LONDON – Attrition happens. And it happened in a big way to the U.S. men’s Olympic marathon team on Sunday.
Ryan Hall, the fastest American ever to cover 26.2 miles, dropped out near mile 11 with pain high in his right hamstring.
“It got progressively tighter as the race went on,” he said. “It wasn’t something I could work through. It’s kind of a shock. I’ve never DNF’ed in a race.”
Four-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman of Arizona dropped out a few yards past Hall, saying he felt a pop in his knee just as he’d turned a corner.
Abdirahman had been planning to make a move at mile 13 and called the decision to stop “the hardest thing to do, but I didn’t want to limp in and worsen the injury.”
Both men were surprised by their injuries and said they had been pain-free while warming up and in training.
“Not finishing is not a serious option unless I think I’m going to threaten my career,” said the 29-year-old Hall.
The U.S. fade-out left the 2004 Olympic silver medalist and 2009 New York City Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi as last American in the field.
At the halfway mark, Keflezighi was in 17th place, one minute and 15 seconds behind the lead group.
Eventually the cranky course, midday heat rising into the mid-70’s, and a surge by Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich at mile 23 also wiped out all three Ethiopians who entered with frighteningly fast personal bests in the 2-hour, 4-minute range.
With less than five miles to go, Keflezighi clawed his way into sixth place – although the Ugandan leader was out of view. Keflezighi passed two more men as they hit the wall and ended up finishing fourth, 3 minutes 5 seconds behind Kiprotich’s winning time of 2:08:01.
Kiprotich’s victory gave Uganda its second Olympic gold medal in history. It was also the third-fastest Olympic marathon ever run. Abel Kirui of Kenya finished second (2:08: 27) and Kirui’s teammate Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich took bronze in 2:09:37.
“Fourth place at my last Olympics – I’ll take it,” said Keflezighi in the finish area, keeping cool in a white ice vest.
While London may have marked the 37-year-old’s Olympic finale, the charismatic Californian said he is not ready to retire quite yet. “Maybe next year,” Keflezighi said, although if he’s still running close to his personal bests he said there is a chance he might enter the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials at age 41 just to show his daughters that their old man’s still got it.
“Ninety-nine percent of my career is fulfilled,” Keflezighi said. One item remaining on his to-do list is running the Boston Marathon.
While 2012 Olympic marathon proved to be both historic and difficult (20 men did not finish), it is important to note that the race was missing three key players. The 2008 gold medalist Sammy Wanjiru died May 15, 2011, at age 24 after falling from a second-floor balcony at his home in Kenya. Wanjiru was Kenya’s first man to win an Olympic marathon and was widely credited with turning the 26.2-mile distance into a race of sheer speed.
Also missing were Geoffrey Mutai who ran the fastest marathon in history (2:03:02) in Boston last year, and Patrick Macau who holds the legal world record (2:03:38) which he set in Berlin last year. They were not selected for the Kenyan Olympic team.
Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.