It's a commentary on the sorry state of distance running in the United States that Jeff Campbell thought he had a serious chance of earning a spot in the Olympic marathon.
It's a reflection of his resolve that Campbell, stricken from next Sunday's U.S. trials by illness, is pondering Plan B, an attempt to get to Athens, Greece, in the 10,000 meters.
Campbell, 32, was one of the most-decorated high school distance runners the state has ever seen. He won multiple championships in cross country and track and field for Randallstown High in the late 1980s.
College took him south and running took him around the planet, as he has represented the United States seven times in world championship races in cross country and the half-marathon.
Campbell waited until he was 27 to dabble in the marathon, and his debut at the distance landed him a spot in the U.S. trials in 2000. Last year, he lowered his best time to 2 hours, 16 minutes, 26 seconds and was part of the U.S. entry at the Pan American Games.
When former world record-holder Khalid Khannouchi withdrew because of injury, journeymen saw their chances improve of finishing among the top three at the U.S. Olympic trials, which will be held a week from today in Birmingham, Ala. Campbell, however, came down with a virus around the New Year that weakened him almost as much as mononucleosis did when he was a college student.
"It's been a big bummer," Campbell said. "I had to decide to back out two weeks ago. This is what I've been training for since I was in elementary school. I felt I had a good shot to make the team. I could run next Sunday and probably finish in the top 10 or 15, but that wouldn't be a good feeling, knowing that you have the ability to be with the guys up front.
"Even if Khalid Khannouchi was in the race, you still have to do it on race day. You have to be 100 percent to make a marathon right, and I'm not there at the moment. I would have had to break 2:15 [the Olympic 'A' standard] to earn a berth. I thought I had that in me until I got sick."
The oldest member of Hanson Olympic Distance Project, a Michigan-based club where he's known as "Grandpa," Campbell will be moving back to North Carolina, where he attended junior college.
Always more comfortable racing on roads and trails, Campbell this spring could re-explore his track potential.
He has run 28:22 for a 10K road race, but never broken 29 minutes for 10,000 meters on a track. But come July, Campbell could be in Sacramento, Calif., in the Olympic trials in that event.
"I get bored on a track. I lose focus," Campbell said. "I'd like to try to see if I can improve that."
On the marathon front, Campbell will regroup for 2008, inspired by the progress of one-time training partner Eddy Hellebuyck, who dipped to 2:12:46 at age 42.
Minus Khannouchi, Alan Culpepper and Meb Keflezighi are the only men in next Sunday's trials field with qualifying times under 2:11. It has been 28 years since an American man won a medal in the Olympic marathon - Frank Shorter took gold in 1972 and silver in 1976 - and that drought figures to be extended in Athens.
Not every local headed to the U.S. trials for swimming in July will be a member of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, home of Michael Phelps.
Linthicum native Aaron Krause, a senior at Towson University, has qualified to go to Long Beach, Calif., in the 100-meter backstroke. That's the event in which he became the Tigers' first-ever contestant in the NCAA Division I championships.
Towson coach Pat Mead said Frank Trionfo (Fallston High) and Jen Irby (Long Reach) are also closing in on Olympic trials qualifying standards.
Lyndsey Smith, a sophomore at Westminster High, is qualified to compete in the trials in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes. Smith, 15, won both events at a major invitational at Rutgers last month.
She has been a member of the Green Terror Aquatic Club, which trains at McDaniel College, since she was 8. Her father, Mark Smith, is an assistant trainer with the Ravens.
Training partner Chelsea Haser, a 17-year-old junior at Century High, is closing in on the trials standard in the 400 freestyle.
Smith will enter the breaststroke races and both individual medleys at the U.S. Spring Nationals, which will be held in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 10-14.
Collegians will be passing on that meet, but it's on Beth Botsford's calendar. She was the Olympic champion in the 100 backstroke in 1996, when she was 15, a student at Garrison Forest School and a member of the NBAC. Botsford completed her NCAA eligibility at the University of Arizona last year, but she has remained in Tucson, where she's finishing her degree requirements and training with Ford Aquatics.
Beckerman on U-23s
Onetime Arundel High star Kyle Beckerman has a defensive midfielder's role on the U.S. men's under-23 soccer team that is in Guadalajara, Mexico, for a qualifying tournament that runs tomorrow through Feb. 12. Only the top two teams in the CONCACAF regional will advance to the Olympics, so the United States must advance through the Feb. 10 semifinals to go to Athens.
Beckerman, 21, spent his senior year of high school in Florida, and helped the United States to the semifinals of the world under-17 championships in 1999. He's currently under contract to the Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer.