By David Yon
With the “costume malfunctions” of the Super Bowl behind us, Saturday, February 7, marked the start of the road to the 2004 Olympics. The U.S. men’s Olympic marathon trials in Birmingham, Alabama moved us past the ugly headlines of drug cheaters being caught and (assuming no negative test results) on to the selection of some of the first members to the US track team. The course was fast, the weather extremely cold and the competition deeper and faster than it has been in a long time. All in all a good day for US men’s distance running. Heck seven even managed to run faster than Paula Radcliffe’s world record time of 2:15:25.
Alan Culpepper confirmed his place as one of the top U.S. distance runners when the University of Colorado grad came from behind to win the $85,000 first prize in a time of 2:11:42, the second fastest winning time in the US trials history. Eritrean born Meb Keflezighi ran most of the race at Culpepper’s side and finished just five seconds back in 2:11:47. The American record holder for the 10,000 meters, Meb attended high school in San Diego, California and became a US citizen in 1998. The third spot went to West Point graduate Dan Browne who overcame some rough miles to finish in 2:12:01. Browne said he got through the rough miles by dedicating them to two of his West Point classmates who were killed in Iraq.
A wonderful side story to this event is the success of the Distance Project begun by Kevin and Keith Hanson. The brothers describe themselves as “runners in business” rather than “businessmen in running.” The Project, now supported in part by Brooks, began the brothers decided to do something about the sorry state of distance running in the US. They have funneled more than $200,000 a year on housing and support for promising US distance runners, putting up more than 16 runners in two houses they bought, giving them jobs in their stores and much more. Their theory is to create “running colonies” that will produce the same kind of success that the clubs of the 70’s did with Bill Rogers and Frank Shorter. The trials were a big signal that something is working. In addition to placing two runners in the top five of the trials, team member Brain Snell led most of the race before running out of gas and finishing 13th. Teammates Trent Briney and Clint Verran claimed the fourth and fifth spots and are the alternates for the team. Both ran fast enough to get A qualifying times.