Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Road to Houston: Watch out for the Wild Cards

Who will be this year's Brian Sell?
As we are only a few days away now, you've probably heard plenty about Ryan Hall, Dathan Ritzenhein and Meb Keflezighi on the Men's side and Shalane Flanagan, Desi Davila and Kara Goucher on the Women's side. All this is for good reason. They are the favorites. They deserve your respect. They have nice contracts. They'll be ok, even if the trials don't go as planned. On paper, they should be the top three on each side. But as we all know, the marathon is a an animal. It's a wild animal at that. You can have the best training block of your life and then have a bad race day. You can also go through a rough block and find magic in a bottle. That's what this group of competitors will be trying to find on their "Road to Houston." Everyone likes the underdog, and here's a few to root for (in alphabetical order).

Wild Men
Ryan Bak
Did Bak just get a deal with Nike after his strong performance at CIM? Maybe so. His 2:14 this close to the trials certainly shows promise. Will it be enough of a launchpad to give him the confidence to challenge for a spot? From his recent interviews, it certainly looks as such. Will be interesting to see what he's got in the tank after racing a month ago.

Fernando Cabada
Unattached (Translation: If he can make the team, he'll get paid)
Cabada has been on it for years and seems to be rounding into top form at the right time. Judging by some of his recent workouts, he's primed to rip one. He's seasoned, has a 2:12 PR, an American Record (at 25k) and a National Championship in the Marathon ('08) to his name. Beware the "Cabadass."

Hartmann would love
a Chicago repeat
Jason Hartmann
Hartmann has proved that he can run well on flat courses and in the heat. His finish as the top American at Chicago in 2010 should give him confidence that he can run something similar (in similar weather) in Houston Saturday. Hartmann was 10th at the 2007 trials and will be looking to put everything on the line as he gets later into his career. Will the 2:11 kind of performance he ran at Chicago be enought to make the London team? It may be a stretch, but he's certainly got the credentials to give it a run (pun intended).

Jason Lehmkuhle
Lehmkuhle has put together a group of nice runs over the past few years and will be primed for a spot this year. People may forget that Lehmkuhle was 5th at the 2007 Trials (for the 2008 Olympics). Don't expect him to go out and push the pace, but expect him to finish very strong. This tactic worked very well for Brian Sell in '07 and it wouldn't surprise me if Lehmkuhle developed a similar race plan. (And be sure to check out the very cool "Marathon Road" video about Lehmkuhle and Team USA Minnesota by clicking here)

Mike Morgan
Hanson-Brooks Distance Project
If you've seen any of Flotrack's "Made in Detroit" series, you can see this guy is fit. He's run on the international stage before and looks primed to make a run at it. The Hansons are always in the mix, and between Morgan and Luke Humphrey, one of these guys is going to be up there in the top seven making a run for the podium.

Cherobon-Bawcom would love to
 break the tape Saturday
Wild Women
Janet Cherobon-Bawcom
Atlanta Track Club (Translation: Like Cabada, a top three finish would likely gain a shoe deal)
Cherobon-Bawcom may be the biggest wild card in the field, as no one really knows what she is capable of. She came on strong late in the year to win the USA Running Circuit title and then started Marathon training with the one and only Jack Daniels. It wouldn't surprise me if she finished second, but it also wouldn't surprise me if she finished tenth. We'll see what she's got in the tank Saturday.

Amy Hastings
Hastings had an incredible debut, running 2:27 in LA, in the rain (last year). Training in Mammoth certainly suits Marathon training, and 5k training, considering her excellent 2011 outdoor season. With the 5000 at the track trials being her backup plan, I'm sure she'd like to go ahead and punch her ticket to London on Saturday. 

Deena Kastor
It's hard to think that anyone would consider the American Record Holder at the Marathon a wild card, but that's exactly where she falls. She ran great at the NYC Half, but hasn't done much else in the past few years. That may be exactly how she wants it. She is a former Olympic Medalist, so she's got the mental capacity to will herself to something great. It will be exciting to see if that Deena shows up Saturday. Let's hope so!

Molly Pritz
It looks as though Ms. Pritz has gotten a new sponsor over the past few weeks, but don't expect her new contract to make her any less of a bulldog on the roads of Houston this weekend. Pritz's first 'thon was NYC and she ran well, but faded a bit, like many do, over the last 5 miles. Expect her confidence to carry her towards the top group Saturday. She's one of the younger competitors of the group, so we could be getting an early look at one of the favorites in 2016.

Rhines would be happy with this outcome
Jen Rhines
Rhines is the ageless wonder and continues to perform, year in and year old. Only this June, at the USATF Track Championships, she beat Davila in the 5000 and 10,000, so she'll come in with confidence. The fact that she trains in Mammoth with Hastings and Kastor doesn't hurt at all either. Her experience will come in handy amongst an excellent field.

We're only a few days away! Bookmark the "Road to Houston" Recap page for continued coverage leading up to the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston, TX on January 14, 2012.

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