The Olympics may be where dreams come true, but the Olympic trials are where hopes come alive.
I love the Olympics. Two straight weeks of watching disciplined athletes strive for perfection for one moment sends me into a sports frenzy. I love every event whether it be curling or gymnastics. It’s not so much the sport as it is the story behind each athlete that gets me. The sacrifice they put in and the obstacles they overcome make me want to be better at everything I do.
But the Olympic Marathon Trials are different. The emotions are heightened. It’s here that four years of hard work, training and the ability to suffer with the best is put to the test. It’s here that athletes either begin to dream or go home.
With an all-American field, there were many familiar faces, even a Utahn, Paul Peterson, in the mix. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many of these runners and feel blessed to have run the same marathon courses as Kara Goucher, Ryan Hall, Shalane Flanagan and others. I was even in Boston when Desiree Devila put her stamp on the race in 2011. These connections, no matter how tenuous, make watching the event even more personal.
As a fan, I found it difficult to cheer for one marathoner over another. One would surge and I would feel excitement, but disappointment for those left behind. I was, to put it lightly, emotionally exhausted.
Every one of those athletes could be an Olympian, but after four years of work, it comes down to one morning. One run. One moment.
A marathon is a long way to run, and anything can happen.
Watching the men’s race was beautiful. I love Meb Keflezighi, the winner of the men’s trials. I loved his graciousness and humility, his joy and pride.
I love Ryan Hall, who came in second. His passion for the sport is as obvious as the mountains that surround us.
I laughed as I listened to Abdi Abdirahman express his desire to run hard so as not to disappoint the fans he passed again and again along the loop. He didn’t disappoint as he made the team, coming in third.
It was watching Dathan Ritzenhein, though, that put the lump in my throat. Coming in fourth by mere seconds, you could see the agony of coming so close but falling so short at the end. Ritzenhein may not get the attention of Hall or Keflezighi, but he’s a solid runner who put his heart and soul in that race. To see him break down in tears at the finish line ripped my heart out.
That’s the trials.
The women’s race was sheer inspiration. Shalane Flanagan, who trains in my old home, Oregon, was a personal favorite, especially since this was only her second marathon. Her mantra? “Cold execution.” She executed, all right. She won.
Desiree Devila, who trains with the Brooks-Hanson team and made a surprise appearance coming in second in Boston this past year, looked like a machine just cranking out the miles.
Kara Goucher, always a crowd favorite, has had a rough year but managed to find enough in her to get her on the team, coming in third. I was moved once again as Goucher crossed the finish line into the arms of her training partner, Flanagan, who simply said, “I’m so proud of you.” That’s the Olympic spirit.
As each of the six American Olympians wrapped themselves in the American flag, it was hard not to feel joy for those who made it and empathy for those who did not.
No matter what happens in London this year, each of these marathoners has achieved something very few people in this world ever will, and for now, that’s enough. They have earned hope.
As Kara Goucher said to her teammates through tears at the finish line, “This is all I ever wanted.”
Congratulations to all. Now, what do you want?
Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, 24-Hour Fitness instructor and marathoner who doesn't dream of running like a Kenyan as much as she dreams of running like Shalane Flanagan.