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Triumph and Tragedy at the Trials

November 6, 2007 - Erik Brown

I hit the snooze button one too many times on Saturday and missed the start of the U.S. Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials. Then I had a little trouble connecting to the live streaming video from By the time I finally had the race on my pc, the main pack was about three miles into the race.


As I expected, the early pace was slow. Except for three relatively unknown runners who had opened up what would be a short-lived lead, the main pack of contenders was cruising along 5:10 and 5:20 (per mile) pace. Brian Sell was running in the front of that main pack with another Hansons-Brooks runner along side.


I was expecting at some point after six miles that Brian would start pushing the pace which made what happened next very unsettling. The pace did pick up, but it was Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi, Dathan Ritzenhein, and Abdi Abdirahmen who made a break away from the pack with a 4:56 eighth mile. Dan Browne (3rd in the 2004 Trials) made a quick decision not to let them get away without him and made his own break from the pack. It worked and Browne soon joined the lead group and increased its number to five. Sell stayed back with a group that included other pre-race favorites: Khalid Khannouchi, Alan Culpepper, and Peter Gilmore. I couldn’t help but wonder if that meant it wasn’t his day.


After a 4:54 ninth mile the lead pack laid down a 4:43 tenth mile, which opened up the gap between them and Sell’s group even further. At that point Khannouchi apparently decided the race was getting out of hand. He surged ahead of the chase pack – by himself. Brian stayed back, again. At this point I started mentally preparing myself for Sell to miss the Olympic cut. There were now six runners well ahead of Brian, including the top three pre-race favorites, plus Ritzenhein – a 10K specialist, Browne – a 2004 Olympian, and Khannouchi, the former world record holder. I’m not one to easily give up hope, but I thought it looked very unlikely that Brian could overcome that situation.


The next seven miles did nothing to calm my nerves. The lead pack of five runners looked strong. Khannouchi was still chasing them. At times he seemed to be closing on them, but then he would fall back again.


From the perspective of someone who was rooting very hard for Brian Sell, what happened next was pure excitement. As the lead pack was approaching the 17th mile marker, Ryan Hall surged going up a hill. In very short order, Hall basically exploded that pack of five and they became five individuals each struggling to match Hall’s move. Ritzenhein would be the only other runner in that lead group to finish in the top three. Hall ran mile 18 in a red hot 4:32. As this was happening, Abdirahmen was struggling with pain in his hip. Abdi dropped out at mile nineteen. At the same time Khannouchi’s effort was fading. Brian passed Khannouchi and, in the space of a mile, went from seventh to fifth place. Furthermore, Browne and Keflezighi were both struggling up ahead. Between mile 20 and 21 Sell caught Keflezighi and passed him. Brian then steadily reeled in the gap between himself and Dan Browne. He finally caught Browne near the 22 mile mark and went right on by into the coveted third and final Olympic berth position. Browne couldn’t answer.


From there it was just a matter of hoping Brian wouldn’t falter. Ryan Hall was blazing his way through the final miles at sub 4:50 per mile pace on his way to a Trials record time of 2:09:02. Ritzenhien couldn’t match Hall, but he never faltered either finishing a strong second in 2:11:07. As you know by now, Brian crossed the line third in 2:11:40 and punched his ticket to the Beijing Olympic Games to be held next August.


After the race Sell was interviewed by Runners World magazine. My favorite question and answer from that interview is as follows:


Runners World: Does this validate your position as one of the top American marathoners?


Sell: I guess the proof is in the pudding. In high school I was probably a minute and something slower than these guys (Hall and Ritzenhein) in the 2 mile. I’m just so happy today. I hope every kid out there who’s not a state champ or district champ looks at what I achieved today and says: Hey if I put in the work, I can do this. This is the happiest ending I can think of.



PIAA XC State Championships


Congratulations are also in order for some other area runners!


Carly Seymour captured the gold medal and led her Central Cambria XC team to a first place AA girls team finish at the PIAA State Championships that were also held on Saturday. Carly’s time of 17:49 set a new course record. Annie Cekada, 19th in 19:50, Kelsey Seymour, 22nd in 19:53 and Kendall Seymour, 24th in 19:54 also medaled. Kelsey is a sophomore and Kendall is a freshman, so we should get to see more Seymour sisters soon (so sorry). Rounding out the PIAA State Champion AA Girls team was Emily Wright 20:27, Ashley Stump 20:52, and Morgan Eckenrod 23:12. Congratulations ladies!


Also earning medals in the girls’ AA race were Sarah Strayer 8th in 19:26 and Leahanne Wirfel 13th in 19:41. Both of these ladies are from Forest Hills which finished 12th as a team in the girls’ AA race.


Jim Spisak from Bishop McCort took 5th place in the boys’ AA race with a time of 16:49. Don’t be too surprised if Spisak, a junior, is the next PIAA state champion to come out of District 6. He was joined on the medals stand by his teammates Mike Garver 18th in 17:11, and Andy Luksik 21st in 17:13.


The Penns Valley boys team led by Matt Brooker (17:31), ran very well and took 8th place in the AA race. Central Cambria’s boys led by Corey Sheehan (17:55) finished 16th.


The Altoona boys finished 17th and the State College girls were 15th in their respective AAA races. Freshman Wade Endress was the top finisher for Altoona with a time of 17:20 in his debut on the Hershey course. Lucia Sofo was the first lady in for State College in a time of 20:19.



The College Scene


Wayne Hooper of Saint Vincent College (Altoona Area High School graduate) won the ECAC Division III cross country championships on November 3rd with a time of 26:13.2 for 8 kilometers. The race was hosted by Williams College in Williamstown, MA. This was Wayne's last collegiate cross country race. According to Saint Vincent Men’s Cross Country and Track Coach , Andy Herr, “he went out in style.” Congratulations Wayne!



Ryan Shay


In the space of just a few hours I went from feeling elated about Brian Sell’s exciting come from behind Olympic berth, to feeling utterly stunned at the news that Ryan Shay had collapsed early in the race and died. It was an unmistakable reminder to us all that we decide how we will live, but not how long. Ryan Shay, a newlywed, was much too young and strong to be gone. His death is clearly a tragedy. But he died pursuing his dream and doing what he loved to do. There’s something good in that.


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Ryan Shay