It's still 215 days away (208 if you're in the women's event), but the marathon for the 2012 Summer Olympics begins this Saturday in Houston. H-Town is the site of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, scheduled for this weekend, with the men starting at 9 a.m. ET and the women's gun going off 15 minutes later -- for the first time ever, both the men's and women's trials are being held on the same day, and in the same city.
The actual qualification process is simple: be one of the first three people (three men, three women) to cross the finish line, and you're going to London. So who are the favorites?
On the men's side, it's the names you'd expect to see: Ryan Hall, Dathan Ritzenhein and Meb Keflezighi. Hall, the only sub-2:05 runner in the field, won the 2008 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trails (but finished 10th at Beijing), beating Ritzenhein in the process (Dathan was 9th in Beijing). Meb, who took silver in the 2004 Olympic Games, had a terrible 2008 trial, suffering through a severe hip injury and the loss of his friend and training partner, Ryan Shay, who died of a heart attack during the race. Meb recovered in time to win the 2009 New York City marathon and, most recently, finished sixth at NYC with a 2:09:13 PR.
Other men to keep an eye on are Mo Trafeh, who is the third-fastest half marathoner (1:00:39), but has not finished the two marathon distance events he's attempted, Brett Gotcher, who ran a 2:10:36 in his marathon debut, Jason Hartmann, Nick Arciniaga and Jason Lehmkuhle.
The women's side is a bit more open, with Kara Goucher, Desi Davila, Shalane Flanagan, Magdalena Lewy Boulet and Amy Hastings all serious contenders.
Goucher took 2010 off with the birth of her child but returned her focus to marathons in 2011, finishing third in the New York City Half and fifth at Boston (2:24:52 PR). Desi may very well be the favorite on Saturday, thanks in large part due to her performance at the 2011 Boston Marathon where she finished second, missing out on becoming the first American woman to win since 1985. Her time of 2:22:38 is the fastest time ever run by an American woman at Boston. Flanagan, who took home bronze in Beijing in the 10,000m, just made her marathon debut in New York in 2010 and finished second (2:28:40).
Of course, it's a 26.2-mile race, and with 158 men qualified and 225 women, there are hardly any definites.
In addition to a spot in London, the top-three finishers receive $50,000, $40,000 and $30,000 in prize money, respectively. The 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials will be tape-delayed (hey, that's still a thing!) on NBC on Saturday, with a two-hour recap airing from 3-5 p.m. ET.