The marathon trials are less than two weeks away and I wanted to give you a little hint on how I will make my picks. So, go through my synopsis of the marathon trials since 1968 and some of the background on those marathoners. 2008 will be one of the toughest teams to make, and the U.S. has some really excellent marathoners for this team. Big question, who make a medal winning performance when the smog and heat of Beijing comes running?
In 1968, the Olympic Trials marathon was won by George Young. Young, a two-time Olympian, would eventually win the bronze medal in a masterful run over the steeplechase at altitude. The second position was taken by Kenny Moore, a runner from Oregon, who had focused on training on the marathon for the past year, after his graduation from Oregon. Moore was a fine 10,000 meter runner and would go on to represent the US in another Olympics, as well as set the American record for 10,000 meters. In third place was a runner from Minnesota, Ron Daws. Daws had represented the U.S. in the Pan Am Games once, but had one of the slowest qualifying time. What Daws had done well, as represented in his first book, Self Made Olympian, was learn to race and train well at altitude and fine tune Lydiard training to get the most out his limited talents. Daws made the team by four seconds! Trivia
for some-a young Frank Shorter had run this trials, but dropped out due to blisters.
In 1972, in his fourth marathon, Frank Shorter, winner of the 1971 Fukuoka Marathon, won the 1972 Olympic Trials with Kenny Moore. They tied, in 2:15:58. In third place was Jack Bacheler, a Florida Track Club teammate of Shorters, and an entomologist. In fourth place was Jeff Galloway, who had taken third in the 10,000 meters, keeping Jack Bacheler off that team. At the Olympics in Munich, Shorter, who had been born in Munich during his father’s term there in the U.S. military, won the gold medal by taking the lead at 9 miles and never looking back. Kenny Moore, who had pushed himself into third place, cramped at 23 miles and while he fought valiently, finished fourth place. Bacheler’s ninth place finish gave the U.S. their best team performance in any Olympic to that time. Kenny Moore would go on to become a seminal writer at Sports Illustrated in their golden age, when track and field writing was not an afterthought. Among his greatest pieces were a feature on Lasse Viren in 1976, and Best Efforts, his collection of short features in 1980, as well as his Bowerman and Men of Nike, in 2006.
In 1976, Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers tied for first in 2:11:52. Shorter had won four Fukuoka Marathons between 71-74, set an American record in 74, and had been racing well at 10,000 meters, running 27:45 in 1975. Bill Rodgers had broken Shorter’s AR in Boston in 1975, running 2:09.55. In third place was one Don Kardong, who passed fellow Stanford teammate Anthony Sandoval at 24 miles and moved into third place. Shorter would take second at the Olympics, behind East Germany’s Waldemar Cierpinski in rainy conditions. While Cierpinski broke 2:10, Shorter ran his second best marathon ever, 2:10.45 for second place. Kardong would take fourth, missing the bronze medal by a dozen seconds and Rodgers, injured, would take 40th. Less than two months later, Rodgers would win the first New York City Marathon that ran through five boroughs. Rodgers would go on to win four New Yorks, four Bostons, and set an American record of 2:09.27. Kardong would go on to be the president of the RRCA and one of the most important writers in our sport. Among his great pieces were 20 Phone Booths to Boston, and Confessions of a Nutritional Agnostic.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter called on the U.S. to boycott the Olympics, for the first time in the modern era, the U.S. missed an Olympics. The Olympic Trials marathon was on by Tony Sandoval, who cruised the course in a little over 2:10:19. Taking second place in 2:10.41 was the eccentric of the marathon world, Benji Durden, a good old boy from Stone Mountain, Georgia, who had trained in double sweat suits and 140 mile weeks to prepare himself for the marathon. In third, in 2:10.55, was Kyle Heffner, who had prepared himself running high mileage in the mountains of Colorado, to surprise many of the top distance runners in American marathoning history.
