- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 21, 2007

Earlier this decade, the American running community was filled with great expectations as three inspiring high school runners — Dathan Ritzenhein, Alan Webb and Ryan Hall — graduated in 2001. Many running enthusiasts cannot forget the national high school cross country championships in 2000 when they finished 1-2-3.

Webb and Ritzenhein already have gone on to stellar running careers, both earning a spot on the 2004 U.S. Olympic team. Meanwhile, Hall didn’t begin to distinguish himself until a year ago when he posted a career-defining victory at the 2006 USA Cross Country men’s long course championship, his first-ever 12-kilometer race.

Then he served notice that he was a contender when he set the American 20-kilometer record (57:54) on Oct. 8 at the IAAF World Road Running Championships in Hungary.

The best was yet to come for the 24-year-old from Big Bear Lake, Calif.

Last Sunday at the men’s U.S. Half Marathon National Championship in Houston, Hall obliterated a quality field and the U.S. record — which had stood for 21 years — by 72 seconds. He earned a $21,000 payday including record bonuses.

Hall’s shocking time of 59:43 made him the first American to break the one-hour barrier at that distance. Even more impressive is that only seven men in the world have ever run a 13.1-mile race faster than Hall did on an unaided certified course.

“When I was out there running, I wasn’t totally aware of what was happening but it’s starting to set in now,” Hall told reporters on a teleconference call Monday, less than 24 hours after his historic run. “I’ve always wanted to run a sub-60 half marathon.”

About a dozen people in the world — all Africans — have ever run sub-60, which puts the young Hall in an exclusive club that includes Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie (set the world record a year and a week ago in Phoenix in 58:55) and Kenyans Paul Malakwen Kosgei, Paul Tergat (marathon world record holder in 2:04:55) and Moses Tanui (two-time Boston Marathon champ).

Hall was asked if he was surprised by his time.

“Definitely,” he responded. “I wasn’t expecting to break 60 minutes.”

In fact, he said he had written the splits on his hand to average a 4:35 pace or 60 minutes.

His coach Terrence Mahon, himself a 20K national champion in 1998, didn’t expect such a fast time so soon in Hall’s professional career but wasn’t surprised either.

“Am I surprised by the time?” he said. “Yes and no. Yes, when somebody is only 24 years old and running long races like that. But when you look at his running in high school and college years [at Stanford], I’m not too surprised. He’s got a lot of training under his belt. He’s able to handle a lot of distance.”

That bodes well for Hall’s greater ambition — moving up to the marathon and pursuing an Olympic medal. He already was planning a spring marathon before Sunday’s huge breakthrough with the intent of going for an Olympic team qualifier at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in New York in November.

Hall, Mahon and Hall’s agent, Ray Flynn, said they will announce within two weeks which marathon Hall will chose for his debut. Fast and flat is what Mahon is using to narrow the field, but he would not prognosticate on time.

“I don’t want to put a time goal out there in the first one,” Mahon said. “We have identified all the flat, fast courses. At first we were looking at L.A., running under the radar. But now we are like, once you break an hour, you cannot hide, so there goes that idea. So now we have to re-look at it. Maybe Japan, maybe Rotterdam, Germany. Paris is fast. Not Boston, though. The course is too tough at this point.

“[Last weekend] confirmed what we were looking for. His big thing is to win an Olympic medal. Where’s the best shot? We believe it’s in the marathon. The thing is why do we wait — the guys who have broken an hour [in the half] are 2:04 to 2:06 [marathon] guys.”

Hall tends to agree.

“For myself personally, I just really believe that I have a shot, too,” said Hall, who trains at 8,000 to 9,000 feet in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., with Team Running USA members Meb Keflezighi (2004 Olympic Marathon silver medalist) and Deena Kastor (2004 Olympic Marathon bronze medalist). “My goal is to take a swing at a medal in whatever event I’m in, and at this point, I’m starting to think the marathon is my best shot.”

Has Sunday’s performance affected Hall’s thinking as a runner?

“Things like that change you,” Mahon said. “I remember when I was racing, you come out differently. Ryan has been asking ‘Where did Haile run that race [the world record]?’ He’s been asking ‘What’s Haile running next?’ It’s my job to keep his expectations in check.”

While the Olympic trials await him in 10 months, Hall’s current focus is on defending his USA Cross Country crown next month in Boulder, Colo.

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