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Monday, August 13, 2012

Putting The Men’s Marathon In Context

Fourth is the worst place to finish in the Olympic marathon. Just ask Kenny Moore who just missed a medal in Munich in 1972, or Jon Brown, the Canadian runner who finished 4th TWICE (2000, 2004.) But if anyone can be proud of a 4th-place finish in the Olympic marathon it’s 37-year-old Meb Keflezighi, who hung there in Sunday’s race in the London Olympics.

Keflezighi was the only American left after about 10 miles because Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman dropped out. Hall had a hamstring injury. Abdirahman felt something pop in his knee. For Hall it was the first time he has failed to finish a marathon and it was bitter pill to swallow after his disappointing 10th-place finish in Beijing four years ago. You wonder how many more chances he will get to run in the Olympics.

Meb Keflezighi said he took inspiration from another 37-year-old runner, Portugal’s Carlos Lopes, who won the Olympic marathon in Los Angeles in 1984 and also said this will likely be his final Olympic games. If that’s true Keflezighi leaves the big stage with an American Olympic marathon record that’s second only to Frank Shorter, who won gold in 1972 and silver four years later in Montreal. Keflezighi finished second for silver in Athens and 2004 and added that 4th-place finish Sunday.

The winner of Sunday’s marathon, Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich, really ran a brilliant race. In the final miles, when he was in a three-man medal race with Kenyans Abel Kirui and Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich Stephen Kiprotich rode behind them and blazed past them right at the 23-mile mark. He ran the 24th mile in 4:42 and the Kenyans could not respond. Kiprotich even had time to grab a Ugandan flag from one of the thousands of spectators lining the Mall. His is the first Ugandan medal in an Olympic running event since John Akii-Bua won the 400-meter hurdles in Munich in 1972.

The man without a country, Guor Marial, finished 47th in 2-hours-19-minutes-32 seconds. Marial was born in what is now South Sudan but there is no Olympic committee there. but he had a qualifying time and with the help of a lot of people the International Olympic Committee eventually allowed him to run under the IOC flag, and if I heard this right, even bought him a new pair of shoes to run in. Marial went to high school in Concord, New Hampshire and later starred at Iowa State. Now he has an Olympic experience to add to his resume.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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