Luke Puskedra

Galen Rupp
AP

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

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The U.S. Olympic men’s marathon trials picture shook in the last month with the retirement of fastest-ever American marathoner Ryan Hall, the withdrawal of four-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman and the addition of Olympic 10,000m silver medalist Galen Rupp.

What’s left is one man from the three-man 2012 U.S. Olympic marathon team — Meb Keflezighi — who turns 41 on May 5 and looks to become the oldest U.S. Olympic runner of all time (an Olympic medalist in the women’s race is attempting the same feat).

Keflezighi, the defending trials champion, appears the safest pick to finish in the top three to make the Rio Olympic team, but several others, such as Rupp, could surprise in Los Angeles on Saturday (1-4 p.m. ET, NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra).

The top contenders:

Meb Keflezighi
Age: 40
PR: 2:08:37 (Boston 2014)
2014 Boston Marathon champion
2012 Olympics — fourth place
2009 New York City Marathon champion
2004 Olympics — silver medal
2000 Olympics — 12th place (10,000m)

In 2012, Keflezighi became the oldest U.S. Olympic marathon trials winner. This year, he can become the oldest U.S. Olympic runner of all time.

Keflezighi’s only 26.2-mile hiccup in the last four years came in 2013, when he placed 23rd at the New York City Marathon (fifth among Americans). But Keflezighi silenced the doubters five months later in Boston, becoming the first American man to win the world’s oldest annual 26.2-mile race since 1983.

He followed that up with a fourth at the 2014 NYC Marathon (top American), eighth at the 2015 Boston Marathon (No. 2 American) and seventh at the 2015 NYC Marathon (top American).

Dathan Ritzenhein
Age: 33
PR: 2:07:47 (Chicago 2012)
2012 Olympics — 13th place (10,000m)
2008 Olympics — ninth place
2004 Olympics — DNF (10,000m)

Ritzenhein has the fastest personal best in the field and ranked No. 2 among all Americans for 2015 (2:11:20 in Boston). For all his talent, Ritzenhein endured health problems throughout his career. In November, hip bursitis reportedly slowed him for about one month.

He last raced Oct. 4 and last raced a marathon April 20 (his last marathon before that was Oct. 13, 2013).

At the 2012 trials, Ritzenhein was in the lead pack of four from miles two through 19 until he fell off the pace and watched Keflezighi, Hall and Abdirahman pull away to secure Olympic berths. Ritzenhein nearly caught Abdirahman at the end, making up 17 seconds in the last 1.2 miles but coming up eight seconds short in Houston.

“Maybe I’m not made for the marathon,” Ritzenhein said that day, hanging his head while answering reporters’ questions.

Ritzenhein later made the 2012 Olympic team in the 10,000m and, two months after the London Games, ran that 2:07:47 in Chicago to become the third-fastest U.S. marathoner of all time. That’s 50 seconds faster than any other U.S. man since 2011.

Galen Rupp
Age: 29
PR: None
2012 Olympics — silver medal (10,000m)
2012 Olympics — seventh place (5000m)
2008 Olympics — 13th place (10,000m)

Rupp makes his much-anticipated marathon debut. The only U.S. man or woman to qualify for the Olympic marathon at trials in his or her 26.2-mile debut was George Young in 1968, the first year trials were held.

The lack of experience (Rupp’s longest race was a half marathon, which he’s done once in the last four and a half years) makes him a bit of a wild card. But there’s no doubting his talent. Rupp, one of the world’s best at 10,000m, is coached by three-time NYC Marathon winner Alberto Salazar, and may prove the strongest runner in the field.

Rupp was a late qualifier for the trials by posting a half marathon qualifying time of 1:01:20 on Dec. 13 in Portland, Ore., against a field that included a man dressed as an elf and another in the bunny suit from “A Christmas Story.” That time ranked second among U.S. men for 13.1 miles last year.

Rupp’s fastest half marathon, 1:00:30 from 2011, ranks second in the field behind Ritzenhein.

If Rupp finishes in the top three to make the Olympic team, he could still drop out to focus on the 10,000m and/or 5000m on the track, should he make the team in those events at the July 1-10 trials in Eugene, Ore. In that case, the fourth-place finisher on Saturday would be elevated onto the U.S. Olympic team.

Luke Puskedra
Age: 25
PR: 2:10:24 (Chicago 2015)

The former University of Oregon distance runner surprised at the Chicago Marathon by running the fastest time by an American for all of 2015. It was his third marathon. His previous two were 2014 NYC (2:28:54) and the 2015 Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn. (2:15:27)

The label “fastest American in 2015” means a little less when it’s combined with the fact no American broke 2:10 in the marathon in a calendar year for the first time since 2003.

Still, Puskedra is so young that he may not be near his peak. The top four at the 2012 Olympic trials all went sub-2:10, so Puskedra may need another personal best to make his first Olympic team. Then again, Keflezighi and Ritzenhein are the only men in the field who have broken 2:10, so he might not need it.

Elkanah Kibet
Age: 32
PR: 2:11:31

A Kenya native, Kibet went to Auburn, enlisted in the U.S. Army and became a U.S. citizen in 2013. He was deployed in Kuwait and Iraq from June 2014 to March 2015 and then made his marathon debut in Chicago on Oct. 11.

His 2:11:31 ranked No. 3 among U.S. men last year behind Puskedra and Ritzenhein.

Diego Estrada
Age: 26
PR: None

Estrada is the reigning U.S. champion in the half marathon, his 1:00:51 being the fastest by an American since Rupp in 2011. There’s little else to go on with Estrada, who like Rupp is making his 26.2-mile debut.

