The race in Houston this past weekend that determined the U.S. Olympic marathon team was quite an experience.
It led to four separate American males dipping below the 2:10 barrier and a close and top notch field of women which had the top three finishers within a 30 second gap between them.
It saw the reemergence of a pair of past-their-prime athletes Meb Keflezighi and Abdi Abdirahman taking home spots to their third and fourth Olympic Games, respectively, and the darling of the sport Ryan Hall proving he belongs with the top as he pushed the pace early.
As for the women an entirely new set of marathoners are being sent to London but with the caveat that they are the finest team ever assembled. Shalane Flanagan won over the tight competition of Desi Davila and Kara Goucher who though lacking the Olympic hardware of Flanagan, are more polished at the marathon distance.
Aside from the obvious success and notoriety of these individuals, the race also provided important insights into America’s future at the marathon and the chance for those who did not qualify to excel at other events.
Amy Hastings quite possibly ran one of the gutsiest races in her Trials debut. Her willingness to go with the leaders from the beginning of the race was somewhat expected with such a wonderful time at the L.A. Marathon but what happened next was not. Throughout the race Hastings did everything in her power to keep up with the favored three leaders and was even seen surging between miles 15 to 20. She went several times from appearing to falter and sink back from the leaders but then with grit and pluck moved back into the lead. Despite racing like a roaring lion, Hastings’s attempt fell short and was dropped by mile 21 but she was able to maintain her fourth place finish. Fighting back tears and emotions, Hastings gathered herself and held post race interviews in light of her apparent letdown.
Her racing and post race grace show a bright future for this amazing competitor. In a year in which she set personal bests at every event she ran and pulled up barely short of being a part of the marathon squad, Hastings moves ahead with a wonderful chance of qualifying on the track. The amount of toughness and improvement she has exhibited makes her – in this writer’s opinion – the brightest spot out of those who did not qualify. Look forward for her amazing ability to surge and hang on to be a qualifier in the 5k or 10k come Olympic Trials time.
On the other side of things, a man who may or may not have become an unqualified success is the gutsy yet self-destructive Mo Trafeh. When the leaders went straight to the front, the man who dared to go out with the leaders at the London Marathon went full steam. With many thinking the former California state champion could be the surprise, he was not shirking his pre-race supporters. Even with his determination to place, the young fire breather fell apart and did not finish.
With such ability as he has proved by winning the American half marathon over Ryan Hall and accolades in his pre-professional days, Trafeh could become the next man to vie for a spot especially with youth on his side. There remains pitfalls, however, as was evident by him imploding after such a brazen move to the front in the race.
His tenacity and lack of intimidation in the face of superior competition is what is lacking in many circles of the American distance community and his style may be the path more need to embrace. Fraught with the danger of not finishing and having poor finishes many shy from this tactic but Trafeh and others could force more confrontation with the favored racers from East Africa and build a culture of wanting to win rather than merely hanging in there.
Hats off to Dathan Ritzenhein for coming back from severe injury and being a mere eight seconds short of qualifying.
Also to all competitors who competed, Theodore Roosevelt said it best: “those who enter the arena are the true winners regardless of their finish for they have tasted blood and dust.”