- Associated Press - Saturday, January 14, 2012

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 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.

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.

Shalane Flanagan won the women’s competition in an event-record time of 2:25.38. 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.

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