At Olympic Marathon Trials, the Agony of Fourth Place

Written by on March 1, 2020

ATLANTA — The moments that Des Linden needs again got here with about three and a half miles left within the race on Saturday as she battled wind gusts and the punishing hills on the U.S. Olympic marathon staff trials.

Doubt crept in, because it usually does in some unspecified time in the future in a 26.2-mile race, and that’s when the leaders began to tug away.

“I received a bit delicate,” mentioned Linden, who overcame brutal situations of rain, wind and chilly to win the Boston Marathon in 2018.

Her psychological darkness lasted just a few minutes. A number of miles later, it appeared she simply would possibly reel in Sally Kipyego for third place and a 3rd journey to the Olympics.

However then Kipyego now not appeared to be getting nearer. Not solely that, however Linden was operating out of actual property. All that ache, all these miles in coaching, after which, on a chilly, blustery day, there was Kipyego, on the ultimate straightaway, operating away with the final spot on the airplane to the Tokyo Video games this summer season. Linden watched from 11 seconds again.

“I nonetheless thought I had an opportunity,” she mentioned shortly after the race, her jaw quivering within the chilly. “I wasn’t going to surrender till I completed. Nicely, when she completed. Then I gave up.”

Each 4 years, there are athletes who simply miss out on a spot on the Olympic staff. However there could also be nothing crueler than simply lacking one of many six spots on the U.S. marathon staff, that are determined in a single make-or-break race.

The highest three males and the highest three ladies are in; everybody else is out. Few occasions require a lot lonely, painful coaching; then the pain-filled, hit-or-miss qualifying competitors leaves the whole discipline limping away and in want of weeks of restoration.

Take into account how shut Leonard Korir, 33, a Kenyan-born member of the U.S. Army, got here to creating the staff. He spent many of the final 10 miles of the race in good place to make use of his velocity to ebook his ticket to the Olympics. He left the end space with out making the staff or chatting with reporters. Who might blame him? In his debut marathon in October, Korir blazed a course in Amsterdam with a time of two hours 7 minutes 56 seconds, making him the second quickest qualifier in Saturday’s discipline.

However when he wanted a last burst within the final quarter-mile, he got here up quick, closing a 20-meter hole between him and Abdi Abdirahman to 2 or three strides, solely to complete three seconds out. Korir’s time was 2:10:06, Abdirahman’s 2:10:03.

So it was left to Linden, 36, a two-time Olympian, to clarify what it felt prefer to be so shut. “Bummer,’’ she mentioned, nonetheless processing it.

She has skilled this sort of heartbreak: In 2011 on the Boston Marathon, she was proper there down the ultimate stretch on Boylston Road. She had by no means been quicker. She ran the race she had dreamed of profitable greater than another in 2:22:38, however was outkicked by Caroline Kilel of Kenya by two seconds.

Linden named her canine Boston as a result of the race meant a lot to her, and in 2018, on a day when the bone-chilling rain got here sideways, all of it went proper for her.

She has been making an attempt to get again to one thing like that place ever since, and on Saturday, it appeared as if she was going to.

She took her flip main a deep group of elite ladies into the second half of the race, additionally ensuring to tuck in and shield herself from the wind and let a few of the others do a few of the hardest work. She had proven twice earlier than that she is aware of learn how to get on the rostrum on this race, the place third is nearly as good as first, and fourth can harm far more than 27th.

Linden knew this course was going to be laborious for everybody. It was new and nobody had run it. The locale was out of the consolation zone of elite racers used to operating the marquee races in New York and Boston and the like. In these races, Linden is aware of the place the powerful components are, the place the pack will surge, the place she’s going to harm. In Atlanta, the day earlier than the race, she didn’t even know the place she was going to get her traditional prerace bowl of rice.

As anticipated, the race began slowly and tactically, with six-minute miles, then slowly gained steam. Nonetheless, 14 ladies crossed the midway mark without delay, in 1:14:38, and at Mile 20, there have been as many as 10 runners with a shot on the podium. Linden, proper there among the many leaders, appeared strong.

Then, round Mile 22, she felt the tempo quicken, as Molly Seidel and Aliphine Tuliamuk pushed to a 5:17 mile.

“An enormous bounce for me,” Linden mentioned.

She didn’t have a solution.

For a second, she considered Boston, simply seven weeks away. Possibly she must jog in, save her legs and are available again robust for that race? She dismissed the thought. Keep out right here and combat. And so she did, into the wind, up the hills of the ultimate miles, getting only one spot away from a seat on the airplane.

And that’s the place she completed.

“You be taught,” she mentioned whereas the reminiscence was contemporary and goose bumps have been rising within the chilly wind of the end space. “You suppose: Subsequent time. After which: Oh, yeah, no subsequent time.”

Linden can be 40 in 4 years. She has been at this for greater than a decade. A lot ache, so many miles.

However Boston beckons. That’s the place all of the miles lead, as she has mentioned, particularly on a day like Saturday, when she was compelled to attempt laborious to consider that generally a race isn’t in regards to the outcomes however the effort and the method. Believing in the rest would possibly result in insanity. Plus, a brand new technology is rising.

“Ending fourth is a bummer,” she mentioned. “However it means it’s a very good group of girls on the market in entrance of me.”

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