Monday, November 5, 2007

Hall breaks Olympic Trials marathon record

Quote of the Day: "Ryan Shay was a tremendous champion who was here today to pursue his dreams. The Olympic trials is traditionally a day of celebration, but we are heartbroken." -- Craig Masback
Ryan Hall, shown here in a blue singlet at the starting line in New York on Saturday, set an Olympic trials record. His friend and competitor Ryan Shay, standing next to him, collapsed and died after 5 1/2 miles.

The most important 26.2-mile race in New York City this past weekend was not, in my opinion, the ING New York City marathon. Instead, the NYRRC staged the latest version of the men's Olympic marathon trials to select the USA men's team for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Californian Ryan Hall won in the time of 2:09:02, remarkable not only because it was a new olympic trials record, but more so for his blistering 1:02:45 second half. Dathan Ritzenhein (2:11:07) and Brian Sell (2:11:40) were the other qualifiers. The U.S. began using trials rather than committees to select its Olympic track and field athletes in 1968.

2008 USA Olympic qualifiers in the marathon: Ryan Hall, Dathan Ritzenhein and Brian Sell. Hall coasted around what had been thought of as a slow and difficult five-loop course, breaking the Olympic trials record with his winning time of 2:09:02. Ritzenhein was second in a personal best of 2:11:06, with Sell third in 2:11:40.

Hall's performance was clearly not a fluke. Earlier this year he became the first American to break an hour for the half-marathon (59:43), obliterating the old record of Mark Curp set in 1985 by a minute and 12 seconds. He followed that up in London by running 2:08:24 for his first official marathon.

Ryan Hall shown above running in his initial 26.2-mile race, the 2007 London Marathon, which he completed in 2:08:24.

The trials course was moderately difficult. However, the cool weather provided favorable compensation. After 2,000 meters on the city streets, the race entered Central Park for 5 loops of up-and-down terrain on the RRC 8K championship route (run in the opposite direction from the championship). The fast time, coupled with the fact that the event was held more than 9 months prior to Olympic race, means that Hall has a legitimate shot at earning the first men's Olympic marathon gold medal since Frank Shorter at Munich in 1972.

The 35-year absence of an olympic men's marathon gold medal has been partcularly disheartening for U.S. runners. In a sense it has been the running version of "The Curse of the Bambino". After all, America is where the running boom started. As pointed out by Kenny Moore in his fabulous book, "Bowerman and The Men of Oregon", Frank Shorter was capable, in 1976, of breaking Australian Derek Clayton's world record of 2:08:34. And after Shorter retired, Bill Rodgers and Alberto Salazar were the top ranked marathoners in the world for much of the next decade. So what went wrong?

The 1976 event in Montreal was won by an East German Waldemar Cierpinski by less than a minute over Frank Shorter (2:09:55 to 2:10:46). Don Kardong of the U.S. finished 4th, just three seconds behind bronze medalist Karel Lismont of Belgium. We know for certain now what many at the time suspected: Cierpinski's win was tainted. This is what Kenny Moore had to say about the matter:

"Twenty years later, Shorter and Kardong would take grim satisfaction when Dr. Werner W. Frank of the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg began uncovering documents kept by East German physicians and coaches who'd conducted the country's doping program. The documents showed that Cierpinski was on androgenic steroids in 1976. 'I mean, I always knew,' Shorter would say, and now I knew for sure.' "

By the way, Clayton's 1969 record has been beaten 312 times. Hall's London performance was the first time it has been done by a native-born American. The newest world record is 2:04:26 set by Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia on 9/30/07 in Berlin. He improved upon Paul Tergat of Kenya's 4-year-old standard of 2:04:55.

By the time the 1980 Moscow Olympics rolled around, Bill Rodgers was in his prime. A world and olympic record seemed his for the taking. In 1979, he was ranked by Track & Field News as the world's top marathon runner. Then President Carter decided that the U.S. should boycott the summer Olympic Games because the U.S.S.R. had invaded Afghanistan. (And, by the way, where are we now?) In any case, Bill Rodgers' best shot at Olympic gold passed him by.

The 1984 Summer Olympics were held in Los Angeles. In retaliation for the U.S boycott in 1980, 14 Eastern Bloc countries and allies including the Soviet Union, Cuba and East Germany (as well as Libya and Iran), boycotted the Los Angeles Olympic Games. It was the first time that a women's 26.2-mile marathon event was held and it was won, famously, by Joan Benoit of the U.S.

But the men's side was a different story. The medals were taken by Carlos Lopes of Portugal, John Treacy of Ireland and Charlie Spedding of Great Britain. All three finished under 2 hours and 10 minutes. The first American was Pete Pfitzinger who finished 11th in 2:13:53. Alberto Salazar was a disappointing 15th in 2:14:19. The third U.S. runner, John Tuttle, did not finish.

