HOUSTON — Meb Keflezighi remembered to wear his nasal strip this time, then made some history at the U.S. Olympic marathon trials.
The Eritrea-born Meb Keflezighi won Saturday’s race in a personal-best time of 2 hours, 9 minutes and 8 seconds to qualify for his third games. At 36, Keflezighi is the oldest winner of the trial and the first man to win the event and the New York marathon (2009) in his career.
Shalane Flanagan won the women’s competition in an event-record time of 2:25.38.
A spectator handed Keflezighi an American flag in the final mile on Saturday, and he waved it and pumped his fist to the cheering crowd as he approached the finish line.
“It was just a magical moment,” Keflezighi said.
The top American men’s and women’s distance runners competed in Houston for three Marathon spots on each team that will represent the U.S. at the Summer Games.
Running in only her second career marathon, the 30-year-old Flanagan shaved more than three minutes off her previous personal best, set in her runner-up finish in New York in 2010.
“That’s encouraging,” said Flanagan, a bronze medalist in the 10,000 meters in Beijing. “I knew I was capable of something like this, and I believe I’m capable of something even faster.”
Keflezighi, the silver medalist in the Athens marathon in 2004, was the only man entered Saturday who ran in the New York City Marathon in November. He finished sixth with a personal-best time (2:09.13), then developed an infection in his left foot, the result of leaving a nasal strip in his shoe, part of his pre-race ritual.
He missed three weeks of training, and felt fortunate he was able to get ready for Houston in time.
Keflezighi relied on his longtime coach, Bob Larsen, to hand him the nasal strip before Saturday’s race.
“Unfortunately, I made a dumb mistake,” Keflezighi said. “It cost me a bigger PR (personal record) or a higher place. But I believe that through this, anything is possible. I had it on and yes, it helped me breathe better.”
Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman finished second and third. Hall’s time was 2:09.30 and Abdirahman finished in 2:09.47.
The runners started downtown, then made three circuits around an 8-mile loop, a similar layout to the London course.
“It’s going to be a war of attrition out there (in London),” Hall said. “The three guys that are up here, who made it, I think we’ll be best-suited for the Olympic Games.”
The men’s lead group was down to four runners – Hall, Abdirahman, Ritzenheim and Keflezighi – through 17 miles. Abdirahman waved his arms, encouraging the fans lining the streets to cheer.
After Ritzenheim dropped back, Keflezighi encouraged Hall and Abdirahman to keep up the pace. The trio embraced at the finish line.
“We talked about, ‘Hey, let’s be on the team,’ ” Keflezighi said.
The 29-year-old Hall won the 2008 marathon trial in a record 2:09.02. He was back in one of his favorite cities to run, where he won the 2007 U.S. Half Marathon championship in an American record time of 59:43.
“Today was a lot of fun,” Hall said. “I accomplished my goal, which was to be completely who God made me to be out there.”
The 33-year-old Abdirahman will compete in his fourth Olympics. He qualified in the 10,000 meters in the previous three games.
Dathan Ritzenheim, second to Hall in 2008, crumpled to his knees and cried as he finished fourth.
Desiree Davila grabbed second in the women's race and Kara Goucher was third.
The 28-year-old Davila, the runner-up in Boston last year, finished in 2:25.55. She’ll make her Olympics debut. She had the front-running Flanagan in her sights down the stretch, but decided to ease off and secure second place.
“Going into the last mile, it was kind of this internal conflict where I really wanted to make a push,” Davila said. “It was kind of like, ‘Should I push again, or protect this spot?’ I went back and forth on it, and my calves were cramping up and tight. Ultimately, it was like, ‘Finish it off and get the job done.’ ”
The 33-year-old Goucher trains with Flanagan in Oregon and finished Saturday’s race in 2:26.06. She’ll compete in her second games after running in the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races in Beijing.
The weather was ideal, with the races starting under a clear sky and a temperature of 40 degrees.