The Marathon Keeps Getting Faster

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Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi, and Abdi Abdirahman celebrate after qualifying for the U.S. Olympic marathon team in Houston. (AP)
Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi, and Abdi Abdirahman celebrate after qualifying for the U.S. Olympic marathon team in Houston. (AP)

By: Alex Ashlock

The stage is set for fast times for the men's marathon race in London during this summer's Olympic Games.

Many of the countries who will send runners to the UK for the marathon are still selecting their teams, and it's possible that some of the world's fastest runners won't even get to compete. Take Geoffrey Mutai. Last April in Boston, he ran the fastest marathon in history, two hours, three minutes and two seconds, but he's not a lock to make the Kenyan team, which will be finalized in the spring.

Ethiopia faces a similar challenge, with so many great runners to pick from. Three of them gave team selectors something to think about last Friday in the Dubai Marathon. 21-year-old Ayele Abshero won the race in two hours, four minutes and 23 seconds, the fastest debut marathon in history and the fourth fastest ever. Ethiopian runners also finished second and third, and the top four men all ran under two hours and five minutes.

American men have collected only three medals in the Olympic marathon since 1972, but the U.S. is sending an experienced group of runners to London. 36-year-old Meb Keflezighi will be participating in his third Olympics. He notched a silver medal for his second-place marathon finish in Athens in 2004. Keflezighi won the Olympic Trials Marathon last month in Houston, in a personal-best time of two hours, nine minutes and eight seconds. Ryan Hall earned his second Olympic berth with a second-place finish in Texas, and Abdi Abdiraham made his fourth Olympic team by finishing third.

Typically, the Olympic Marathon is a tactical, rather than a speedy race, because it's medals that matter, not time. But this year should be different, given Mutai's performance in Boston last April, the fast times in Dubai last week, and the flat and fast nature of the course in London.

Ryan Hall, who ran the fastest-ever marathon time for an American in Boston in April, 2011, two hours, four minutes and 58 seconds, says Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya transformed the way the Olympic Marathon is run when he captured the gold medal in the race in Beijing in 2008, in an Olympic record time. Hall says it will take a similar performance to medal in London. "The marathon has changed, Sammy changed it," Hall said, "You're going to have to go early, commit to the pace and it's going to be a war of attrition out there. Guys aren't afraid now to go out hard, so we have to be prepared to go out hard and run a fast opening half."

Sammy Wanjiru set a blistering pace in the 2008 marathon in Beijing and won in two hours, six minutes and 32 seconds. He became the first Kenyan to win the Olympic Marathon, but he won't be running in London. Wanjiru died in a fall from a balcony in Kenya in May of 2011. He was 24.

This segment aired on February 1, 2012.


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