Missing the Olympic marathon team can mean a wait of 4 years, or a few months

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As Des Linden saw three women ahead of her late in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials — in a race where only the top three go to the Olympics — she considered dropping out for the second time in her 20 career marathons.

“For one split-second,” she said. “I hate to even think this, but there’s a point in the race where it’s like, well, s— I’m running [the] Boston [Marathon on April 20]. Should I just shut it down and jog in?

“But it mattered to me, and that’s why I came out here. I still fought all day. You’re already too far into this, and it means a lot. Pull your head out of your ass and go.”

Linden said she didn’t give up until the last 100 meters of the 26.2-mile race. Not until Sally Kipyego crossed the Atlanta Centennial Park finish line 11 seconds ahead of her, clinching the last spot on the U.S. team for the Tokyo Games.

Linden, the most decorated woman in the record field of more than 400, came thisclose to becoming the first U.S. woman to make three Olympic marathon teams.

MORE: Olympic Marathon Trials results

For Linden and the other favorites who missed the team, there will be more races, more marathons. But this race, the trials, will not happen for another four years. Linden will be 40 come the next Olympic year. Then again, 43-year-old Abdi Abdirahman finished third in the men’s race.

“If you asked me four years ago, I wouldn’t have planned on being here,” said Linden, whose career was reinvigorated by making the 2016 Olympic team and then winning the 2018 Boston Marathon. “Meb [Keflezighi] made the team at 41 [in 2016]. So that’s certainly popped in my mind.”

Bernard Lagat is 45 years old and a five-time Olympian. He finished 18th on Saturday, failing to break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history (which Abdirahman ended up snatching).

Like Linden, Lagat plans to return to marathon training after a short break and race 26.2 miles again this spring (though Lagat has not chosen a specific one). Before trials, Lagat did not rule out returning for June’s Olympic Track and Field Trials in the 10,000m, according to Sports Illustrated.

“I feel like with how I ran today, 2:14 in a [hilly] course like this in a windy day, I want to give 100 percent, one more good run somewhere in Europe,” he said. “I’m not going to stop.”

Jordan Hasay, the second-fastest U.S. female marathoner in history, knew something was wrong from the first mile.

A hamstring injury affected her build-up. Then this week, a lower-back issue flared. She tried to block it out, but Hasay dropped from the lead pack just before the halfway point.

“It was just all about finishing,” said Hasay, who ran in purple and gold in honor of Kobe Bryant. “It sucks when you’ve got an hour to go, and you’ve got to keep running.” 

She crossed more than 10 minutes behind winner Aliphine Tuliamuk in 26th place. She was enveloped in the arms of men’s winner Galen Rupp, with whom she shared a coach in Alberto Salazar before Salazar was banned last fall in a doping case. Salazar is believed to be appealing. Neither Rupp nor Hasay were implicated, and both have a clean drug-testing record.

Other women’s favorites who struggled dropped out to preserve their legs for the track trials 10,000m. Hasay was determined to finish after withdrawing on the eve of the 2018 Boston Marathon (heel) and two miles into the 2019 Chicago Marathon with a torn hamstring.

“I worked this hard to not sit and watch this on TV,” said Hasay, who at 28 seemingly has years of marathoning ahead of her.

Jared Ward, who was third at the 2016 Olympic Trials and sixth in Rio, was considered arguably the safest pick to make the marathon team. The men’s field wasn’t seen as deep as the women, and no man could match his consistency the last two years.

But Ward, an adjunct statistics professor at BYU, was 27th. Once Ward dropped from the leaders and saw his Olympic dream fade, he thought of his four kids between ages 1 and 7.

“I want my kids to know that when things get tough, we can still do hard things,” he said of finishing. “We don’t have to pull the plug when things get hard. So I feel a sense of accomplishment.”

Ward noted that he will always have that magical day at the trials in Los Angeles four years ago. And that, at 31, he is 12 years younger than Abdirahman.

“I was ready to pull the plug and consider a different marathon, but the streets were just yelling for me,” Ward said. “My mantra going into this race was, ‘Beyond me.’ There’s more to this than me.”

Emily Sisson, arguably the women’s pre-race favorite, and Molly Huddle, the American record holder at 10,000m, did not finish. Sisson and Huddle, who share a coach and sometimes train together, made strategic decisions after losing contact with the leaders around the 20th mile.

They don’t have to wait four years. As soon as Sisson and Huddle walked off the course on Saturday afternoon, they became favorites to make the Olympic team in the 10,000m at the track trials in June.

“Have unfinished business in the marathon, so I’ll be back,” was posted on Sisson’s Instagram, “but for now it’s time to rest & refocus.”

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