In 1984, with the Olympics in Los Angeles, the U.S. team had some newcomers. With less than one miles to go, Pete Pfitzinger took off from favorite Alberto Salazar, and John Tuttle, with Pfitzinger taking the win by one second, Salazar in second and Tuttle in third. The crowd they beat included Bill Rodgers, Greg Meyer, Benji Durden, among others. Pfitzinger would go on to make another Olympic team, Salazar would not make another team ( he had made the 1980 team in the 10,000 meters), and Tuttle would focus on road racing after this marathon. In Los Angeles, Pfitzinger would lead the U.S. finishers. Durden continues to contribute to the sport by editing and producing Running Stats, one of the premier newsletters in our sport. Pete Pfitzinger would have a career at New Balance, as well as write a fine column in Running Times magazine. Alberto Salazar would go from elite distance runner to a fine track coach.
In 1988, a newcomer to the scene, Mark Conover, would move into the lead with Ed Eyestone, a very dangerous 10,000 meter runner. With less than two miles to go, Mark Conover, who had run his first marathon less than a year before, in 2:14:00 and had the perfect marathoners’s stride, would run to victory in arguably the greatest upset in U.S. marathon trials history. In third, the tough, the wily Peter Pfitzinger would make his second Olympic team. Ed Eyestone would become a fine college track coach. Mark Conover, the quiet one, would lead the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo track and cross country programs. Conover won this one by 23 seconds.
In 1992, the Marathon trials were held in Columbus, Ohio. Three runners separated from the crowd with Steve Spence, World champ bronze medalist at the marathon from 1991 in Tokyo, won in 2:12:43, with Ed Eyestone eight seconds back and Kempainen three seconds back from Eyestone, in 2:12.54. Trivia-Joan Benoit Samuelson won the women’s race that day, her first win in the marathon distance since 1985!
In 1996, it would be Bob Kempainen’s turn to win, even with some stomach distress, culminating in an episode of nausea. Joining Kempainen were Mark Coogan and Keith Brantly. Brantly had been a tough track runner as well as a road runner, and had some success as a marathoner before, having won the US champs in 1995. Mark Coogan was a strong track runner and cross country runner as well. In the end, Kempainen had shown his strength and racing savvy.
2000 was the low point for the Marathon Trials. Rod De Haven, one of the top runners of his era, a runner from South Dakota ( a 1,500 meter runner in college, he had run 3:42), De Haven took the win, win a time over the A qualifying standard, hence, only one runner represented the U.S. in Sydney. Peter de La Cerda surprised in second and Mark Coogan made it a second time on the Olympic team, but because he had not made the A standard, he would not go to the land down under.
2004 was a loop course, with Alan Culpepper, Meb Keflezighi and Dan Browne pushing past all to run strong times and take three marathoners to Athens. Meb would go on to win the silver medal and with Deena Kastor’s bronze, the U.S. showed back up on the medal stands in the Olympic marathon!
In looking at each race since 1968, it is clear that experience wins out. But, playing the race close to their vests, marathoners who held back during the first half of the races, and moved through the struggling fields, tended to take second and thirds. There were some complete surprises-Mark Conover did not show up on anyone’s list by Coach Jim Hunt, and perhaps Joe Rubio, but that was it–and every weather condition in the books has happened, heat, heat, maybe some humidity. Whatever the conditions, all of the runners will be dealing with it.
I will consider my picks for the Trials and post them early next week. In those will be The Outsider-a good athlete who has stayed under the radar, The Champ performer-someone who performs well when the stakes are high and Mr. Reliability-but, hey, is there really that in the marathon?
The brief history writing in this marathon article shows that with a criterium course as tough as New York, it will be the runners with the most control, someone who can move on the second half of the marathon, and finally, someone with a good finish who will go, one, two three. With 12 runners under the A standard, more than one should be in the top three.
The favorites for 2008? Abdi Abdirhaman, Meb Keflizighi, Dan Browne, Alan Culpepper all will be there. Brian Sells, Peter Gilmore will be there as well. In my mind, there are ten athletes who can make the team right now.
With the quality of 2008, do not be surprised if there are three to five guys with two miles to go, and then it will be a real fight for the top three positions. The three positions are the only way U.S. marathoners will make the team! See you on the course on November 3!
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