He also finished eighth in the 10,000m and 15th in the 5000m at the 2015 U.S. Outdoor Championships. In 2012, he placed 21st in the Olympic 10,000m for Mexico.

Sam Chelanga
Age: 30
PR: None

Chelanga is a native Kenyan who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in August. He owns a half-marathon personal best of 1:01:04 from 2013 and has the second-fastest 10,000m personal best in the field behind Rupp.

MORE: Rio Olympics six months out: Key trials, qualifying dates

U.S. Olympic marathon trials picture after New York City Marathon

Meb Keflezighi
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With the last major marathon of 2015 completed Sunday, it’s time to look ahead to the next big 26.2-mile race — the Olympic trials on Feb. 13 in Los Angeles.

The top three men’s and women’s finishers will be the first members of the 2016 U.S. Olympic track and field team. Here’s a look at the fastest American marathoners going into the race:

Men’s sub-2:12 marathons since 1/1/14
Meb Keflezighi: 2:08:37 (Boston 2014)
Luke Puskedra: 2:10:24 (Chicago 2015)
Jeffrey Eggleston: 2:10:52 (Gold Coast 2014)
Ryan Vail: 2:10:57 (London 2014)
Dathan Ritzenhein: 2:11:20 (Boston 2015)
Bobby Curtis: 2:11:20 (Chicago 2014)
Elkanah Kibet: 2:11:31 (Chicago 2015)
Fernando Cabada: 2:11:36 (Berlin 2014)
Nick Arciniaga: 2:11:47 (Boston 2014)

In 2012, the prohibitive trials favorites were Ryan Hall and Keflezighi, who both went sub-2:10 in both 2010 and 2011 and were the only Americans to do so those years. Keflezighi and Hall went one-two at the trials. The third-place trials finisher was the only other man in the field who had previously run sub-2:10 — three-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman, whose sub-2:10 came in 2006 and who had done very little in 2010 and 2011.

This time, Keflezighi and Ritzenhein are the favorites.

Keflezighi, who at 40 is attempting to become the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history according to sports-reference, clocked a personal best to win Boston 2014. He was also the top American at the 2014 and 2015 New York City Marathons. In his only other marathon the last two years, he was the second-fastest American at Boston 2015 behind Ritzenhein.

Ritzenhein, a three-time Olympian, finished fourth at the 2012 trials, eight seconds behind Abdirahman, and ended up making the London team later in the 10,000m. Ritzenhein is seen as a favorite over Puskedra, Eggleston and Vail because of a bank of sub-2:12 marathons dating to 2007. He also owns the fastest U.S. marathon since the 2012 Olympics, a 2:07:47 at Chicago 2012. Unlike Keflezighi, Ritzenhein did not race a fall marathon and will, presumably, be better rested going into the trials.

The third spot appears up for grabs, though Puskedra made a strong impression with his 2:10:24 in Chicago on Oct. 11. Puskedra is a former University of Oregon runner who trained under scrutinized distance guru Alberto Salazar when he ran a 2:28:54 in his marathon debut in New York last year, a time so demoralizing that he reportedly briefly retired.

Hall, 33, still owns the fastest marathon in U.S. history, a 2:04:58 at Boston 2011. Since the 2012 trials, Hall dropped out of the Olympic marathon with a hamstring injury. He withdrew before the start of New York in 2012 (eventually canceled) and 2013 and Boston 2014, also citing injuries. He finally started and finished a marathon at Boston 2014, but in an uninspiring 2:17:50, and then dropped out during this year’s Los Angeles Marathon on March 15.

Hall will be written off by many predictors, but there are similarities between the Ryan Hall of 2016 and the Abdi Abdirahman of 2012.

One more name to watch is Diego Estrada, the U.S. half marathon champion who plans to make his 26.2-mile debut at the Olympic trials, according to SportsIllustrated.com.

Women’s sub-2:28:30 marathons since 1/1/14
Shalane Flanagan: 2:21:14 (Berlin 2014)
Desi Linden: 2:23:54 (Boston 2014)
Desi Linden: 2:25:39 (Boston 2015)
Amy Cragg: 2:27:03 (Chicago 2014)
Deena Kastor: 2:27:47 (Chicago 2015)
Shalane Flanagan: 2:27:47 (Boston 2015)
Desi Linden: 2:28:11 (New York 2014)
Laura Thweatt: 2:28:23 (New York 2015) — no plans to race trials
Annie Bersagel: 2:28:29 (Dusseldorf 2015)

The women’s 2012 trials provided no surprises. Flanagan and Linden were the pre-race one-two favorites, and that’s where they finished. Kara Goucher placed third to make her second Olympic team.

Another Flanagan-Linden finish appears in the cards for Feb. 13, given how well they ran in their last marathon in Boston this year. If Cragg, 31, hadn’t dropped out of Boston around mile 22, she’d be closer to Flanagan and Linden, but she still looks like the most likely No. 3 at this point after taking fourth at the 2012 trials.

None of Flanagan, Linden or Cragg ran a fall marathon, which left Deena Kastor, the 2004 Olympic bronze medalist now aged 42, as the fastest U.S. woman since Boston. Kastor’s time in Chicago put her back in the mix, but she may be hard-pressed to duplicate it given she went into the Windy City having not broken 2:30:40 in six years.

Goucher, now 37, could be the wild card. She last raced 26.2 miles in New York in 2014, clocking a wall-smacking 2:37:03, her slowest career marathon.

But in her previous two marathons before 2013 and 2014 injuries — London 2012 Olympics and Boston 2013 — she finished in 2:26:07 (16 seconds behind Flanagan) and 2:28:11 (63 seconds behind Flanagan).

MORE TRACK AND FIELD: Meb Keflezighi hopes to be an example for Ryan Hall