The 1988 Olympic marathon in Seoul, Korea, was won by Italian Gelindo Bordin (2:10:32) and once again the U.S. was shut out of the top 10. In fairness, some of the American athletes reported stomach problems from eating the food at the Olympic village. Pete Pfitzinger was again the first U.S. finisher (14th in 2:14:44).

Belayneh Dinsamo of Ethiopia broke the existing world record when he finished the 1988 Rotterdam Marathon in 2:06:50. Since that time, the running world has pretty much been dominated by the runners from sub-Saharan African countries. Gebrselassie and all three of the Kenyans will be Hall's chief competition in Beijing, assuming that Khalid Khannouchi doesn't run.

Ryan Hall, Khalid Khannouchi and Meb Keflezighi, shown here at an earlier race, were the pre-race favorites to take the three spots on the 2008 USA men's marathon team.

Khannouchi, the American record holder (2:05:38), was born in Morocco. Now 35, Khannouchi has been nursing a variety of injuries the last few years. He finished fourth this past weekend and is officially listed as the first alternate for the team. Dathan Ritzenhein has indicated that he may run the 10,000 meters at Beijing instead of the marathon if he earns a spot on the team in that event. So there is still a chance that Khannouchi might compete in Beijing.

Five runners have broken 2 hours and 6 minutes in the history of the marathon. Khannouchi has done it three times. He set the world record (2:05:42) in 1999 running for Morocco and did it twice in 2002 as an American citizen. It is ceratinly possible, given the opportunity, that he has one good race left.

One of the pre-race favorites for the trials was Meb Keflezighi, winner of a silver medal at the 2004 Olympic marathon in Athens behind Stefano Baldini of Italy. Keflezighi has been unsuccessfully lobbying the authorities to allow runners who win a medal in an Olympic event to get an automatic seed onto the team for the next Olympics. As recently as two weeks ago he was suffering from a stomach virus which interfered with his training and brought him to the starting line a bit weakened. He ran out of steam late in the race and faded to eighth place in 2:15:09. Still, he sobbed with appreciation as the fans chanted his name during the final mile.

Despite the optimism surrounding the results, the biggest news of the race was the death of Ryan Shay. Shay, a Michigan native residing in Arizona, came into the race with a personal best of 2:14:08. He went through the 5K mark in 16:53 looking strong, but collapsed from an apparent heart attack at 5 1/2 miles.

Ryan Shay of Michigan (2:14:29) winning the 2003 U.S. Marathon Championship in Birmingham, Alabama.

Medical attention was immediate but Shay was probably dead "before he hit the ground", according to the cardiologist who initially treated him. Family members reported that the 28-year-old had been diagnosed with an enlarged heart as a teenager and, more recently, was told that the condition might soon require a pacemaker. You can read more here.

Ryan Shay and his wife Alicia were married this past July. She is Alicia Craig, a champion 10,000 meter runner who recently graduated from Stanford University. They met at the 2005 New York City marathon. Like everyone else that has any connection to the running world, my heart as well as my prayers go out to Alicia and the rest of Ryan Shay's family and friends.

<---Alicia Craig Shay

Alicia Craig Shay is a qualifier for the Women's marathon trials by virtue of her sub-33:00 10K performance at the 2007 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championship. Like the men's event, the race will be staged the day before a major marathon, in Boston, on April 20, 2008.

Starting and finishing at the traditional Boston Marathon finish line on Boylston Street, the Olympic trials race will feature a specially designed course that tours historic Boston with a one-time loop that passes Boston Public Garden, Boston Common, the State House and Beacon Hill.

The runners will then traverse four scenic loops of approximately six miles each proceeding down Commonwealth Avenue, crossing the Charles River into Cambridge using the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge, running east, then west along Memorial Drive. Runners then return from each of the core loops via Massachusetts Avenue.

The early favorite in the women's marathon trials has to be Deena Kastor of California. She ran 2:19:54 in London last April and owns three of the top 10 qualifying times at this distance. Her chief competion will no doubt come from Jen Rhines of Pennsylvania and Elva Dryer of Colorado. Rhines is the only American woman other than Kastor who has run a sub-2:30 during the 2006-07 qualifiying period. Her 10K speed (31:19) is superior to all of the other competitors. Dryer posted 2:31:48 at the 2006 LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon and was the first American female finisher at Sunday's ING New York City Marathon in 2:35:18. Finally, you can't rule out the 2004 trials winner Colleen De Reuck.

Colleen De Reuck --->

Born in South Africa, De Reuck became a U.S. citizen in 2000. The 2008 trials will be held a week after her 44th birthday. Yet, her 2:33:08 finish in Chicago in October 2006 indicates that she is definitely not yet over the hill.

