With the city spread out below—far below—on a day clear enough to see the Statue of Liberty, all three members of the men’s 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon team stood on the 86th-floor observation deck of the Empire State Building early this afternoon, a trio of iconic American runners visiting the most iconic American skyscraper.
“Oh, man, it’s a huge honor to be part of this [Olympic] team and to be up here,” said Ryan Hall, who was runner-up to champion Meb Keflezighi at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in January. “It feels like running is really being celebrated here and blown up and shown to the world, and that’s what we need to do to make the connection between the elite runners and the half-million Americans who are running marathons every year.”
Hall knows his stuff: According to the most recent figures available from Running USA, 518,000 runners finished a U.S. marathon in 2011.
As for Abdi Abdirahman, who made his fourth Olympic team by grabbing the last spot in Houston but was on his first visit to the landmark building, the long, two-elevator ride to the observation deck definitely put him in an “Empire State of Mind” as he recalled the rap song and video made popular by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. (“These streets will make you feel brand-new / Big lights will inspire you.”)
“To be in New York and on top of it is just too much!” he said of the building that co-stars in the video.
Keflezighi was the veteran of the group, having met the media in the same spot in 2009, the year he won the ING New York City Marathon.
After posing for photos and answering questions from reporters, the athletes traveled even higher: To the 102nd-floor observation deck. An attempt to go one floor higher yet for more photos was thwarted by high winds, but they all got the chance to see a familiar path—the entire length of the ING New York City Marathon course, from the Verazzano-Narrows Bridge to Central Park—from a new vantage point.
The three are in town to compete in the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K on Saturday in Central Park.
“I’ve just started my training for the Olympics, and this 10K fits in really nicely,” said Hall, who will return to the city to run the ING New York City Marathon on November 4. “I really like what this race is all about. It’s about helping other people. I wouldn’t mind having a good result, but certainly the long-term goal is London. If I run anywhere in the 28 [minute] range, I’d be fine with that.”
He’d be fine, too, with doing the famed Empire State Building Run-Up someday: 1,576 steps.
“Ah, man, that’s on my bucket list,” Hall said.
Abdirahman wasn’t quite as enthusiastic, but he didn’t rule it out.
“Maybe when I retire,” he said.
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg