America’s top distance runners begin the long road to the London Olympics on Saturday, when the US Olympic marathon trials are contested in Houston.
On the men’s side, though, it is probably not going to be much of a race. In fact, favorite Ryan Hall might just beat the field by a mile.
According to qualifying time rankings, Hall’s personal-best time of 2:04:58 puts him so far ahead of the competition — 0.86 miles, to be exact — that he could conceivably walk the last 0.2 miles to the finish and still win.
Granted, Hall recorded that time last year at the tailwind-aided, net-downhill course at the Boston Marathon. And, of course, the objective at the trials is not so much to win but to make the US team, which requires a top-three finish and a time under the Olympic standard of two hours and 15 minutes.
Still, how dominant is Hall? Consider that of his nine career marathon times, six would be good enough to beat his closest competitor, Meb Keflezighi, the 2009 New York City Marathon champion and 2004 Olympic silver medalist.
Predicting marathon results by past performance is dangerous, since course conditions and weather affect how runners fare. In addition, the top marathoners will have to contest with some unproven competitors who qualified for the trials with half-marathon or 10,000-meter times.
Steve Magness, an assistant coach and exercise scientist with the elite distance running group the Nike Oregon Project, said elite runners ascending from 13.1 miles to marathon distance, 26.2 miles, can run five percent slower if trained properly. But, he said, "that’s a big if."
The women’s field looks more competitive, with mere tenths of a mile separating the contenders. Shalane Flanagan’s time of 2:28:40 ranks her fifth, but the experts favor her to prevail because of her strong track background.