In a steamy trials marathon, Rod DeHaven grabbed the only U.S. ticket to Sydney
Props to Rod DeHaven. His victory on Sunday in the U.S. Olympic Trials marathon in Pittsburgh was rich in the courage and drama that make the trials so compelling. DeHaven, a 33-year-old part-time computer programmer for a Madison, Wis., insurance company, endured ghastly heat and humidity and a tough, hilly course to win in 2:15:30. In a race that bludgeoned the country's best marathoners into submission—"You knew, with the heat, that the course was going to eat people alive," said fourth-place finisher Scott Larson—DeHaven ran with patience and confidence, taking the lead just past the 22-mile mark and running away from second-place finisher Peter De La Cerda.
It's a shame, then, that DeHaven's feat will find a notorious place in U.S. marathoning history. Because no runner bettered the Olympic qualifying standard of 2:14, DeHaven will be the only U.S. male marathoner in Sydney. It will be the first time since 1896 that the U.S. has sent fewer than the maximum of three runners. "It's a sad day," said Dan Grimes, chairman of USA Track and Field's long-distance running committee. "Everybody feels a little depressed."
Three things helped cause Sunday's disaster:
?The place-and-times factor. U.S. Olympic marathon squads have long been selected in the most direct way: The top three finishers at the trials go to the Games. Olympic time standards have never, until this year, been harsh enough to affect the process. When the International Amateur Athletic Federation, track's governing body, lowered the standard to 2:14 last summer, however, the process of qualifying three U.S. Olympians in the event became more complicated. Marathoners had from Jan. 1, 1999, through the trials to better the standard. Among Sunday's starters, only David Morris and Joe LeMay had bettered 2:14; for either to go to Sydney, however, he had to win, or the winner had to run sub-2:14—in which case Morris and LeMay would both go...if me second-and third-place finishers in the race did not meet the standard. Then Pittsburgh had unusually warm weather on Sunday (61� at the start of the race, 77� at the finish, with drenching humidity), making it all but certain that no one would break 2:14.
With times at a premium, the tough Pittsburgh course was a poor site for the trials. However, the choice was made two years ago—before the IAAF lowered its standard—and Pittsburgh submitted, according to Grimes, "the only viable bid" to host the trials. Among the guarantees made by Pittsburgh were ones for housing, prize money (including $75,000 for the winner) and television coverage.
"If guaranteeing three Olympic team members is to become the most important factor, then the process needs to be reconsidered," says USA Track and Field CEO Craig Masback. One answer is to hold the trials on a fast, flat course with predictable weather. This might mean eliminating prize money. Asked if he would sacrifice his $20,000 third-place check for an Olympic spot, Mark Coogan said, "In a second."
?The Khannouchi factor. Had Khalid Khannouchi, the 28-year-old native of Morocco who last October ran 2:05:42 in Chicago to set the world record and who gained U.S. citizenship five days before the trials, been healthy enough to run in Pittsburgh, he most likely would have won. Since Khannouchi ran under—way under—2:14 in 1999, he would have dragged Morris and LeMay with him to Sydney, whether he ran 2:14 in Pittsburgh or not. However, Khannouchi, suffering from ligament damage in his left ankle and a strained right hamstring after finishing third (in 2:08:36) at the London Marathon on April 16, declined to run the trials.
Khannouchi came excruciatingly close to getting his citizenship early enough to skip London. After more than three years of trying to gain citizenship through the efforts of two New York legislators, Khannouchi began working with Houston lawyer Harry Gee in January. Gee expedited Khannouchi's case through Section 319(b) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, which allows for swift action when a candidate's American spouse is employed by a U.S. company and posted overseas. Khannouchi's wife, Sandra, was hired in March by Elite Racing, a San Diego road race promotion firm, and assigned to Madrid. Just before the London Marathon, Gee told Khannouchi that his chances of getting citizenship in time for the trials were "80 percent." The odds evidently weren't good enough to persuade Khannouchi to pass up what turned out to be a reported $150,000 appearance fee. Less than three weeks later, Khannouchi was a citizen but too injured to run.
Yet the time and Khannouchi factors are only diversions from a more substantial issue: