I absolutely love making predictions on race outcomes. One of my favorite ways to watch a track meet is with a couple friends, picking who we think will win each race. It's especially fun when the race is such that there's really no way to predict the winner...kinda like in a marathon. So I simply can't help but comment on a couple things I've read the past week in preparation for the Olympic Marathon Trials in New York.
First, RunnersWorld put Meb on the cover of their magazine this month. For that, they get props from me. It would have been sexier to put Hall on there, since he's "the next great white hope". But Meb is and has been the man for some time. He's helped bring distance running back, and you couldn't shine the spotlight on a nicer guy.
In that same special, they named Meb a 3-1 favorite to qualify. Here's their top 7.
Ryan Hall 6-1
Brian Sell 14-1
They then did another story in which they interviewed various marathon greats and had them predict the finish, then gave points for 1st through 5th (9, 7, 5, 3, 1). Their final prediction was:
1. Ryan Hall 244
2. Abdi 233
3. Meb 202
4. Brian Sell 124
5. Culpepper 68
6. Ritzenhein 47
7. Gilmore 26
This is really interesting to me, because it's more likely that only ONE of them will make it than it is that all THREE will make it. Groupthink can give you predictions that feel right, but that rarely come true in the end. This is the marathon people! Who predicted the 2004 Olympic marathon would go Baldini, Meb, de Lima? No one. (That would have been considered about as likely as a crazy defrocked Irish priest tackling the leader in the middle of the race!) Why? Because the marathon is unpredictable. Well, for everyone but me, that is. I think I've got a pretty good handle on how this is going to play out:
3. Brian Sell
Say what?! Yeah, that's right. Here's how it's going down.
Ritzenhein throughout his career has shown he can run under the spotlight of high expectations, he's as talented as anyone out there, he's healthy, and quite frankly he's due. He'll hover with the lead group until 4 miles to go, when he'll make a big push that no one can cover. Coincidentally, this is the move that draws Meb and Sell away from Hall and Culpepper, sealing the race for them as well.
Meb is the most consistent big-race performer of the past 20 years. I just can't imagine him not getting it done. He'll do exactly what he needs to do to qualify. (This pick is where I'm most prone to bias. I just can't publish a prediction with Meb not making it. But that won't matter when Meb makes it!)
Brian Sell will come through, with the help of some Hanson-Brooks teammates who set a tough early pace over the difficult hilly course. He will then be the poster-boy for hard work and perseverance for the next 9 months.
Alan Culpepper is a great big-race performer, but will fall off around mile 22, only to come back strong at the end. Unfortunately, he won't have enough because Brian Sell will finish like a man possessed. On the plus side, when Ritzenhein runs 27:18 next year and opts to run the 10k, Culpepper will get a shot to race in Beijing.
Ryan Hall will look like the clear winner for much of the race, but will struggle on the final loop. He'll finish well enough, but when he's out of the race there just won't be enough to run for anymore. Culpepper will catch him near the end, much like he catches everyone else. (I can't believe I'm writing this.)
Peter Gilmore will run a very smart race, but unfortunately, he'll only end up 6th. With the Hanson-Brooks team pushing the pace early, and Gilmore settling to run with the second pack and pick people off as they crumble, he'll have one of the fastest second halves of the race, but it just won't be enough.
Brandon Leslie, whose profile in this month's RunnersWorld was fantastic, will make a go of it with the leaders for most of the race, and hang on until mile 23 when he just doesn't have the legs to keep going. He'll run a great race, but come up seventh.
You'll notice Abdi isn't in my top 7. That's because I figure there's actually a pretty good chance that one of the "big three" won't even finish. Abdi will run in the front with Meb, Hall, and the lead pack, but for reasons only the Marathon Gods know, he'll struggle mightily and fade, eventually dropping out. Luckily for him, he'll be in the best shape of his life next summer, break Meb's 10k American Record, and finish top 5 at the Beijing Olympics in that event. He won't be too bummed.
So that's it. My marathon predictions. You know, I feel like I do whenever I fill out my March Madness bracket: of course this is how it will play out, it make so much sense!
I'll end with wishing my friend Justin Patananan good luck in the Trials. I still can't believe he qualified (actually, yes I can, but still). Now I just hope he runs with the leaders long enough that I can see him on TV!