PITTSBURGH - The United States' lack of proficiency in the marathon could be embarrassingly obvious here this morning, for the second time in 10 weeks.
That's because the U.S. Olympic marathon trials for men, scheduled for an 8 a.m. start in downtown Pittsburgh, could wind up with the same forlorn finish as the U.S. trials for women did on Feb. 26 in Columbia, S.C.
That was the race won by Christine Clark, 37, the pathologist from Anchorage, Alaska, who came home a winner with a personal best of 2 hours, 33 minutes, 31 seconds. But since that time was 31 seconds slower than the "A" time standard for the Olympic Games, it meant that Clark alone would represent the United States at the Games in Sydney, Australia, rather than the usual three-runner contingent.
The prerace scenario for the men in Pittsburgh is decidedly similar. Only two Americans have met the Olympic A standard of 2:14.00 - David Morris, who ran the 1999 Chicago Marathon in 2:09:32 last October, and Joe LeMay, who won the California International Marathon in 2:13:55 in December.
Khalid Khannouchi, the world-record holder and the United States' best marathoner as of Wednesday, when he finally became a U.S. citizen, won't run here. He finished third in the London Marathon on April 16, running 2:08:36, but came out of the race with ankle and hamstring injuries.
That leaves these possibilities:
If all of the top three finishers run 2:14 or faster, all three make the Olympic team.
If only the winner runs 2:14 or better, he will make the Olympic team, and so will Morris and LeMay, who already have met the standard, if they finish the race. Should either Morris or LeMay win, in whatever time, they will constitute the two-man team representing the United States in Sydney.
If a runner other than Morris or LeMay wins, in a time slower than 2:14, he alone will represent the United States in the Olympic race for men, the same as Clark.
A single U.S. entry in the men's Olympic marathon would be a first, but with only two trials entrants who have met the A standard - compared with 76 Kenyans, 39 Japanese and 17 Russians - even that may be more than the United States deserves.
LeMay, Morris and Todd Williams appear to be the best U.S. hopes.