By Ken Stone | Feb. 13, 2016, 2:28 p.m. (ET)


LOS ANGELES — How easy was it for Galen Rupp to win his first-ever 26.2-miler and qualify for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games?Ninety minutes after winning the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Marathon on Saturday, he already was looking ahead to the IAAF World Indoor Championships next month in his hometown of Portland, Oregon, and the U.S. track and field team trials in July. 

But saying he “didn’t want to get ahead of myself,” Rupp turned his attention back to the marathon, in which he shed his hat at 20 miles and dropped his competition to win in 2 hours, 11 minutes, 12 seconds amid punishing temperatures rising to the low 70s.

Said Rupp, 28, just after the race: “I had a blast out there.”

Joining Rupp, the 2012 Olympic 10,000-meter silver medalist, on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team are Meb Keflezighi, who at age 40 becomes the oldest U.S. men’s Olympic marathoner and the only one to make three Olympic teams, and unheralded Jared Ward, 27, of Provo, Utah, the 12th seed. They finished in 2:12:20 and 2:13:00, respectively.

Training partners Amy Cragg and Shalane Flanagan took two spots on the U.S. women’s marathon team, and surging Desiree “Desi” Linden joins them. Cragg won in 2:28:20.

Cragg and Flanagan ran out front together for much of the race, but Linden overtook a turning-red Flanagan on the loop course to finish second in 2:28:54.

Cragg said she went through an early “rough patch” but was bucked up by Flanagan.

Then when Flanagan, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in the 10,000-meters, began slowing at Mile 23, Cragg asked her: “Hey, are you OK?” Told no, Cragg encouraged her friend with, “You got this. You can do this. Just get to the next water station,” where Cragg fetched Flanagan’s bottle.

An exhausted Flanagan said of Cragg: “She is the epitome of what a best friend is. … She was instrumental. There was a point in the race where I thought I would drop out. Sweet baby Jesus, I'm so thankful for her.”

The win came after Cragg, 32, of Portland, finished fourth in the 2012 trials (though she qualified for the London Games on the track in the 10,000-meters). Defending trials champion Flanagan, 34, also of Portland, was given her first ever post-race IV after winning a spot on her fourth Olympic team with a time of 2:29:19.

Unable to attend the air-conditioned press meeting, Flanagan told USA Track & Field: “That was the hardest marathon I’ve probably run in terms of the last six miles being the hardest. … I can’t only say it was just the heat, but I think I need to work on better fluid for the heat and conditions. I’ll have to work on that for Rio for sure.”

Two-time Olympian Kara Goucher, 37, of Boulder, Colorado, was fourth. Goucher, who ran on the track in 2008 in Beijing, ran the marathon alongside Flanagan and Linden in 2012, though Linden didn’t finish due to injury.

Some 364 runners started the race, with 32 men and 44 women unable to finish. Among the dropouts were Dathan Ritzenhein, 33 — a prerace favorite to make the team — and NCAA 10,000-meter record-holder Sam Chelanga, who became a U.S. citizen in August.

Rupp and Keflezighi, finishing his 23rd marathon, surged ahead of second­-time marathoner Tyler Pennel, 28, of Blowing Rock, North Carolina, after running in a three-man pack. Then Ward, a six-­time NCAA distance champion at Brigham Young University coached by two-­time Olympic marathoner Ed Eyestone, surged into third. 

Keflezighi — who finished second in the 2004 Olympic marathon and fourth in 2012, and also competing on the track in the 2000 Games — told the press: “The fourth time’s a charm,” but confessed to suffering cramps the first 13 or 14 miles. “I didn’t show it, but I was struggling.”

Cheered by friends, old UCLA teammates and even his seventh-grade PE teacher who sparked his running career, Keflezighi ran closely with Rupp for miles — even bumping several times as if it were track race. He said he had words with Rupp — “it was not a very friendly conversation.”

Rupp, arriving late at the Marriott Hotel conference just after Keflezighi told of the exchange, said: “Congratulations to Meb. I think we’ve got a great team for Rio.”

In fourth place was Luke Puskedra, 26, of Eugene, Oregon, who might have a slim hope of making the team if Rupp opts not to run the two long races in Rio.

“Doubling is certainly a possibility,” Rupp said.

Third-placer Ward told USATF that the last half-mile was the hardest thing of his life.

“With 600 (meters) to go, I started singing that song and changing the words,” he said. “I said, ‘Do it for your momma, do it for your wife, do it for your kids and do it for your life.’ It was just enough and that was the end of it.”

The press conference noted the history-making feat of Keflezighi. His teammates were asked what they thought of the San Diegan.

“He never has a bad race — ever,” Rupp said.

“Meb is nice to everybody,” Ward said.

And Linden, who grew up near San Diego in Chula Vista, said of her onetime Mammoth training group partner: “Meb’s the epitome of a hero. Put your head down and grind it out.”

Ken Stone is a San Diego-based freelance writer and founder/editor of masterstrack.com. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.