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U.S. Picks Olympic Marathoners

It was was unseasonably warm, even for Los Angeles, on February 13. The temperature soared into the 70s, certainly not ideal if you have to run 26-point-2-miles, which is what more than 350 athletes did that day.

Only the top three finishers earned spots on the U.S. team that will compete in the Olympics in Brazil this summer.

Amy Cragg won the women’s race, erasing the disappointment of her fourth-place finish in the 2012 marathon trials that were held in Houston.

“It was pretty heartbreaking finishing fourth,” she said. “I worked really, really hard for the last four years to move up one position, and I’m so excited to get out there and represent the United States in Rio.”

Late in the race, Cragg’s training partner Shalane Flanagan, who won the marathon trials in 2012, struggled in the heat, but held on to take the third and the final spot on the team. While Flanagan faded, Des Linden sped past her and grabbed second-place and her second Olympic team berth.

“That was the toughest 26-point 2 ever, it felt so much longer,” she said after the race. “It was absolute grind out there and I’m thrilled to get to put on another USA uniform and hopefully do it proud this time.”

In the men’s race, first-time marathoner Galen Rupp made an outstanding debut at the distance. He won by more than a minute. The other Olympic qualifiers are Jared Ward, a former star runner at Brigham Young, and Meb Keflezighi, a veteran of 23 marathons.

At the age of 40, Keflezighi will be the oldest American to ever run the Olympic marathon when he competes in Rio. Keflezighi’s coach is no spring chicken either. Bob Laursen is 77 years old and he followed his pupil’s progress during the race on a bicycle. In fact, Laursen was still wearing his helmet when he spoke to reporters, joking about their respective ages.

“I’ve said I’m too old to coach and he’d too old to run. But we do the best we can. I figure out what water to give him and a few of those things.”

Keflezighi and his family settled in the San Diego area after fleeing war-torn Eritrea. He was emotional after his second-place finish, tracing his journey from landing in America, not even being able to speak English, to sitting on the stage decades later as a world class athlete.

“Running has changed my life, and I feel so blessed to touch people’s life and I grabbed the United States flag. It was victory lap for me. A lot of people would like to be in our position. We’re just blessed to be here.”

When Meb Keflezighi was a kid, his gym teacher saw him run and told him – “some day you’ll be in the Olympics.” He went home and asked his dad, “What are the Olympics?”

He’s certainly found the answer to that question. Rio will mark his fourth Olympic team. He’d love to add another medal to the silver he brought home for finishing second in the Athens Olympic Marathon in 2004.

Reporter

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Meb Keflezighi celebrates with his family after qualifying for his fourth Olympic team in the February 13 Olympic Trials Marathon. (Alex Ashlock/Here & Now)
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Meb Keflezighi celebrates with his family after qualifying for his fourth Olympic team in the February 13 Olympic Trials Marathon. (Alex Ashlock/Here & Now)

Women compete in the Olympic Trials Marathon in Los Angeles February 13. (Alex Ashlock/Here & Now)
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Women compete in the Olympic Trials Marathon in Los Angeles February 13. (Alex Ashlock/Here & Now)

Jared Ward kisses the ground after qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team in the Olympic Trials Marathon in Los Angeles. (Alex Ashlock/Here & Now)
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Jared Ward kisses the ground after qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team in the Olympic Trials Marathon in Los Angeles. (Alex Ashlock/Here & Now)

Finisher medals for the runners who completed the Olympic Trials Marathon in Los Angeles. (Alex Ashlock/Here & Now)
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Finisher medals for the runners who completed the Olympic Trials Marathon in Los Angeles. (Alex Ashlock/Here & Now)

Des Linden celebrates her second place finish in the Olympic Trials Marathon February 13 in Los Angeles. Linden qualified for her second Olympic team. (Alex Ashlock/Here & Now)
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Des Linden celebrates her second place finish in the Olympic Trials Marathon February 13 in Los Angeles. Linden qualified for her second Olympic team. (Alex Ashlock/Here & Now)