Annie Bersagel

Shalane Flanagan, Kara Goucher, Desi Linden
AP

U.S. Olympic marathon trials women’s preview, contenders

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In a contrast from the men’s race, the U.S. Olympic women’s marathon trials outlook is not all that different from four years ago.

In 2012, Shalane Flanagan and Desi Linden (then Davila) entered as favorites to make the three-woman Olympic team and delivered a one-two finish in Houston.

Kara Goucher was certainly in the mix for an Olympic place as well, arguably a favorite to join Flanagan and Linden in the top three, and she did just that, taking third.

The younger Amy Cragg (then Hastings) and the older Deena Kastor (American record holder set in 2006) just missed, placing fourth and sixth, respectively.

Going into Saturday’s trials (NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra, 1-4 p.m. ET), the four U.S. women who have clocked sub-2:28 since Jan. 1, 2014:

  1. Shalane Flanagan — 2:21:14 (Berlin 2014)
  2. Desi Linden — 2:23:54 (Boston 2014)
  3. Amy Cragg — 2:27:03 (Chicago 2014)
  4. Deena Kastor — 2:27:47 (Chicago 2015)

The biggest question again is who is favored to finish third. Seven top contenders, including four Olympians, are outlined below:

Shalane Flanagan
Age: 34
PR: 2:21:14 (Berlin 2014)
2014 Berlin Marathon — third place
2012 Olympics — 10th place
2012 Olympic marathon trials champion
2010 NYC Marathon — second place
2008 Olympics — bronze medal (10,000m)
2008 Olympics — 10th place (5000m)
2004 Olympics — first round (5000m)

Four years ago, Flanagan entered the trials with one marathon (a 2:28:40) under her belt (plus that decorated track career). She pulled away from Linden in the final two miles in Houston to win the trials by 17 seconds.

Now, Flanagan enters as the second-fastest U.S. woman ever, following a 2:22:02 with a 2:21:14, both in 2014. Linden is the only American within five minutes of those times in the last two years.

Her last marathon, Boston 2015, was not as fast — 2:27:47 — finishing as the second American behind Linden. Plus, she’s dealt with “a lot of hiccups” in training, specifically back and Achilles pain, according to Runner’s World.

Desi Linden
Age: 32
PR: 2:22:38 (Boston 2011)
2012 Olympics — DNF
2011 Boston Marathon — second place

Linden was second at the 2012 trials but pulled out of her Olympic debut 2.2 miles into the race with right hip pain that had affected her training, what would later be diagnosed as a femoral stress fracture.

It took more than one year to return to her top form after the London injury. Linden made it, finishing as the No. 1 American in her last two marathons — Boston 2015 (over Flanagan and Cragg) and New York City 2014 (over Kastor and Goucher).

Kara Goucher
Age: 37
PR: 2:24:52 (Boston 2011)
2012 Olympics — 11th place
2009 Boston Marathon — third place
2008 NYC Marathon — third place
2008 Olympics — 10th place (10,000m)
2007 World Championships — bronze medal (10,000m)
2004 Olympics — ninth place (5000m)

By qualifying times, Goucher enters the trials seeded No. 43 overall. The qualifying window was Aug. 1, 2013, through Jan. 17, 2016. Goucher’s only marathon in that stretch was a wall-smacking 2:37:03 at cold-and-windy New York City 2014, her slowest career marathon.

But in her previous two marathons before 2013 and 2014 injuries, she finished in 2:26:07 at the Olympics (16 seconds behind Flanagan) and 2:28:11 at Boston 2013 (63 seconds behind Flanagan).

After the London Games, Goucher changed coaches, training locations and sponsors and underwent knee surgery. Optimism finally returned in November and December, when she won half marathons in 1:11:13 and 1:11:10, her fastest since 2012.

“This is literally a last chance for me,” Goucher wrote on a Jan. 12 blog.

Amy Cragg
Age: 32
PR: 2:27:03 (Houston 2011, Chicago 2014)
2012 Olympics — 11th place (10,000m)

At the 2012 trials, Cragg (then Hastings) was part of the four-woman lead pack through 19 miles before fading and finishing 71 seconds behind third-place Goucher, just missing the Olympic team. Not bad for her second career marathon.

“I cried every day for a month,” Cragg said, according to Agence France-Presse.

Like Dathan Ritzenhein, she dusted herself off to make the Olympic team on the track in the 10,000m six months later.

