Meb Keflezighi ran in his adopted hometown of San Diego June 3rd and successfully defended his title in the city’s annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon, clocking one hour, three minutes and 11 seconds. It was a good Olympic tune-up race for the 37-year-old Keflezighi, who was born in Asmara, Eritrea, and moved with his family to San Diego when he was 12. In San Diego, Keflezighi beat fellow U.S. Olympian Ryan Hall, who also finished in second place, behind Keflezighi, at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in January in Houston, Texas.
Keflezighi became a U.S. citizen in 1998, the same year he graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), where he earned All-American honors and numerous awards. At the 2004 Athens Olympics, he became the first American marathon runner to win a medal in 28 years when he finished second behind Italy’s Stefano Baldini. At the 2012 London Olympics, the men’s marathon will be staged August 12th, the final day of competition, and Keflezighi wants to medal again. “I’m going to London to give it one more shot and whatever happens there I hope I get a medal,” says Keflezighi. “I’m not going to be choosy over what color the medal is going to be be but I hope to be on the podium.”
To increase his chances of being on the podium in London, Keflezighi moved his family three years ago to Mammoth Lakes, California, where he trains in the high elevation of the eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range. “I always call this distance runners heaven,” says Keflezighi. “I mean if you’re going to be a distance runner in the United States, why not here? We’re at an elevation of 9,000 feet with the beautiful trees and the mountains, less oxygen and then when you go down to sea level you have more oxygen. You get fit and strong up here and then you go down to sea level and test yourself to the limits.”
At 37, Keflezighi will be testing his limits against younger athletes in London, but there is precedent for Olympic marathon success. Portugal’s Carlos Lopes was the same age when he won the gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. And Romania’s Constantina Dita was 38 when she won the gold medal in the women’s marathon at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Keflezighi has been running about 130 miles a week in his build-up to the London Olympics, but he says that’s only part of his training. “It’s not just the running part but the little details,” says Keflezighi, “such as stretching, drills, planks, weight training, ice bath, massage … you take care of yourself 24-7 because the rest, the nutrition and all of that stuff, the work that goes into it (running the marathon) year round is a lot. You better hope you nail it that day.”
And Meb Keflezighi would like nothing better than to nail it on August 12th and once again stand on the Olympic podium.