With less than a year until the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, the United States team is wide open for three runners to ultimately punch their tickets to Rio de Janeiro. On Sunday, Los Angeles may have had a sneak peek at one of the newest contenders for one of those spots - Jared Ward.
Ward won the U.S. Championship title in 2:12:56, which was nearly four minutes better than second place finisher Matt Llano of the HOKA One One Northern Arizona Elite training group.
Ward has run a fast course when he debuted at the 2013 Chicago Marathon, but he has come very far since then in his transition to the new distance. He shaved off two minutes and 17 seconds off his debut in his second crack at the 26.2 distance. On Sunday, another two more minutes came off. Had Ward run on a flatter and less hot course, he probably would have come close to his 2:10 - 2:11 initial target goal.
Those times would put him in the same conversation as Ryan Vail, Nick Arciniaga and Jeffrey Eggleston for the second or third U.S. Olympic team spot. These runners are right at the cusp of having one strong race that puts their names into the "favorite" category to make the team.
As of right now, there is only one person in that category -- as long as he stays healthy -- and that is is Boston Marathon Champion Meb Keflezighi. He will be 40 years old when he toes the line in Los Angeles, but he's just coming off a 2:08:37 personal best in 2014. Seems crazy to think someone who's been doubted so many times is the only favorite the team as of right now.
Most of the question marks surround the other two Olympians from 2012 in Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman. Hall dropped out of Sunday's race before the half-marathon mark and Abdirahman will not be racing a spring marathon. Abdirahman has not run 26.2 miles since the 2014 Boston Marathon, where he finished 14th in 2:16:06.
Hall indicated no health issues in his agent's statement to ESPN.com after the race. It is unclear when the fastest American marathoner will race next.
Because of his most recent success and their struggles, Ward is definitely ahead of Hall and Abdirahman at the moment. Keflezighi and Dathan Ritzenhein, 2013's fastest American, will show their cards in Boston next month.
Sunday's race was tough and Ward withstood it better than any other American. If the weather in Los Angeles is anything like Sunday for the U.S. Olympic Marathon, we will be in for many surprises. For now, the state of U.S. marathoning remains in bedlam.