At that point in the race, I said 'let's work together and make this team."

But Ritzenhein was not through.  Down but not out, Ritz stayed focused.  Even though at one point the leaders were out of his sight, Dathan began to claw his way back: "I rallied as hard as I could. I kept telling myself that someone will come back.  They did - but not enough."  Ritz was closing on Abdi, but he was running out of real estate.

Meb, maintaining remarkable late-race leg speed, motored through the final miles to seal the victory in 2:09:08 - his fastest marathon by 5 seconds.  His P.R. improvement would have been larger had he not slowed to grab an offered American flag from the crowd.  A smiling Hall crossed the finish line 22 seconds later. And Abdi - grateful and jubilant as he finished 17 seconds behind Hall - secured the coveted third Olympic team berth.

A valiant and sustained rally by Ritzenhein came up about 40 meters short as he finished in fourth - missing the final Olympic spot by a mere 8 seconds.  After the wave of fatigue and disappointment prompted a few tears, an obviously distraught Ritzenhein quickly regrouped, displayed uncommon composure, and offered his assessment: "I'm in shock. I want to be a marathoner, but maybe it's not in the cards.  Maybe I'm not meant to run the marathon.  I've gone through so much [with my injuries.] At one point, I thought I may never run again.  It will take me a little bit to get over this.  It wasn't meant to be today. Life goes on." And with a hint of his future Olympic plans, Ritz concluded by saying, "It's back to the track..."

And if, as expected, Ritz competes this summer in the U.S. Olympic Trials in Track & Field in his hometown of Eugene, one of the larger Hayward Field ovations will be prompted by Ritzenhein's introduction at the start of the Men's 10,000.

Ritzenhein_DathanWide-USOlyT12.JPG Dathan running, 2012 US Olympic Trials-Marathon, photo by PhotoRun.net

[Email can be sent to the writer at: [email protected]]

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