Thursday, 19 January 2012

Olympic Marathon Trial reflections

With just over 6 months to go until the London Olympic Games the American team is selected following their trials last weekend and Kenya took the first step towards finalising its line up by naming a provisional squad with 5 runners.

Every time the games come round the debate kicks off as to whether a trial race is the best way to select a marathon team or not and even the Kenyans have been toying with the idea. Traditionally the US has had a sudden death first 3 past the post system and when you have strength in depth this can be a terrific way to select a team.

Going into last weeks trials in Houston the US had well over 100 qualified athletes for their trial race (as opposed to the couple of dozen with the Olympic standard) which enabled them to put on a special race the day before the main Houston Marathon. While many commentators predicted a cagey opening half Ryan Hall had other ideas and opened up with a 63min half which challenged the rest of the field to follow or sign over one of the spots to him. A few took up the challenge and Meb Keflezighi came through to run his second PR in 2 months and win the trial from Hall and Abdi Abdirahaman. With 4 guys under 2.10 for the first time since the famous Boston Race of 1983 ? the American team promises to be strong. The women are arguably even better placed for medals with Shalane Flanagan, Desi Davila and Kara Goucher following teh form bok to take the top 3 slots.

One of the things I love about this sort of trial event is the build up and buzz that it creates. Back in 2004 in the UK were using the Flora London Marathon as the official trial and with an Olympic Qualifying time of 2:15 there were plenty of us who fancied a crack at making the team. I had punched my ticket for the trial with a 2.22 debut the previous autumn in Amsterdam and training had gone pretty well during the winter though not well enough to suggest that I had a 2.15 in me. Not that it was going to deter me from having a go.

Come the race just about all the contenders lined up including Jon Brown who would go on to place 4th in Athens for the second games in succession. A decent sized group of men went through half way in 66 high and things sorted themselves out from there. Brown qualified along with Dan Robinson who had his breakthrough race and Chris Cariss (left tracking Jon Bown) had the heartbreak of missing the standard by 8 seconds. While for the women Tracey Morris had a breakthrough to join Liz Yelling and Paula in the team.

If you look at the results of that mens race I was 15th Brit in 2.21(2 seconds ahead of Matt Smith after a frantic 'dash' down the Mall) and we had 13 runners sub 2.20 (compared with the US's 50 this year- though interestingly on a per head of population basis thats roughly equivalent). 10 of the 15 ran personal bests and several of those efforts haven't been bettered since. We haven't had a trial race again and we havent produced that strength in depth in a single race either and arguably men's marathoning in the UK is no stronger now than it was 8 years ago which feels like a missed opportunity.

Hopefully for the 2016 Olympics, if not before for the Worlds, we will return to a good old spring shootout for Great Britain marathon team spots.

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