PITTSBURGH -- American marathoning, which has been floundering for years, has hit rock bottom.
With the possibility of earning a maximum total of six spots in the men's and women's marathons for the Olympic Games at Sydney, the United States got the minimum of two, one in each event.
That's because the winners at the U.S. trials failed to meet the Olympic qualifying standards of 2 hours, 14 minutes, for men and 2:33:00 for women. Under those circumstances, a country is not allowed to send more than one representative in each race.
Rod DeHaven, a 33-year-old computer programmer from Madison, Wis., earned the men's berth Sunday by winning at 2:15:30, joining Christine Clark, 37, of Anchorage, the winner of the women's trials at 2:33:31 at Columbia, S.C., in February.
Both events were run in unseasonably warm conditions, conspiring to slow the races considerably and costing the U.S. team the other four places in Australia.
One of those impacted by the 80-degree heat and 87-percent humidity was former Chugiak High School runner David Morris, 29, who holds the American marathon record at 2:09:36. Morris now trains for a Japanese corporate team and is based out of Albuquerque, N.M.
Morris, one of only two Americans to beat the 2:14 standard before the trials (the other was Joe LeMay of Danbury, Conn.), took 38th place in 2:29:26. That was one place behind West Anchorage High School teacher Will Kimball's 37th place finish in 2:29:13. Kimball was the only other Alaskan entered in Sunday's race.
``That was not a race, that was survival,'' Kimball told the Anchorage Daily News.
LeMay took 61st place and Todd Williams of Knoxville, Tenn., the other pre-race favorite, took 41st. Had DeHaven been able to break the 2:14 mark Sunday, and no other runner beat it, Morris and LeMay would have earned trips to Sydney.
``I guess about the 10th mile I knew we'' weren't going to make it, Morris said. ``That was a huge disappointment.''
U.S. men's marathoners have not won a medal at the Olympics since Frank Shorter got the silver in 1976. They have not won a gold since 1972, when Shorter was the Olympic champion.
U.S. women's marathoners have won only one medal since the event became part of the Olympic program in 1984 - Joan Benoit Samuelson's gold in the inaugural race.
``I think we're spoiled,'' said Danny Grimes, chairman of the men's Long Distance Running Committee of USA Track & Field. ``We had medalists in the '50s, '60s and '70s. We're not producing medalists (in the marathon) like in the 100 (meters), 200 and long jump.
``We have gotten worse. We're not as good as in the past and not as good as we'll be in the future.''
Grimes, like the runners, blamed the slow times on the oppressive weather. At the finish,
the temperature was 77 degrees, and during the race, the humidity reached a high of 87 percent.
``I don't think we'll have an Olympic trials again with these hot and slow conditions,'' he said. ``I don't think we'll have another situation where we'll send only one guy.''
It happened only once before, in 1896 when Arthur Blake was the lone U.S representative.
Craig Masback, chief executive officer of USATF, also was disappointed at the dismal showing.
``We need to do better,'' he said.
While DeHaven was the big winner - in addition to his Olympic berth he earned $40,000 in prize money and $35,000 in bonus money - the big losers were runner-up Peter De La Cerda, third-place finisher Mark Coogan, Morris and LeMay.
Historically, the top three finishers at the trials generally had gone to the games, as long as they had met the Olympic qualifying standard within the prescribed time period, which began Jan. 1, 1999.
Under the present situation, if only the trials winner runs under 2:14:00, then the next two-fastest qualifiers go the games. If he doesn't, only he goes. In this case, Morris, who set the U.S. record of 2:09:36 at Chicago in October, and LeMay, winner of the California International Marathon in December at 2:13:55, would have gotten tickets to Sydney.
Morris, bothered by abdominal cramps early and forced to stop briefly with a side stitch later, wound up 38th at 2:29:26. LeMay finished 61st at 2:36:42.
``I don't know what I'm going to do,'' Morris said. ``The last four years, I've been training toward this marathon. Maybe I need to move East and train in the heat.''
DeHaven, the 10th-place finisher at the 1996 10,000-meter trials, called his victory ``bittersweet.''
He bemoaned the fact that he would be the lonely U.S. long-distance runner at the Olympics.
``I'm sorry that Peter and Mark can't go,'' he said.
DeHaven realized at Saturday night's technical meeting, when he was informed of the weather forecast, that because of the conditions, the winner's time probably would be above 2:14:00.
``I thought 2:15 high would win,'' he said. ``At that point, it relegated the race to who would win. If you were second or third, you wouldn't go.''
So DeHaven ran a smart, tactical race. Even though it was the slowest at the trials since Shorter and Kenny Moore tied for first in 1972 at 2:15:58, it was good enough to earn DeHaven his coveted spot on the team.
``I was more prepared for this marathon than any I've done,'' said DeHaven, who also plans to compete in the 10,000-meter trials at Sacramento, Calif., in July, but will run only the marathon at the games.
De La Cerda, the leader from miles 12-22, said his legs ``got heavy'' late in the race and he began bleeding from a blister on his right foot.
``I thought it would be a gutsy move to go after it,'' De La Cerda said, after running 2:16:18 in only his second marathon. ``I wasn't going to run a gutless race.''
Coogan was dejected after his 2:17:04 performance. He collapsed from disappointment and exhaustion at the finish.
``I was depressed toward the end and considered stopping,'' Coogan said. ``It's sad that I made the team but I can't go.''
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