Alicia Craig Shay will probably not be at the women's marathon trials in Boston. More likely, she will looking to earn a spot on the team at her best distance: 10,000 meters. In April 2004, she broke Carol Zajac of Villanova's 12-year-old national collegiate 10K record with a time of 32:19.97. Ironically, in the same meet, Dathan Ritzenhein of Colorado set an American collegiate men's 10K record with a time of 27:38.50.

The 2008 U.S.A. track & field Olympic trials will be held at Hayward Field in Eugene Orgeon next June. The women's 10,000 meter final is scheduled for Friday evening, June 27, 2008. I intend to be there watching and cheering.

The fastest all-time American marathon runners (each listed once in order of their best time):
1. 2:05:38 Khalid Khannouchi (native of Morocco), London 2002
2. 2:08:24 Ryan Hall, London 2007
3. 2:08:47 Bob Kampainen, Boston 2004
4. 2:08:52 Alberto Salazar, Boston 1982
5. 2:08:54 Dick Beardsley, Boston 1982
6. 2:08:56 Abdihakem Abdiraham, Chicago 2006
7. 2:09:00 Greg Meyer, Boston 1983
8. 2:09:27 Bill Rodgers, Boston 1979
9. 2:09:31 Ron Tabb, Boston 1983
10. 2:09:32 David Morris, Chicago 1999
11. 2:09:35 Jerry Lawson, Chicago 1997
12. 2:09:38 Ken Martin, New York City 1989
13. 2:09:41 Alan Culpepper, Chicago 2002
14. 2:09:53 Meb Keflezighi, New York City 2004
15. 2:09:57 Benji Durden, Boston 1983
16. 2:10:04 Patrick Petersen, London 1989
17. 2:10:05 Phil Coppess, Minneapolis 1985
18. 2:10:06 Ed Mendoza, Boston 1983
19. 2:10:15 Jeff Wells, Boston 1978
20. 2:10:19 Tony Sandoval, Niagara Falls 1980
21. 2:10:20 Garry Bjorklund, Duluth 1980
22. 2:10:26 Craig Virgin, Boston 1981
23. 2:10:29 Kirk Pfeffer, Fukuoka 1980
24. 2:10:29 Mark Plaatjes (native of So. Africa), Los Angeles 1991
Some Others (not a complete list; additions welcome):
2:10:47 Brian Sell, 2:10:54 Chris Bunyan, 2:10:55 Kyle Heffner,
2:10:59 Ed Eyestone, 2:11:07 Dathan Ritzenhein,
2:11:16 Don Kardong, 2:11:17 Jack Fultz, 2:11:24 Mike Layman,
2:11:25 Randy Thomas, 2:11:33 John Lodwick,
2:11:35 Malcom East, 2:11:36 Kenny Moore & Dan Schlesinger,
2:11:40 Rod DeHaven, 2:11:43 Pete Pfitzinger,
2:11:50 John Tuttle, 2:11:54 Steve Hoag & Shaun Creighton
2:11:59 Dave Gordon, 2:12:01 Dennis Rinde & Daniel Browne,
2:12:05 Tom Fleming & David Hinz, 2:12:13 Paul Pilkington,
2:12:25 Dean Matthews, 2:12:26 Mark Conover,
2:12:27 Fernando Cabada, 2:12:30 Robert Hodge,
2:12:34 Trent Briney, 2:12:42 Eric Mack,
2:12:43 Steve Spence, 2:12:45 Peter Gilmore,
2:12:49 Duncan MacDonald, 2:12:51 Steve Plasencia,
2:12:54 Jason Lehmkuhle, 2:12:58 Keith Brantly,
2:12:59 Ric Sayre, 2:13:05 Mark Coogan.

Progression of Marathon World records since 1965:
Haile Gebrselassie 2007 Berlin 2:04:26
Paul Tergat 2003 Berlin 2:04:55
Khalid Khannouchi 2002 London 2:05:38
Khalid Khannouchi 1999 Chicago 2:05:42
Ronaldo da Costa 1998 Berlin 2:06:05
Belayneh Densimo 1988 Rotterdam 2:06:50
Carlos Lopes 1985 Rotterdam 2:07:12
Steve Jones 1984 Chicago 2:08:05
Rob de Castella 1981 Fukuoka 2:08:18
Derek Clayton 1969 Antwerp 2:08:34
Derek Clayton 1967 Fukuoka 2:09:36
Morio Shigematsu 1965 Chiswick 2:12:00

The women's marathon in Beijing will be held on August 17, 2008. The men's marathon is scheduled a week later, on August 24th.

As always, your comments, corrections and suggestions are welcome. Please send them to me at

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