Sticking with it

Typically, a distance runner begins his competitive racing career in the shorter distances like the mile and two-mile on the track and 5k in cross country. When the runner gets stronger and more experienced they generally focus on track events like the 5,000 and 10,000-meters until they plateau or the speed starts to wane a bit.

That’s when siren call of the marathon is finally answered. That usually occurs just as the runner is entering their late 20s or early 30s. By then good runners are strong enough to handle the pounding of high-mileage training and longer (yet slower) speed sessions.

If a runner is still at it after the marathon speed has deserted them, that’s when it’s time to give those geeky ultra-marathons a whirl. Those types of races don’t necessarily require a lot of talent, just the ability to run long or the stupidity to not know when to quit.

But Villanova grad Jen Rhines seems to have to evolution of the classic distance runner backwards. A three-time National Champion in the 5,000-meters for the Wildcats, Rhines qualified for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney in the 10,000 meters. For the Athens games in 2004, she made the U.S. Olympic team as a marathoner, which jibed perfectly with the proper ascension. Rhines’ fourth-ever marathon was in the 2004Olympics as a 30-year old. Seemingly her future as a distance runner was as a marathoner. By the time the 2008 Olympic Trials came around, Rhines likely would have had a handful of solid marathon times under her belt.

Only it didn’t happen that way. In 2005 she was 18th in the New York City Marathon with a 2:37:07. That’s hardly a world-class time for a runner of Rhines’ pedigree. In 2006 she was fourth in the Rome Marathon in 2:29:32 and seventh in the Tokyo Marathon in 2:35:37, which is an improvement from 2005, but not a huge breakthrough.

Yet instead of piling up the miles at altitude in her new hometown of Mammouth Lakes, Calif. with the likes of Deena Kastor, Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi and a team filled with the best distance runners in America all coached by her husband (and former Villanova running star) Terrence Mahon, Rhines stopped the standard running evolution and went backwards. Actually, make that she went back to the distances that made her a star all those years ago out on the Main Line.

Beginning in 2007, Rhines forgot about the marathon and focused on the shorter distances and ran her best times in the 1,500m, 3,000m and 10,000m and went on to take seventh in the 5,000m at the 2007 World Championships. Instead of the marathon or the 10,000, Rhines focused on making her third U.S. Olympic team as 5,000-meter runner.

Actually, Rhines put all her eggs in one basket. If she did not make the team in the 5k, she didn’t have the 10,000 or marathon to fall back on despite the fact that she had the second-best qualifying time for the marathon trials.

But after finishing in second place in the 5,000-meter finals last night at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., Rhines’ gamble paid off.

“I am really excited to get to run in Beijing,” she said after running 15:02 in the 5,000-meter finals to finish a second behind Kara Goucher. “I’ve always like the shorter distances, but I’ve been getting better and better since I’ve come back down.”

Call it quite a feat: Three Olympic teams in three different running events. That’s a lot of range.

And who knows, by the time the London Olympics in 2012 roll around, maybe Rhines will be ready to give the marathon another try.

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Speaking of giving it another try, how about that Dara Torres?

Since 1984 a lot has changed in sports. That’s especially the case in Olympic sports where the games have gone from a showcase for the top amateur athletes to another hyped up professional event.

Hell, entire countries have come and gone since 1984. There’s only one Germany now and no U.S.S.R.

But since 1984 the Olympics have always had one name involved…

Dara Torres.

Torres was 17 when she made her first U.S. Olympic swim team in 1984 for the games in Los Angeles and she was 41 with a 2-year-old kid when she made the team in 2008 on Friday in Omaha.

Now check this out: In winning the 100-meter freestyle at the Olympic Trials, Torres time was faster than her gold-medal winning effort in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and 4.58 seconds faster than her fourth-place finish in the 1984 Olympics.

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Look for Phillies stuff tomorrow, including the part where I traded Geoff Jenkins in the no-hitter pool for John Maine pitching a no-hitter against the Phillies.

Yes, I know the Mets have never had a no-hitter in their franchise history, but I figure the odds on Jenkins getting a hit to break up the no-hitter are about the same as Maine actually getting the no-no.