Some Olympic Trials Underdogs

The Olympic Trials marathons for men and women are coming up on Saturday, January 14. As you undoubtedly know, the first three finishers in each race will make the Olympic team and the rest will not.

Each race has athletes who are strong favorites to make the team. Where Olympic trials races are most exciting is when an underdog is in the hunt to make the team. The thrilling moments I remember are Mark Conover's 1988 win in only his second marathon ever, and Christine Clark's win in 2000 while running a PR by over seven minutes.

My previews center on some of the long shots to make the team, the unknowns and barely-knowns. These are the guys I'm pulling for to sneak into the top three.

Mo Trafeh
Age: 26
Residence: Flagstaff AZ
Coach: self
Sponsor: Nike
Marathon PR: none
Half Marathon PR: 1:00:39 (New York, 2010)

Trafeh has never finished a full marathon. He started this year's London race but did not finish. In January, he outkicked Ryan Hall to win the US Half-Marathon Championships in Houston, and his half-marathon PR puts him fifth on the all-time US list—but also fifth out of the Trials entrants. He competes a lot and well. Runner's World rates him as 10-1 to make the team.

A Moroccan immigrant, Trafeh came to the USA as a 14-year-old, and had a brief and undistinguished stint at the University of Arizona. After dropping out of college, he began a pro career in 2006, and gained US citizenship in 2008.

Brian Olinger
Age: 28
Residence: Westerville OH
Coach: Robert Gary
Sponsor: Reebok
Marathon PR: none
Half Marathon PR: none

The furthest Olinger has ever raced is seven miles, making him a true long shot to make the team. While there will be many other rookie marathoners on the Trials starting line, all have run at least a half marathon. Olinger notes that his first track 10k was the Big Ten Championships, which he won, but this is a horse of another color.

Olinger's competitive record has been on the upswing this year, which is why he's considered more than simply an oddity in this race. In February he took sixth at the US Cross Country Championships, which put him on the team for the Worlds where he finished a respectable 75th. In May he took his PR down to 28:07.52 at Stanford's Cardinal Invitational. In November he won Manchester's Thanksgiving Day race.

Jason Lehmkuhle
Age: 34
Residence: Minneapolis MN
Coach: Dennis Barker
Club: Team USA Minnesota
Marathon PR: 2:12:24 (Boston, 2010)
Half Marathon PR: 1:02:32 (New York, 2011)

Lehmkuhle does not possess blazing speed—his mile PR is just 4:06 and 5k PR is 13:38—but is considered an unflappable and experienced runner. If he is to make the team, the most likely scenario is for him to wait for others to make mistakes. Runner's World calls his chances to make the team at 15-1.

Lehmkuhle is not a full-time runner, also working as a graphic designer, and with the help of Team USA Minnesota has been able to stay in elite running for a decade. He's not all used up, though; his marathon PR was set in 2010.

Mike Morgan
Age: 31
Residence: Rochester Hills MI
Coaches: Keith & Kevin Hanson
Club: Hansons-Brooks Running Project
Marathon PR: 2:14:55 (Chicago, 2010)
Half Marathon PR: 1:02:56 (New Orleans, 2010)

Morgan is one of the athletes featured in Flotrack's "Made in Detroit" series of Hansons-Brooks athlete videos. He has more experience than you'd think for a runner of his caliber, as he has twice been a sacrificial lamb on the US World Championships team (and, considering the South Korean heat and humidity, his 2:18:30 this year was a good run). Twelfth at the last Olympic Trials marathon, he's a long shot to make the team, but a solid and dependable runner.

Luke Humphrey
Age: 30
Residence: Rochester Hills MI
Coaches: Keith & Kevin Hanson
Club: Hansons-Brooks Running Project
Marathon PR: 2:14:39 (San Diego, 2011)
Half Marathon PR: 1:03:57 (New Orleans, 2011)

Humphrey is another of the Hansons-Brooks Project's so-called "blue collar" runners, and it's a testament to the program that a runner who has been in this as long as Humphrey has is still churning out PRs. Like Morgan, he's a long shot to make the team, but literally anything can and does happen in Trials races.

Matt Gabrielson
Age: 33
Residence: Minneapolis MN
Coach: Dennis Barker
Club: Team USA Minnesota
Marathon PR: 2:13:28 (Duluth, 2011)
Half Marathon PR: 1:03:43 (Houston, 2010)

Of the lesser-known runners, Gabrielson has the best chance to make the Olympic team. Runner's World did not list him among their "11 Men to Watch", but was rated 6th in the US this year by Track and Field News, and he's only a big PR away from the top two or three runners in this race.

How will he approach this race? Here's what he told Down The Backstretch's Jim Ferstle after his 2:13 breakthrough at Grandma's Marathon:
Now that I have what I consider a respectable time, I can take huge risks because I don't care if I blow up. Even at the Olympic Trials... I even feel I can run in the 2:11 range with a little luck on another marathon day.

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