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Meb Keflezighi a surprise marathon trials winner, except to coach

January 14, 2012 |  2:16 pm


The U.S. Olympic marathon trials proved that it’s never wise to write off Meb Keflezighi.

The Athens Olympic silver medalist, running on short rest after competing in the 2011 New York City Marathon and being slowed by a foot infection, won the trials Saturday in Houston and earned a spot on the US. team heading to the London Olympics. His personal-best time of 2 hours 9 minutes 8 seconds was five seconds off the time the 36-year-old Keflezighi ran at New York.

Keflezighi, a UCLA alumnus who trains in Mammoth Lakes, was born in Eritrea and became a U.S. citizen in 1998. He's the oldest man to win the Olympic marathon trials.

“It was quite an attention-getter,” said Keflezighi’s coach, Bob Larsen, the former UCLA coach who left to co-found the elite distance running program in Mammoth Lakes.

Larsen said last week that Keflezighi’s experience and sheer determination would help him compensate for the training time he lost. The foot infection developed after Keflezighi, who likes to wear a nasal strip while he runs, forgot to take the strip out of his shoe and the strip rubbed his foot raw.

Keflezighi ran in New York “because it’s been so good to him and he knows he won’t have that many more chances,” Larsen said. “He came back faster than what we expected.”

That was obvious Saturday.

“He’s so mentally strong,” Larsen said by phone from Houston. “You work with elite athletes and you see that it’s so hard to get over that mental hump when you’ve missed that much time. But when he made the U.S. team for the 10,000 in 2000 and the marathon in 2004 he was coming back from injury, too. We’ve worked together for a long time and you learn how much he can tolerate and not break.”

Larsen also said Keflezighi could have run faster but that once the top three separated themselves from their pursuers they slowed their pace. “He still got a slight personal best,” Larsen said, “and he was waving coming in and enjoying the moment. Otherwise, he would have run under 2:09.”

The other two spots went to 2008 trials champion and pre-race favorite Ryan Hall of Big Bear, who was second in 2:09:30, and surprise third-place finisher Abdi Abdirahman, who was timed in 2:09:47 and qualified for his fourth Olympic team but first in the marathon. Dathan Ritzenhein, a 2008 Olympic marathoner, was fourth in 2:09:55, making it the first time four American men ran under 2:10 in the trials.

"It's a perfect group," Larsen said of the Olympic contingent.

He also said the performance by Abdirahman, who trains in Tucson, was difficult to predict because Abdirahman had been troubled by injures for a long time but has recently been healthy. Hall, he said, “clearly on pure ability is as good as anybody showing up in London from any place.”

Shalane Flanagan of Portland, Ore., the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in the 10,000, won the women’s race in 2:25:38, a personal best. Desiree Davila of Rochester Hills, Mich., was second in 2:25:55. Kara Goucher, who trains with Flanagan in Portland, was third in 2:26:06.

Larsen said the U.S. women’s marathon delegation “is really a nice team. I like their chances of being right up there with anyone in the world.”


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--Helene Elliott

Photo: Meb Keflezighi leads Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman in the U.S. marathon trials on Saturday in Houston. Credit: Thomas B. Shea / Getty Images