2008 was a pretty rough year for a lot of people.  The economy took what some people may refer to as a nose dive, Hurricane Ike took no prisoners, a bunch of famous people died, including Edmund Hillary, Paul Newman, Issac Hayes, and Heath Ledger, and petroleum got pretty expensive.   Don’t even get me started on Bernie Madoff. 

Though it may have been pretty tough to see much light in 2008, it wasn’t bad for everybody.  In fact, 2008 was pretty darn good for Shalane Flanagan.  The International Year of Languages saw a couple of huge runs for Flanagan starting with the Payton Jordan Cardinal 10,000 meter run where she set an American record in her debut at the distance, and she did it with over a 15 second cushion.  That may seem pretty good, but the year only got better with the Beijing Olympics where Flanagan grabbed the bronze and broke her own American record by 12 seconds, lowering the mark to 30:22.  Not too shabby for a debut year. 

Promising as things may have looked after a debut 10k season like that, the next few years failed to produce any results for Flanagan that even rivaled her 2008 season.  Rather than giving it another shot this year in the event where she was the bronze medalist, Flanagan has turned her eyes to the marathon and seems to be doing ok thus far.  Doing ok, however, still doesn’t quite match up to her 2008.  Without any real heavy hitting times or races yet it’s tough to know how Flanagan will fare in London against the strong contingent of Ethiopians and Kenyans.  Even China and Japan each have 3 runners ranked ahead of Flanagan, whose 2:25:38 puts her just barely inside the top 40 in the world this year and over 6 minutes off of the 3rd best time.

Based on these stats, things aren’t looking good.  When Flanagan medaled in Beijing she went in with the fastest 10k time in the world in 2008 up to that point.  Needless to say, she’ll be headed to London as a bit more of an underdog.  This being said, not all is lost.  I’m reminded of Deena Kastor’s bronze medal run in the marathon back at the ’04 Olympics in Athens.  Kastor went in ranked outside of the top 50, but a mere 2 hours 27 minutes and 20 seconds later she strolled nonchalantly across the finish line all looking very patriotic in a USA hat and some extra sunscreen.  Kastor’s run was, to say the least, a bit of a surprise to the running world.  If you are into drawing parallels you might be wondering if Flanagan could possibly pull off a Kastor type upset.  I’d like to think so. 

Flanagan is by far one of the most inexperienced marathoners going into this Olympic competition, but she’s by no means a rookie to the kinds of pressure that surround an event like the Olympics.  Flanagan may not be at the top of the IAAF lists, but she has always had a reputation as a fierce competitor and there are a few on the list ahead of her that may just be good at running time trials.  It also shouldn’t be overlooked that not only was the Olympic trials marathon Flanagan’s second attempt at the distance, it was also her first since 2010 in New York where she took down Mary Keitany.  Keitany also happens to be the favorite for London. 

It’s no question that Flanagan will be going into this race as a bit more of an underdog than she was in 2008, but I don’t think that’s going to phase her.  Having only run two marathons in her career, Flanagan just hasn’t had the opportunity to drop any terribly fast times.  We can talk about the IAAF top lists all day and make our predictions, but if there’s anything I’ve learned from my racing experience it’s that time doesn’t really matter as long as you get on that podium.  Just ask Deena Kastor; I’m sure she’d feel the same.