2004 was a 'breakout' year for Mebrahtom Keflezighi. He emerged as the United States' first truly world-class distance runner in nearly two decades by finishing second in the Olympic marathon in Athens and then coming back 10 weeks later to take second in last year's ING New York City Marathon.
This year, partly by accident and partly on purpose, New York has become Keflezighi's chief focus. A series of illnesses and injuries, from a bad case of influenza in early spring and Achilles tendon strains in both legs, slowed his training leading into the American championships, where he finished second to his friend and sometime training partner Abdi Abdirahman in the 10,000 metres.
After five weeks of high-altitude workouts at the U.S. Olympic training center in Mammoth Mountain, California, Keflezighi was ready for a fast 10,000 in the World Championships in Helsinki. But his right quadriceps wasn't. During the race he suffered a partial rupture, and stop running entirely for six weeks.
But he continued to do cross training, and seven weeks ago he got back to running full-time. According to Bob Larsen, his coach since 1993, "Meb's last month has been so good that we're hoping he can run a really good race. He's been taking runs going uphill from 8,000 to 9,000 feet [2400 - 2740m], and running hard on an underwater treadmill."
"We know he's in shape to run a good marathon, says Larsen. "What we don't know is the length of time it will hold up. With last year's field, he'd be right on. But this field is much stronger. A lot depends on the pace."
Larsen's right about the field. It's by far the strongest in New York's history, with 16 men who have run faster than 2:09. New York Road Runners' publicist Richard Finn points out, "We have the world record holder, the winners of the most recent London, Boston and New York City marathons - and that's just for starters."
Keflezighi, who might have won last year if he hadn't stopped for water late in the race at the same time as winner Hendrick Ramaala put on a surge, says, "The whole year comes down to this one. It's going to come down to the last mile."
Asked what he had learned from his second-place finish of a year ago, he smiled and said, "Don't go for the water in the last mile."
James Dunaway for the IAAF