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Des Linden to race U.S. Olympic Trials, Boston Marathon

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Des Linden was undecided whether to race the Feb. 29 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials as recently as a month ago. But now Linden, the 2018 Boston Marathon winner, is not only committed to trials but also the April 20 Boston Marathon.

It would be, at 51 days, by far her shortest break between marathons, which has so far included 19 marathons dating to 2007. She’s 36 years old, and it may be her last Olympic cycle.

“I only have so many more chances at Boston. I love being there. Obviously, the Olympics [window] is closing down as well,” she said. “I like the trials and the competitive way we pick our team. I can’t imagine, at this point, watching either of those races and feeling like I had no effect on either outcome.”

If Linden does make the Olympic marathon team — by placing top three at trials in Atlanta — she would be in line to race four marathons over a little more than nine months when including last month’s New York City Marathon.

Until recent years, the world’s top marathoners entered one spring marathon and one fall marathon per year. Other top runners have started racing more frequently.

Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa and American Sara Hall ran the New York City Marathon on Nov. 3, 29 days and 35 days, respectively, after racing the world championships and Berlin Marathon. Neither finished New York, however.

This past August, when Linden committed to the New York City Marathon, she added that she might not race the trials. After her performance in New York — the top U.S. woman in sixth place — she decided she was ready for the trials-Boston double, which she had been considering since placing fifth at this past April’s Boston Marathon.

As far as how it will impact her trials build-up, Linden said her team will re-evaluate the process weekly. She hasn’t committed to a pre-trials half marathon.

“We’re obviously aware of what’s down the line, so we’re trying to get as much quality as we can without going too deep into the well,” she said. “It’s certainly going to be out there, but we’re trying to run well at both and not say, ‘This isn’t going well,’ and just train through it.”

Linden has been treating every marathon as if it could be her last. She has been incredibly consistent, placing no worse than eighth in her last 11 marathon starts dating to 2013.

Neither of Linden’s previous Olympic experiences was especially memorable. She dropped out of her first one in 2012 with a stress fracture in her femur. She was seventh in Rio, missing a medal by less than two minutes. The Kenyan-born gold and silver medalists were later busted for EPO and are serving lengthy doping bans.

“I don’t feel like I have anything to prove and anything unfinished,” at the Olympics, Linden said in August. “Quite frankly, the last experience is a hard sell to get back out there to try to compete for medals when you’re not even really sure what the field is all about. It’s a little bit difficult to be excited about that with the way we are about the [World Marathon] Majors. People investing in anti-doping have really been solving that problem [at the majors]. It’s a little tricky [at the Olympics], but certainly representing your country is special.”

Linden is the most experienced of a deep group of U.S. Olympic marathon hopefuls after the recent retirement of four-time Olympian Shalane Flanagan.

The U.S. also boasts Jordan Hasay (second-fastest American woman in history), 2017 World bronze medalist Amy Cragg and Molly Huddle, the American record holder at 10,000m.

Hall, Emily Sisson and Kellyn Taylor, all bidding for their first Olympic team, broke into the top nine on the U.S. all-time marathon list in the last 18 months.

Linden could become the first woman to compete in three Olympic marathons for the U.S. Colleen de Reuck raced two Olympic marathons for South Africa before representing the U.S. at the 2004 Athens Games.

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Amy Cragg to withdraw from U.S. Olympic marathon trials

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Defending champion Amy Cragg will miss the Feb. 29 U.S. Olympic marathon trials with an illness, according to her social media.

“The Trials are the reason I have shown up every day for the last four years, so this has been an extremely difficult decision,” was posted on her social media. Cragg later said she had Epstein-Barr virus, according to multiple reports.

Cragg, 36, was among the favorites to grab three Olympic spots at trials in Atlanta, despite not having competed over 26.2 miles since the February 2018 Tokyo Marathon.

She withdrew from the 2018 Chicago Marathon with a hamstring injury and also scratched a month before the 2019 Chicago Marathon, citing signs pointing to needing more time after the previous year’s injury.

Cragg, fourth at the 2012 Olympic trials, relegated Des Linden and Shalane Flanagan to second and third at the 2016 trials. Linden and Flanagan went on to win the Boston and New York City Marathons, respectively, ending long U.S. women’s victory droughts.

Cragg went on to finish ninth in Rio and earn a 2017 World bronze medal, the first world championships marathon podium finish for an American woman since the first worlds in 1983.

Cragg could still make the Tokyo Olympic team in the 10,000m if she races at track trials in June. She won the 2012 Olympic trials 10,000m but hasn’t raced the distance on the track since May 2017.

“Right now my only goal is to get healthy so that I can train at the level needed to be competitive,” Cragg said in an emailed message from her agent. “That being said, the reason I am still in this sport is because of the Olympic Trials and Olympics. It is what excites me more than anything, so it is something I would still love to do.”

With Cragg absent and Flanagan retired, Linden is the only woman in next week’s field with Olympic marathon experience.