Cragg failed to finish her 2015 marathon, in Boston, dropping out in the 22nd mile with leg cramps, her then-coach said, according to LetsRun.com. Unlike (her new training partner) Flanagan, Goucher and Linden, she has only one strong marathon finish since the 2012 trials (Chicago 2014),

Deena Kastor
Age: 42
PR: 2:19:36 (London 2006)
2008 Olympics — DNF
2008 Olympic marathon trials champion
2006 London Marathon champion
2005 Chicago Marathon champion
2004 Olympics — bronze medal
2000 Olympics — first round (10,000m)

The American record holder and last woman to earn an Olympic marathon medal was thought to be done contending in elite marathons. Until Oct. 11, when Kastor clocked 2:27:47 in Chicago.

That made Kastor the second-fastest U.S. woman for the year (behind Linden). It was her first time breaking 2:30 in six years and her fastest time since her American record in 2006.

If Kastor can follow that up with a top three in Los Angeles (one day before her 43rd birthday), she will become the oldest U.S. Olympic runner of all time.

Kastor withdrew from the trials Wednesday, according to her social media.

Misiker Demissie
Age: 29
PR: 2:25:45 (Ottawa 2013)

The former Ethiopian runner has the best PR of the remaining field, though it came three years ago. Her qualifying marathon was a 2:29:03 in Shanghai in 2014. She also clocked an uninspiring 1:13:38 half marathon on Jan. 17.

“She’s more of a long shot than what her PRs are,” Scott Simmons, a coach in Demissie’s training group, said, according to Runner’s World.

Two more contenders given Kastor withdrawing:

Serena Burla
Age: 33
PR: 2:28:01

Burla is used to overcoming setbacks, most notably after having a cancerous tumor in a hamstring removed following a runner-up at the 2010 U.S. Half-Marathon Championships.

She came back for the 2012 Olympic trials and was in the lead pack of about eight nearly halfway through before collapsing between miles 18 and 19 due to hypoglycemia.

Undeterred, she chopped nearly seven minutes off her personal best at her next marathon two months later. She went another 26 seconds faster at Amsterdam 2013, a 2:28:01 that ranks fourth in qualifying times behind Flanagan, Linden and Cragg.

She’ll likely need to be significantly faster than her two 2015 marathons — a 2:31:46 at Houston in January and a 2:31:06 at the World Championships in Beijing in August — to make her first Olympic team.

Annie Bersagel
Age: 32
PR: 2:28:29

The Norway-residing full-time lawyer posted the third-best marathon time in 2015 among women in the trials field, behind Linden and Flanagan. Bersagel, Linden and Flanagan are also the only U.S. women to go sub-2:29 multiple times in the last two years.

She clocked her 2:28:29 personal best at the Düsseldorf Marathon on April 26, despite falling around the 10km mark and injuring her knee. She underwent knee surgery two months later and returned to racing at a half marathon Dec. 13 and won the Star Wars Half Marathon at Disneyland on Jan. 17.

Bersagel tripped in the first mile of the 2012 trials, pulling a hamstring, according to Runner’s World, and dropped out between miles 17 and 18.

MORE: Boston Marathon film to go beyond 2013 attacks

Fall marathons lack U.S. Olympic women’s contenders

Desi Linden, Shalane Flanagan, Kara Goucher
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The news that 18-year-old Alana Hadley is the fastest American woman entered in the New York City Marathon on Nov. 1 means that none of the 2012 U.S. Olympic women’s marathoners have announced they’re in a fall marathon ahead of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials on Feb. 13.

Though Hadley is qualified for the trials (live on NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra), it appears she is too young to compete in the Olympic marathon.

London Olympic marathoners Shalane Flanagan, Desi Linden and Kara Goucher have not announced fall marathons, which is no surprise with the Olympic trials on the horizon. More than half of the elite U.S. men’s marathoners are also sitting out fall marathons.

The top U.S. woman in a fall marathon appeared to be Amy Cragg, who finished 11th in the 2012 Olympic 10,000m. Cragg was entered in the Sept. 27 Berlin Marathon but is no longer in the field. She ran the U.S. 20km championships Sept. 7, placing 14th.*

Cragg ran 2:27:03 at the 2014 Chicago Marathon, ranking her third among U.S. women across all marathons since the start of 2013. Flanagan is first at 2:21:14, followed by Linden with a 2:23:54.

The next fastest Americans since the start of 2013 are Serena Burla, a cancer survivor who was the top U.S. finisher at the World Championships on Aug. 30 (10th), Goucher and Annie Bersagel, a Norway-residing lawyer.

Burla, Goucher and Bersagel are not among the elite fields of the major fall marathons (Berlin, Chicago, New York City).

The last U.S. woman to earn an Olympic marathon medal, Deena Kastor (2004 bronze), is to run the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 11 at age 42.

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*Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Amy Cragg was running the Berlin Marathon.