Olympic Hopefuls Reflect

As Olympic trials approach, America's fastest runners talk strategy, chances

With the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials beginning in just three days, athletes have spent the past several weeks winding up their training. Some have raced against top international fields, while others have sought some diversion, even comic relief, from the pressures of training for one of the most important events of their lives. At least one is just hoping to make it to the finish line intact.

Here’s a quick glimpse at what some of the top distance and middle-distance athletes in the United States are doing and thinking in the days leading up to the Trials. The event begins on Thursday with a special hammer-throw competition in Beaverton, OR, before getting down to business on the track in Eugene on Friday with the finals in both the men’s and women’s 10,000 meters.

Shalane Flanagan and Dathan Ritzenhein are both running those 10,000-meter races on Friday. Both are Olympic veterans, having competed at the Games in both 2004 and 2008; Flanagan is the 2008 bronze medalist at 10,000 meters and “Ritz” finished ninth in Beijing in the marathon. Both made their marathon debuts at the ING New York City Marathon, Flanagan in 2010 and Ritzenhein in 2006. But for all their similarities, the stakes for the pair on Friday night couldn’t be more different: Flanagan has already secured her third Olympic berth, thanks to winning the women’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in January. At that event, Ritzenhein finished fourth in the men’s race, missing the team by one spot. So while Flanagan will run Friday’s 10,000 meters largely as a workout, Ritzenhein has everything to run for. In their most recent blogs, Flanagan and Ritzenhein reflect.
Flanagan Highlight: "Even though I have punched my ticket to London in the marathon, I can't resist coming back to the place where it all began."
Ritzenhein Highlight: "
It is a hard business when you have to put yourself in that kind of pain, and if your heart and soul are not there, it is going show on the track."

Bobby Curtis, who finished third in the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K on May 14 in 28:37, is looking to make the U.S. team at 10,000 meters, but first he’s looking to cause some trouble down at the local coffee shop in Bishop, CA, near where he's putting in some high-altitude training. Highlight: "Along the way to Black Sheep, a challenge emerged: could one of us order a fictitious espresso based drink named a “guetapens” and pass it off as a real drink..."

Lauren Fleshman has been battling a recurring injury to her iliotibial band. Although she’s able to train only sporadically, she is planning to toe the line for the 5000-meter race at the Trials. Hear Fleshman talk realistically about her chances, and learn more about her business life off the track, making Picky Bars energy bars.
Highlight: "Every time I get to run, which is about every third day, I just go out there and hammer it out. I'm sore as hell for two days, and then I do it again."

Bernard Lagat, a two-time Olympic medalist at 1500 meters, will focus on the 5000 this time around. On June 9, at the adidas Grand Prix, the winner of the 2011 Fifth Avenue Mile returned to New York City to work on his speed; his winning performance in the 1500 meters at the adidas Grand Prix is a good omen for Eugene, where the 37-year-old will seek a spot on his fourth Olympic team. See his post-race interview.
Highlight: "At some point in the race, I wonder, 'When am I going to get tired?'"

Jenny Simpson, the 2011 IAAF World Champion at 1500 meters, also stepped down in distance at the adidas Grand Prix—with somewhat less obvious success than Lagat. Hear what she has to say about her 800-meter venture. For more on Simpson, check out her new website, and for an in-depth look at her  childhood and career, watch this documentary.
Highlight: "It's always good to keep getting your butt kicked before the trials, because that reminds you every single step matters, you have to race all the way to the finish, and take nothing for granted."

Shannon Rowbury, the 2009 IAAF World Championships bronze medalist at 1500 meters and a two-time winner of the Fifth Avenue Mile (2009, 2010), discusses the ups and downs of her recent training in this audio.
Highlight [this one from the interviewer]: "Have you ever incorporated any Irish dancing moves into a race or a victory jig?"