- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 17, 2006

Fourteen months from now, America’s top male marathoners will race around Central Park in New York competing for a trip to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The short list of potential qualifiers can be heard in conversation and seen on the chat sites: Meb Keflezighi, Alan Culpepper, Brian Sell, Abdi Abdirahman, Peter Gilmore. Maybe even Dathan Ritzenhein will join the elite ranks after his debut in New York City two months from now.

But one name I haven’t heard is Khannouchi.

Khalid Khannouchi.

Current American record-holder, two-time former world record-holder, owner of the third-, fourth- and seventh-best marathon times in history. Seven times under 2:07:20. His fourth-place finish in London five months ago was the eighth-fastest time in the world this year.

That time also is nearly three minutes faster than Keflezighi, nearly four minutes faster than Sell, Culpepper and Abdirahman and nearly six minutes faster than Gilmore, all of whom ran the Boston Marathon a week earlier than Khannouchi’s London run except for Abdirahman, who did New York last year.

Some say London is a faster course than Boston and New York, but it’s not three or four minutes faster.

Also, Khannouchi had not run a marathon since October 2004 in Chicago because he was sidelined with a variety of injuries over much of those 18 months.

But I would not count him out for Beijing.

“I am just thinking about getting healthy again,” Khannouchi said.

This star-crossed runner, arguably the greatest marathoner of all time, certainly has been one of the most dinged-up. The latest struggle for Khannouchi has been a bruised metatarsal in his right foot, which he said he hurt by stepping on a rock during the London race earlier this year.

“I had been having problems with my left foot for a long time and that finally healed before London, then I bruised the right foot,” said Khannouchi, who had surgery on the left foot to repair a chronic tear of the flexor tendon between the first and second metatarsal. “I started feeling it a couple of weeks after London. It’s not a fracture but a bruise.”

It was enough to hamper Khannouchi’s training, forcing him to scrap next month’s Chicago Marathon, just as he did in 2003 and 2005.

“My training was not going well enough to run a good time at Chicago,” said the 34-year-old who was born in Morocco and became an American citizen in May 2000. “I would like to run in the Olympics, but right now all I can think about is getting healthy. I am hoping I can run a marathon in the spring but not if it will jeopardize my running in the Olympic trials in the fall.”

Khannouchi has completed nine marathons since 1997 but not one in an odd year since 1999.

Asked if he felt he could ever eclipse his 2002 best of 2:05:38 — then a world record and still the U.S. mark — Khannouchi said he believes he can if he can train unencumbered.

If Khannouchi can get healthy, his appearance at the Olympic trials next year would mark 10 years since he came onto the scene in his first marathon, a victory at Chicago in 1997 with the fastest debut ever — 2:07:10.

“New York is my home course,” said Khannouchi, who has long dreamt of earning a medal as an American at the Olympics, but he missed the trials in 2000 and 2004 with various injuries.

At the 2001 World Championships, an already injured Khannouchi dropped out in mid-race with back spasms and blisters.

What still is mystifying is why Khannouchi is not considered a favorite for one of three spots on the U.S. Olympic marathon team.

“I do not know the answer to that question,” he said.

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