- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 24, 2006

This time next year, Brian Sell could already have his ticket to the 2008 Beijing Olympics punched.

But first, he must place among the top three finishers at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in New York’s Central Park on Nov. 3, 2007.

Sell, a 28-year-old from Rochester Hills, Mich., is wasting no time preparing for what could be a life-changing race. He was in New York last week running the criterion-style course to get an idea of how he will have to train for it.

“There’s about a thousand places where you can break somebody or be broken,” he said of the twisting, curving, rolling course. “This is going to be a very tough Olympic trials. I think it’s going to take a 2:08 to 2:10 to make this Olympic team.”

Sell is in the neighborhood, and his stock has risen very high very fast this year.

Two years ago, Sell — running in only his second marathon ever — competed in the 2004 Olympic Trials in Birmingham, Ala. He took a large lead after the first seven miles before tiring in the 21st mile. He then faded to 12th place with a time of 2:17:20.

“I was pretty close [to quitting the sport] in 2004,” recalled Sell, who also said he was dealing with a lot of external factors, including his then-girlfriend, now-wife and his parents who wondered what he was doing in a seemingly fruitless running career.

“That was a huge devastating blow to Brian,” said Kevin Hanson, co-founder and coach of the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, where Sell has trained for the past several years. “The truth of the matter of Brian wanting to quit is because [making the Olympic team] was an honest goal.”

Sell bounced back eight months later with a 2:13:21 showing at Chicago, good for 10th overall. It was certainly a motivating performance for Sell, but still not Olympic caliber.

His 2:13:27 last year at the World Outdoor Championships ranked him fifth in the United States.

Sell has continued to excel this year, winning the USA Half-Marathon Championships and LaSalle Bank Chicago Distance Classic and posting two top-notch efforts: fourth at the Boston Marathon in a significant personal best 2:10:55 and sixth at the Chicago Marathon some eight seconds faster.

“I’m still quite a distance from where I want to be,” the Altoona, Pa., native said last week. “I want to run in the Olympics.”

He will end 2006 ranked fourth among Americans, behind Khalid Khannouchi (2:07:04 at London), Abdi Abdirahman (2:08:56 at Chicago), and Meb Keflezighi (2:09:56 at Boston), but he also needs to concern himself with other runners like Alan Culpepper, who has run as fast as 2:09:41 in the past four years.

And if history is any guide, he may not have to run a personal best to win the trials. Culpepper won in 2004 in 2:11:42 on a flat multi-loop course in Birmingham, the second-best winning time in trials history to Tony Sandoval’s 2:10:19 on a flat course along the Niagara River in 1980.

Will Sell sit back for 23, 24 miles and kick with his competition or try to steal the race early as he had attempted to do in 2004?

“If everybody goes out in 5:30 pace, you may see me out in front,” he said. “This is going to be a tough group to outkick.”

Christmas list — Al Morris, chairman of men’s long distance running of the Potomac Valley Region of USA Track & Field, offered by far the top stocking stuffer in response to my holiday wish request in last week’s column: “a trip to the Cayman Islands Marathon, a great place to visit and dive, and a most scenic course,” Morris writes. “You are guaranteed to finish in top 50 — as they had only 40-plus finishers in ‘06.”

You have plenty of time to arrange. The next running is in December 2007.

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