first place is as good as third

Road to London: The triumphs & tribulations of the Houston Olympic marathon trials


Olympic_marathon_trials
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Olympic_marathon_trials
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Olympic_marathon_trials
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Olympic_marathon_trials
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Olympic_marathon_trials
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Olympic_marathon_trials
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Olympic_marathon_trials
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Olympic_marathon_trials
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Olympic_marathon_trials
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Olympic_marathon_trials
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Olympic_marathon_trials
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Olympic_marathon_trials
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Olympic_marathon_trials
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Olympic_marathon_trials
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Olympic_marathon_trials
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Olympic_marathon_trials
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Olympic_marathon_trials
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Olympic_marathon_trials
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Olympic_marathon_trials
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Olympic_marathon_trials
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Olympic_marathon_trials
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Olympic_marathon_trials
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Olympic_marathon_trials
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com

We certainly didn't need the 2012 Olympic trials to make us cool, but by golly, our town just got another drop in the awesome bucket.

On Saturday morning, almost 400 elite athletes from all over the country gathered in Houston, each hoping to find his or her way to the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London.  For the first time in history, the Olympic marathon trials for both men and women were hosted on the same day, at the same site — in our city.

Go ahead and puff your chest up a little.

While these seasoned, talented competitors have wowed and awed fans with their stunning running prowess in dramatic race finish after race finish, only three men and three women out of the field would qualify for the Olympics at Saturday's event.

After months and months of hard work, this was the 26.2 miles that would make or break dreams. This would determine which marathoners earned the honor of representing an entire country on the biggest stage in athletic history. This was what would separate the enthusiasts from the competitors.

No pressure, though.

It didn't matter that it was 43 degrees at race start — well, not to some spectactors, anyway. Eddie Higgins, Jeff Czyz, and Matt Kane came from California to support their runner, marathoner Devon Crosby-Helms, come hell or cold weather.

 

 

The men's marathon began at 8 a.m., 15 minutes before the women's race.

Of the 158 men that qualified for the event, 114 competed on Saturday.

The male marathoners shot past the starting line, clocking in a mind-boggling 4:52 after the first mile — a pace which slowed as the race continued.

Here, Ryan Hall, the undisputed favorite in the race, barely leads, with Mohamed Trafeh, Meb Keflezighi and Abdi Abdirahman in hot pursuit of the front of the pack.

The women began at a slower pace, still clocking an impressive 6:03 after the first mile. While the men went out harder and faster, the women wound up the pace as they racked up the miles.

The course started on Avenida de las Americas, then wove a counterclockwise loop through downtown Houston for 2.2 miles. From there, marathoners headed out to Shepherd Drive via Memorial Drive and back downtown to the George R. Brown Convention Center by way of Allen Parkway for two 8 mile loops.

Motivation may come from within on endurance races such as these, but spectators like Kimberly Johnston and Michael Johnston cheered their hearts out for those athletes that might've needed a third-party boost.

At the Chevron Houston Marathon, any beverage is a runner's for the taking. Not so at the Olympic marathon trials. More than 30 tables lined designated aid areas, and each table was assigned to a particular group of competitors in advance.

If you couldn't tell which water bottle was yours while running past, you might just miss your shot at hydration. Decoration and personalization helped make a marathoner's fuel more recognizable.

Don't feel bad for the ones at the back of the pack. She might not have qualified for the Olympics, but that certainly doesn't make her slow. The final female finisher on Saturday clocked in with a 3:07:32 finish — that's a 7:09 mile.

When you're running at breakneck speeds on pavement, you'd better believe it takes a toll on your body. "The concrete was kind of brutal on the quads," said men's favorite Ryan Hall in a press conference.

In a race like this one, third is as good as first — the top three finishers qualify for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. But for all the training, hard work and predictions, there must be an outright winner at the end of the race.

While defending Olympic trials champion Ryan Hall lead throughout much of the 26.2 miles, it was Meb Keflezighi that crossed the finish line first in the trials this year with a 2:09:08 — a personal best that made him one of four men who finished under 2:10 for the first time in Olympic trials history. The London 2012 Summer Olympic Games will be Keflezighi's third Olympic berth.

A mere 17 seconds later, Ryan Hall crossed the finish line and ran straight into the embrace of his new Olympic teammate.

Draped in American flags, the men's team was rounded out by the third-place finish of Abdi Abdirahman at 2:08:56 — this from a marathoner who hadn't run under 2:14 since 2006, and spent most of the last year and a half battling injuries.

He is joined by his Olympic teammate Ryan Hall, ESPN and NBC Sports reporter Lewis Johnson, and his friend of 20 years and Olympic teammate Meb Keflezighi.

Meb's daughter came down for the merriment, too — she celebrated her birthday at the Olympic trials on Saturday.

Abdirahman places a weary head on Olympic teammate Hall's shoulder. They can rest easy for the moment — they've both qualified for the U.S. Olympic team.

The top American marathoner at the 2008 Olympics and ranked second in this year's competition, Dathan Ritzenhein missed qualifying for the Olympic team this year.

He ended up in fourth place — just short of the third place finish he needed to make the team — eight seconds behind Abdirahman.

Just because they're superior athletes, however, doesn't mean marathoners are superhuman. In races as important as these, marathoners may push their physical limits well past their known boundaries.

Matthew Fecht crossed the finish line with a respectable time of 2:24:32 and promptly collapsed. He was removed from the course via stretcher.

The top ladies — Desiree Davila, Kara Goucher, Amy Hastings and Shalane Flanagan — spent most of the final miles jockeying for first. But when push came to shove, Flanagan solidly pulled away for the victory with a 2:25:38 finish.

In her second marathon ever and her Olympic trials debut, she not only set an Olympic trials record, but lead five women to finish under 2:30.

Giddy after claiming her very first spot on an Olympic team after a 2:26:06 finish, the darling of the long-distance running world, Kara Goucher, scurries into the arms of fellow Olympic teammate Shalane Flanagan.

In 2010, Goucher's priorities shifted, and she took the entire year off to do that thing that women sometimes do — she became a mother.

Joined by Desiree Davila (far right), who finished 18 seconds behind first-place Flanagan with 2:25:55, the women's Olympic marathon team is complete.

But Flanagan, Goucher, and Davila wouldn't even have the opportunity they did on Saturday without Joan Benoit Samuelson (second from left). Joan was the first ever women's Olympic marathon champion — when the sport was introduced to the Olympics for female competitors back in 1984.

In short, yes, this picture is full of badasses.

Fourth place brought out the tears at the Olympic marathon trials. Amy Hastings finished at 2:27:17 — over a minute behind Goucher. That's good enough for a spot on the team as an alternate, but it's not quite what Hastings had in mind.

Do you think little Colt Goucher is in disbelief at how fast his mom ran on Saturday? If Kara Goucher and retired runner Adam Goucher have anything to do with it, this kid will be running rings around his parents in no time.

Megan Skeels, who clocked in with a speedy 2:42:40, knows there's nothing like the race support you get from your family. Mack Skeels eagerly embraced his mom after her successful finish.

Who doesn't want a piece of these elite female athletes?