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EUGENE, Ore. — Between the two of them, Dathan Ritzenhein and Abdi Abdirahman have made seven Olympic teams, both on the track and in the marathon. Along with Meb Keflezighi, the pair have seemingly been constants on the Team USA roster each quadrennial.
After last Sunday’s B.A.A. 10K in Boston, both Ritzenhein and Abdirahman spoke with Race Results Weekly about the Olympic Trials, what they’d tell those competing at Historic Hayward Field, and shared a few favorite memories from the Trials. While they have not ruled out a go at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, neither Ritzenhein nor Abdirahman will be racing in Eugene.
Interviewed separately, the veterans reminisced about their time on the oval. Abdirahman qualified for three Olympics in the 10,000m (2000, 2004, and 2008) in addition to a marathon appearance in 2012, while Ritzenhein made the Olympic 10,000m team in 2004 and 2012 and marathon squad in 2008.
If you were to give one piece of advice to those taking the line for the Olympic Trials, what would it be?
Dathan Ritzenhein: Just when you stand on the line, the pressure seems so much. Sometimes it can seem overwhelming, and I think when I stood there a lot of times… [Ritz’s voice trails off]. As long as the training’s been there, then it’ll just happen as long as you’re confident and the fitness is there.
Abdi Abdirahman: Confidence man, you need confidence, man. Just belief in your training, belief in what you’ve done and belief in your race. There’s nothing that you can do in the next couple days that can help you at the Trials from now on. All the hay is in the barn, man. If you’re ready, you’re ready; if you’re not, you’re not. For the Trials, you’re not going to fool anybody.
Ritzenhein: The pressure is such a monster and can sit on your shoulders sometimes and just feels so heavy. But if you can look back and reflect beforehand sometimes you see the amount of work that went into it and it can make you a lot more confident.
What is the most vivid memory you have of your Olympic Trials experience?
Ritzenhein: The pressure. I remember standing there on the starting line in the pouring rain in 2012 and just being so, feeling like it was so hard to get it. I didn’t have the [10,000m] standard, everything had gone wrong, and this was one last thing that could go wrong: it was freezing rain and pouring. It felt like it was so much pressure, and then I just remember looking up and thinking ‘It can’t get any harder than this.’ And still being able to pull it off, it couldn’t get any better, that moment.
[Ritzenhein finished third in 27:36.09, qualifying for his third Olympic team.]
It was like one long battle basically that lasted for a year at that point, coming back from my Achilles surgery [in addition to finishing a devastating fourth at the Olympic Marathon Trials in January of 2012]. And so it just felt like it couldn’t get any harder but then as soon as the race was over, the relief was so… [long pause]. I don’t even remember the couple hours afterwards because it just happened and then I was so excited.
Abdi, the moment you jumped into the steeplechase pit following your 10,000m victory at the 2008 Olympic Trials in a sprint over Galen Rupp is one of my most vivid memories. How does that rank for you?
Abdirahman: It is, that’s one of my favorite moments. It was just one of the best to be honest. The Olympic Trials in 2012 was great [qualifying in the Marathon, to the surprise of many]. All my Trials were amazing. I remember how much work I put into each Trials and I put into the team.
[Without prompting, Abdirahman took a moment to reflect on what missing this year’s Trials means to him. It’s the first time he won’t be sporting a USA singlet at the Olympics since his first Games in 2000.]
Abdirahman: I wish I was running the Trials. I wish I had run a few track races. But at the same time, that’s the decision I made. Me and Dathan were talking about it. If we had focused on the Trials and got the Trials qualifier, the way we ran (at the B.A.A. 10K) how would we do? At the same time we’re happy with the decision we made and now we can focus on running and have fun at these road races.
The stress, to be honest man, the stress before the Trials, I don’t know how people do it. If you’re not 100-percent in it and if you’re not giving 110-percent; I don’t think I was ready to do that [again] mentally. It’s exhausting. You know, I’m just enjoying my running and I love running so I’m going to compete in a lot of road races and hopefully do a good fall marathon. I’ve been there four times and it’s been an amazing career.