No doubt Amy Cragg and Shalane Flanagan bonded as training partners en route to the U.S. Olympic marathon trials, escaping a black bear the clearest example.
They couldn’t have been closer after finishing first and third to make the Olympic team Saturday.
Flanagan collapsed in Cragg’s arms two strides after the finish line at the hottest U.S. Olympic marathon trials ever in Los Angeles. She was then helped into a wheelchair.
Cragg won the race in 2:28:20, redeeming after she finished fourth to miss the team by one spot at the 2012 trials. Flanagan came in third Saturday to make her fourth Olympic team, 25 seconds behind second-place Desi Linden and 58 seconds behind Cragg.
Cragg, 32, waited for Flanagan at the finish line, holding an American flag, hugging Flanagan and then, suddenly, keeping the 2008 Olympic 10,000m bronze medalist from falling onto the pavement.
Flanagan, the 2012 trials winner and a pre-race favorite, said there was a point in the 26.2 miles where she thought she was “done.”
Cragg talked her through it. They spent most of the final half of the race alone in the lead.
“Sweet baby Jesus, I’m so thankful for [Cragg],” Flanagan, the second-fastest U.S. female marathoner ever, said minutes after finishing, with an ice pack over her shoulders, clutching a water bottle in her right hand and holding onto Cragg’s right shoulder with her left hand.
Cragg held up Flanagan during the interview and then helped her back into the wheelchair.
The temperature at the start of the men’s race at 10:06 a.m. local time was 66 degrees, hottest ever at a marathon trials (the first trials were in 1968). The women began 16 minutes later.
Cragg finished fourth at the 2012 marathon trials, then made that Olympic team in the 10,000m on the track and finished 11th in London in her Olympic debut. She moved from Providence, R.I., to Portland, Ore., in the fall to join Flanagan’s training group.
“Finishing fourth, looking back on it now, was so good for me,” Cragg told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “It made me more determined than ever as an athlete. I’ve worked really hard the last four years, basically, to move up one spot.
“I just knew, training with Shalane, would give me all the confidence I need.”
Cragg dropped Flanagan in the final two miles. Before that, she said she asked Flanagan if she was OK. Flanagan replied, no, I’m not.
“She seemed like she was even struggling a little bit just to say that,” Cragg said. “Before the last water stop, I kind of looked at her, and she was turning bright red. I knew the heat was getting to her. I told her, I’m going to get you a water bottle, dump the whole thing on your head.”
Linden, arguably the pre-race co-favorite with Flanagan, repeated her 2012 trials finish of second place, surging in the final mile past Flanagan.
At the London Olympics, Linden pulled out 2.2 miles into the race with right hip pain, what would later be diagnosed as a femoral stress fracture.
“It’s been this Sisyphean task where I get to the top, and then the rock crumbles down,” Linden said Saturday. “I want to do it better this time.”
Two-time Olympian Kara Goucher was fourth. She plans to compete at the track trials in July in Eugene, Ore., to go for Rio.
Goucher finished 65 seconds behind Flanagan, her former training partner, and said she missed workouts last week while sick. The 37-year-old said she may have picked up an illness from her 5-year-old son, Colt.
“I kept asking myself if I was doing all that I could, and I was,” Goucher told media, in tears. “They were just better. … I didn’t fight this hard to just fold right now, so yeah, I’ll be trying to make the 10k team [at track trials in July].”