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Rupp, Cragg Win Hot US Trials Marathon

RUPP, CRAGG PREVAIL IN HOT USA OLYMPIC TRIALS MARATHON
By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom

(c) 2016 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
Used with permission

LOS
ANGELES (12-Feb) — On a day that will be remembered for the harsh
wrath of mother nature and its crippling heat, Galen Rupp and Amy
Hastings ran their way to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics here at the 2016
U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon. Rupp booked his ticket in dominating
fashion, cruising to win his debut marathon in 2:11:12, while Cragg
completed a pulse-pounding, drama-filled race in 2:28:20.

IN MARATHON DEBUT, RUPP SCORES SIGNATURE WIN

With
temperatures soaring into the mid-70s and a blistering sun overhead,
Galen Rupp ran confidently in the first marathon of his career. As he
so often does on the track, the 29-year-old Nike Oregon Project athlete
tucked himself into the lead pack for the first ten miles, conserving
as much energy as possible. Pre-race, Rupp donned an ice vest, special
cooling mittens, and a white hat. Water-soaked towels and an
intentionally cut-up uniform provided the best relief as he pounded the
pavement alongside America’s best marathoners.

Splitting the
half-marathon in a conservative 1:06:31, it was evident that no one
wanted to test the conditions or the experienced field. Meb Keflezighi,
attempting to make his fourth Olympic team, ran with poise, while
debutante Diego Estrada pushed with exuberance. Dathan Ritzenhein,
sporting the same white Nike kit as Rupp, looked content striding with
the group of 20.

It was 2013 USA marathon champion Tyler
Pennel who was first to surge at 25-kilometers, aggressively stringing
out the field in swift fashion. The only athletes to respond were Rupp
and Keflezighi, chasing down Pennel as they traversed the twisting
section through the University of Southern California’s campus.

“Tyler
made that race. To make that move was a deciding factor,” said
Keflezighi. “You always know that when five guys go, three guys go,
one’s going to falter.”

After a 4:47 17th mile, Pennel came
face to face with the marathon’s cruel hand. Hitting a rough patch,
he’d fade out of the picture and ultimately to fifth place at the
finish (2:14:57). That left Keflezighi and Rupp.

The next to
face troubles was the 40 year-old Keflezighi, dealing with cramping and
stomach issues. He also faced the nagging distraction of Rupp clipping
his heels.

“It’s not a track; the road is open,” Keflezighi
recalls telling Rupp during the race. “It was not a very friendly
conversation.”

A 4:47 split for mile-23 gave Rupp a clear lead,
one that he’d build upon throughout the course’s final 6-mile lap.
Breaking the tape with an explosive fist pump, Rupp finished first in
2:11:12. He became the first to win the U.S. Olympic Trials in his
debut marathon, and like his coach Alberto Salazar, tasted victory in
his debut marathon.

“I’m just thrilled with the way the race
went. It’s a tremendous honor to be able to represent this country at
the Olympic Games,” Rupp told reporters. “I’m just thrilled with the
outcome of this. To cross the line first, it was definitely difficult
out there. There were a lot of great competitors and it was a tough
race.”

Behind Rupp an enthusiastic Keflezighi came down the
final stretch waving an American flag and pumping his fist with
ferocity, celebrating his runner-up 2:12:20 finish. The 23-time USA
champion, a father of three, was motivated to finish on the podium for
his three daughters, Sara, Fiyori and Yohana, and wife Yordanos. The
family hugged just beyond the finish line.

The third and final
Olympic spot went to Jared Ward, the defending national champion from
Provo, Utah. He’d collapse to the ground a step across the line in
2:13:00. The conditions had taken their toll, yet couldn’t wipe the
smile off Ward’s face.

“You know, coach (Ed Eyestone) was a
tough runner,” said Ward. “We train really, really fit and we run
tough. At the end of the race, its tough. And, at the end of a hot
marathon like that, it’s the faces of my family, those people who I
love, those who have invested so much in my athletic journey, that are
out there popping into my face over those last 600 (meters). And trying
to run like a horse and not die.”

Finishing in the dreaded fourth position was Luke Puskedra in 2:14:12.

Looking
ahead, Rupp confirmed his intentions to compete at next month’s IAAF
World Indoor Championships (should he qualify), as well as the U.S.
Olympic Track Trials. At the latter competition he will attempt to
qualify for Rio de Janeiro in the 5000m and 10,000m. Rupp has until
July 11 to decide what events to run at the Olympics, so long he
finishes in the top three in Eugene.

“The first job obviously
was to qualify for this,” Rupp said. “I think doubling the way the
schedule is is definitely a real possibility. I think the 10,000m still
might be my better event. I don’t know. This is kind of an interesting
build-up.”

In ten years, fans will likely look back at today’s
race and remember the dominant fashion of Rupp’s victory, as well as
Keflezighi’s epic swan song. But the event will also be remembered for
the carnage that took out some of the best runners in America. Among
those to drop out were Dathan Ritzenhein, Diego Estrada, and Sam
Chelanga; both Estrada and Chelanga were making their marathon debuts.

TEAMWORK & MOTIVATION PROPELS CRAGG TO WOMEN’S TITLE

With
three miles left in her second U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, Amy Cragg
had an important decision to make: stay back and rally her struggling
teammate Shalane Flanagan, or charge ahead and try for victory. Cragg
did a little bit of both, keeping Flanagan focused on the task at hand
before powering away to the win. What resulted was a meaningful moment.

“It was a huge relief,” Hastings told Race Results Weekly
speaking both about her win and Flanagan’s finish. “Now I just hope
she’s OK.”

For 21 miles the women’s race looked like a Bowerman
Track Club training run in Portland, Ore., with Flanagan and Cragg
covering step by step together far out front. Building a lead of more
than a minute, the pair looked poised for a convincing victory.
Thoughts of Kenny Moore and Frank Shorter’s tie at the 1972 Trials came
to mind — could the pair cross the finish as one, sharing the glory?

Those
visions vanished on the final six-mile loop. Flanagan, who appeared
fine for much of the race, suddenly turned bright red. Cragg watched
her best friend hit the marathon’s wall head on, and became
increasingly worried about her well-being.

Earlier in the
race, Flanagan had provided verbal support for a hurting Cragg,
assuring her that they’d work together to make sure both could be 2016
Olympians. Now it was Cragg’s turn to return the favor.

Looking
in Flanagan’s direction step after step, Cragg barked words of
encouragement. The pace slowed to a crawling 6:05 split between mile 24
and 25, with Cragg refusing to leave Flanagan’s shoulder. Together
they’d make it within two kilometers of the finish, all the while a
fast-closing Desiree Linden came into the picture.

Cragg left
Flanagan behind only after turning around to see Linden and Kara
Goucher approaching. Her husband Alistair Cragg screamed what the gap
was from the sidelines, furthering her decision to go. She did so with
hesitancy at first.

“It was incredibly tough [to leave
Shalane],” Hastings told RRW. “I was so nervous for her at that point.
She didn’t look good, she just didn’t look good. I was really nervous.”

Rebounding
from a heart-breaking fourth place finish at the 2012 Trials, Cragg
cranked the tempo up a notch and won going away in 2:28:20. A second
after celebrating, she turned to see if Flanagan could make it.

Despite
losing a spot to Linden, Flanagan would qualify for her fourth Olympic
team by finishing third in 2:29:19. In a television interview with NBC,
Flanagan described Cragg as a saving grace.

“She is the
epitome of what a best friend is,” Flanagan told Lewis Johnson,
slightly slurring her words with a bag of ice on her neck. “Sweet Baby
Jesus I’m so thankful for that.”

Flanagan sought medical
attention following the race, and was unable to speak to the media at
the race’s press conference. She did speak with USATF’s Jill Geer, who
relayed the following message from Flanagan:

“That was the
hardest marathon I’ve probably run in terms of the last six miles being
the hardest. I just got done getting an I.V. I’ve never had one of
those before. Clearly it took it’s toll on me today and I had to fight
to just make the team. I can only say it was just the heat, but I think
I need to work on better fluid for the heat and conditions. I’ll have
to work on that for Rio as well.”

Linden’s finish was also
meaningful considering her first Olympics were cut short when she
dropped out of the race due to injury.

“That was the toughest
26.2 ever,” said Linden, whose time was 2:28:54. “It was absolutely a
grind out there. It was a mental battle… It worked out. I just stayed
tough and kept looking up, and am super happy to be on another team.
You can’t take these teams for granted at all. I’m thrilled to get to
put on another USA uniform.”

Fourth place went to an emotional
Kara Goucher, running tough all the way through the finish in 2:30:24.
Finishing fifth for the second consecutive Marathon Trials was Janet
Bawcom (2:31:14), and Kellyn Taylor was sixth (2:32:50). The top-5
women were the same as in the 2012 Trials in Houston, with the order
revised. Bawcom was fifth in both races.

A total of 166 men and 198 women started the USA Olympic Marathon Trials, with only 105 and 149 finishing, respectively.

PHOTO: Galen Rupp wins the 2016 Us A Olympic Trials Men’s Marathon (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)

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