Meb Keflezighi’s victory at last weekend’s Olympic marathon trials in Houston was an extraordinary achievement. Not only did he prevail only 69 days after he finished sixth in the New York City Marathon, he did it despite missing three weeks of training with an infected foot and sore knee after he absent-mindedly went the distance in the Apple with a nasal breathing strip in his shoe.
“It’s not about being first, second, or third,’’ said the 36-year-old Keflezighi, who became the oldest man to win the trials by beating 2008 champion Ryan Hall by 22 seconds while setting a personal best of 2 hours, 9 minutes and 8 seconds. “I’m just delighted to be part of these guys to go to London.’’
Keflezghi, who won silver in Athens in 2004, made his third team after nearly crippling his career four years ago in New York when he finished the race despite seizing up.
Abdi Abdirahman, who finished third, made his fourth team but his first on the road. Odd man out was Dathan Ritzenhein, who was the top US finisher in Beijing but finished fourth. Ritzenhein made the 2004 squad in the 10,000 and has a good chance to get to London from the June track trials.
As Hall predicted, all of the qualifiers broke 2:10 for the first time.
Marblehead’s Shalane Flanagan, whose only previous 26-miler came in New York two years ago, breezed in ahead of Boston runner-up Desiree Davila and Kara Goucher, with all of them busting Colleen De Reuck’s trials record of 2:28:25.
“It was a huge day,’’ said Flanagan, “I think one that all of us will remember.’’
Deena Kastor, the 2008 trials winner who has been getting back to form after injuries and motherhood, finished sixth, well out of contention.
Buckets of talent
As expected, the list of 20 finalists for the US Olympic men’s basketball team is dripping with gold. Only LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin didn’t play on either the 2008 squad that won in Beijing or for the 2010 world champions. “I like the fact that we have a roster full of guys who are champions and people who are excited to play,’’ said coach Mike Krzyzewski. “They’re not playing for us. They are us.’’ Eight players - most notably two-time Olympians LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade, plus Kobe Bryant - return from last time. Kryzyzewski expects that Bryant, who has been playing with a torn ligament in his shooting wrist, will be at the Games. “Kobe really wants to be in London,’’ he said. “It would have to be something very, very serious. He’s about championships and we need him.’’ The final 12-man roster must be submitted by June 18, and practice will start on July 6, just three weeks before the Games. As usual, there will be no Celtics on the team. Nobody from Boston has been on the squad since Larry Bird in 1992, although both Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett played in 2000 . . . Janet Evans, who qualified for the Olympic swimming trials in both the 400- and 800-meter freestyles at last weekend’s Grand Prix meet in Austin, Texas, has to get considerably faster if she wants to make her fourth team. Her times of 4:17:27 and 8:49:05 put her only 19th and 12th among her rivals. The 40-year-old mother of two, who won three gold medals in 1988 at 17 and another in 1992, came up empty in 1996 . . . By finishing sixth in the sprint at last week’s World Cup biathlon stop in the Czech Republic, Russell Currier of Stockholm, Maine, became the fourth US male to post a top 10 finish this season. The Americans, who placed all four entrants in the top 35 in the pursuit, rank ninth in the nations standings, with Lowell Bailey 13th overall behind Norwegian leader Emil Hegle Svendsen.
Sledders need a push
The rough sledding continued for US bobsled pilot Steve Holcomb, who was sixth and 10th at last weekend’s World Cup stop in Winterberg, Germany. “I’m ready to leave Germany,’’ the Olympic champ declared after going 0 for 6 in the three events there. Holcomb, who is still third in the overall chase heading into this weekend’s races at St. Moritz, is hoping for better luck at the world championships on familiar ice at Lake Placid at the end of next month. The US women, too, have been left up the track by the Germans, who rank 1-2-4, and will need to hustle to earn three global entries . . . Latvian world titlist Martins Dukurs not only had his 15-race winning streak snapped by Germany’s Frank Rommel at last week’s World Cup skeleton stop in Winterberg, he ended up sixth, finishing behind US rival Matt Antoine, who missed the podium by just two-hundredths of a second. It was the first loss since December 2010 for Dukurs, who is still ahead of Rommel in the overall standings . . . Olympic short-track speedskating medalist Katherine Reutter, whose hip problems had created back issues, prudently decided to shut down her season and have surgery after struggling through the US championships. That leaves Lana Gehring, who won her first national title, as the top female hope for the March world championships. Back in action is Reutter’s fellow Vancouver medalist Simon Cho, who claimed his first domestic men’s crown after missing the fall season with a fractured vertebra in his lower back.
Sharpening their skates
With the World Cup long-track speedskating season resuming in Salt Lake City this weekend after a hiatus of nearly two months, the Yanks are hoping to build some momentum for the world sprint championships in Calgary at the end of the month. While Shani Davis is still looking for his first victory of the season, the best man so far has been Tucker Fredricks, who is sitting third in the 500-meter standings. Heather Richardson, who ranks 10th in the 1,000, is the top US woman . . . The German lugers have been making the most of their three-week home ice smorgasbord. Going into this weekend’s races in Winterberg, their men are 2-3-5 behind leader Felix Loch, their women are 2-4-5 behind Tatjana Huefner, and their men’s doubles are 2-3 behind Austria’s Andreas and Wolfgang Linger. Still no medals for the Americans, although former world titlist Erin Hamlin, who is seventh in the women’s standings, has been on the upswing . . . By ending her five-week victory drought with an easy super-G triumph at Cortina, Lindsey Vonn opened up a 291-point lead on Slovenia’s Tina Maze going into this weekend’s slalom events on Maze’s turf. Maze, by the way, will be allowed to keep using her long underwear, which the Swiss claimed contains too much plastic, giving her an unfair aerodynamic advantage. The international federation, which said that the undies fulfill its air permeability rules, gave Maze the go-ahead while advising skiers not to use the one-piece garment in order to allow their skin to breathe. After Sunday’s race Maze stripped down to her sports bra, on which she had written: “Not Your Business.’’ “It’s just for fun,’’ she said. “Girls like to have fun - it’s the song also.’’
The US freestyle skiers are counting on home cooking to consolidate their high-level World Cup positions. Going into this weekend’s events at Lake Placid, Hannah Kearney leads the women’s moguls standings, Emily Cook is second in aerials, and Sho Kashima is second to Canada’s Mikael Kingsbury in men’s moguls. From the Adirondacks, they will proceed to Calgary, then to Deer Valley, Utah . . . With his surprising victory at last month’s Russian championships, where he upset world medalist Artur Gachinski for his ninth crown, Evgeni Plushenko earned himself a pass to next week’s European championships in England. Plushenko, who hadn’t competed internationally since the Olympics, will be chasing his seventh title . . . Kikkan Randall’s double silvers at last weekend’s World Cup cross-country event in Milan, which gave her five podium finishes for the season, kept her atop the women’s sprint standings going into this weekend’s stop in Estonia. Though she won’t catch Norwegian overall leader Marit Bjoergen, Randall still ranks among the top 10 . . . Sheep-shearing as an Olympic demonstration sport? New Zealand farmers, who are hosting the world championships in March, say that the top competitors, who can clip more than 700 lambs in eight hours, are “athletes who take it to another level.’’ “Surely, the time has come to elevate shearing’s sporting status to the ultimate world stage,’’ said Federated Farmers Meat and Fiber chairwoman Jeannette Maxwell.
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; material from Olympic committees, sports federations, interviews, and wire services was used in this report.