Other favorites include Olympic 10,000m runner Molly Huddle, world championships 10,000m runner Emily Sisson and Jordan Hasay, the second-fastest U.S. female marathoner in history.

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Galen Rupp, after tumult, finds familiarity before Olympic marathon trials

Galen Rupp
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As Galen Rupp bids for a fourth Olympics, and perhaps become the first man or woman to win the Olympic marathon trials twice outright, he found some rare familiarity these days on the roads Feb. 8.

“Feeling like my old self again,” Rupp said Wednesday of winning a low-key half marathon in Mesa, Ariz., his first completed race in 16 months and since parting from now-banned, career-long coach Alberto Salazar. “It’s obviously been a long year and a half.”

Rupp clocked 61 minutes, 19 seconds on a downhill course. It’s faster than any half marathon by an American recorded by World Athletics since the start of 2019. Granted the downhill, but Rupp also said he was instructed by new coach Mike Smith to make it a controlled effort.

“He didn’t want me to run all-out, didn’t want me to really push and put myself in a big hole,” Rupp said, noting he was still in heavy training. “You don’t want to break that [training] up and put yourself in a deficit by having a massive effort.”

Mesa answered questions about Rupp’s readiness for the Olympic trials in Atlanta on Feb. 29 (NBC, 12-3 p.m. ET). Even to the two-time Olympic medalist himself. Rupp said he started the half marathon with a little bit of doubt — given recent left ankle and calf injuries — but felt early on that everything would be fine.

“It really put my mind at ease,” he said. “I’m going to be good for the marathon.”

His last two marathons did not go well.

At the 2018 Chicago Marathon, Rupp dropped from the leaders around mile 19 and finished fifth in a title defense. An Achilles injury flared up near the end. He underwent surgery later that month for two tears. Doctors said the ankle had been “a ticking time bomb.”

“They said I was really lucky to have as good of health as I had and manage it as I did,” Rupp said.

He went a full year before racing again, at the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 13, 12 days after Salazar’s ban was announced. Even that was a rushed comeback, Rupp said after dropping out around mile 23 with a calf injury.

“I’m not going to say it was a wake-up call,” Rupp said, “but I think I was a little bit stubborn before Chicago.”

Rupp said he ran through pain in training to get to the start line four months ago. He had trouble walking for several days after the abbreviated race and focused on physical therapy for about two months. He resumed normal, pain-free training in December.

By early January, Runner’s World reported that Oregon-based Rupp found a new Flagstaff-based coach in Smith, who leads a Northern Arizona University program that won the last three NCAA men’s cross-country titles.

“The biggest thing to me was Mike’s philosophy in coaching was very similar to the program that I was under for so many years,” said Rupp, who was for more than a decade part of the Nike Oregon Project, which was shut down last fall after Salazar’s ban for doping violations (which he appealed). Rupp wasn’t implicated by USADA and has a clean drug-testing record. “What I love most about it was Mike’s honesty and how forthright he was about everything. You could tell he wasn’t just saying what I wanted to hear or say, ‘We’re just going to do whatever you’ve been doing and try and replicate that.’ You’ve got to keep evolving and trying new things.”

Smith declined an interview request through NAU until after trials. He agreed to coach Rupp after about a month of communication and hard questions, according to Runner’s World.

“Because of its timing and the headlines I was reading like everyone else at the time, this was not a road I wanted to go down,” Smith said, according to the report. “To be honest, it was just easiest to turn it down. I’m actually — as crazy as this sounds — really proud I did not.

“What I found out by getting to know Galen was that there was much more going on than the picture portrayed of him, and I wish the world knew that. I have never seen someone more all-in in my life.”

Rupp, asked his toughest moment of the last two years, said he moves forward.

“Throughout any hardships and setbacks, I felt a lot of gratitude that I had as good of a run as I did with my health and everything going well for as long as I did,” he said. “It can be easy to get angry and get down, like why me, but I do believe that things always work out. There’s a reason behind all this stuff.”

Which brings Rupp to Atlanta next week for the first time in his life, aside from airport layovers. The race is unlike any other he has contested. The course is unusually hilly. The format — Americans only, top three make the Olympic team — makes for different tactics than the World Marathon Majors that Rupp is used to.

In 2016, Rupp entered as a favorite but without any marathon experience. He won convincingly, pulling away from now-retired Meb Keflezighi by 68 seconds.

The field is deeper this year. Seven Americans broke 2:11 in 2019. Only one did in 2015. But Rupp, at his best, is in his own class.

His personal best 2:06:07, from his last healthy marathon in 2018, is 1:49 faster than the second-fastest in the trials field in this Olympic cycle (Leonard Korir). The next-fastest, Scott Fauble, is more than three minutes behind by personal bests.

“I can confidently go in and say that I’ve put in the work for this, just like I know that I put in the work in 2016,” Rupp said. “Of course, you want to go in and have good races, feeling confident and being on a roll like I was several years ago. But I think that’s why that race in Mesa was so important to show, more to myself, that hey, you’re ready to go. You can still run well. You haven’t lost everything. Surgery didn’t wipe you out.”

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