- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2007

It is difficult to imagine that the man who ranks as America’s top marathoner right now considers himself an underdog going into November’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.

But that is Ryan Hall’s understated nature.

“[Khalid] Khannouchi can pop one at any time, Meb [Keflezighi] already has an Olympic medal and [Alan] Culpepper won the last trials [in 2004],” said Hall, who has been in New York for two reasons: to again checking out the Central Park course for the November trials and, more importantly, to give support to wife Sara Bei-Hall, who competed yesterday in the Reebok Grand Prix 1,500 meters on Randall’s Island.

“I still see me as the underdog,” said the 24-year-old Californian, who ran shoulder-to-shoulder with the sport’s greatest names deep into the London race before fading to seventh in 2:08:24, just 43 seconds off the win. “It’s a championship-style marathon. On paper, I may look like the favorite but anything can happen.”

This weekend was Hall’s third trip to New York for a preview of the Trials course. He trained in Central Park last November during New York City Marathon weekend, and came back again during Millrose Games weekend in February when Sara was competing in the 3,000 meters.

“The more I run the course the more I respect it,” Hall said Friday evening after a hard tempo run over the Central Park course. “I think about the race a little differently [since his stunning marathon debut in London six weeks ago] but I have a ton of respect for this course and for the competition.

“Every workout I do I am thinking ‘This course will take a joyful, humble run.’ I was repeating that to myself in the last two miles of my run [Friday] when it was getting really tough.”

Khannouchi is the only American with faster marathon times than Hall, but Khannouchi has been plagued for years with injuries and inconsistency. His 2:07:04 at London in April 2006 is sandwiched between pulling out before the start of the 2006 Chicago Marathon (as he also did in 2003) and dropping out of London six weeks ago again with foot problems after 18 miles.

Abdi Abdirahman ran his second career marathon in Chicago last fall in 2:08:56; in 2002, Culpepper finished Chicago in 2:09:41.

Hall outlined his schedule leading up to the Trials in November. He said he may compete in the 10,000 meters at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Indianapolis on the eve of June 21, his only opportunity to run a 24-lapper on the track.

He then plans to run a 5K race in Europe and the Peachtree Road Race 10K on July 4 before returning to his beloved high elevations of Mammoth Lakes, Calif., in August for his buildup to the Trials marathon.

“[The 5K and 10K] are kind of fun races,” he explained. “I’m trying to mix it up without huge expectations. The big picture is the trials.”

Welcome to the big leagues, kid — Matthew Centrowitz, the Broadneck High School (Annapolis) senior headed to the University of Oregon this fall, was on the start sheets for the mile yesterday at the Reebok meet. In his race: American record holder Bernard Lagat, Australian star Craig Mottram, training partners Alan Webb and Chris Lukezic and Canadian standout Kevin Sullivan.

Centrowitz recently established a new Class 4A and Maryland record when he won the state title at 1600 meters in 4:04.09, the top high school time in the nation this year. He also holds the nation’s fastest mile time this year, 4:08.38 at Penn Relays.

Centrowitz told officials at the Reebok Grand Prix that his goal is to break the 4:02.7 high-school mile personal best set by his father, two-time Olympian Matt Sr., in 1973.

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