On a New York Road Runners conference call today to announce that Meb Keflezighi, Ryan Hall, and Abdi Abdirahman—the entire 2012 U.S. Olympic Men's Marathon Team—would compete in the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K on May 12, Abdirahman was joined by his long-time training partner, two-time Olympic medalist Bernard Lagat.
Put the guns down, Butch and Sundance. Pull the car over, Thelma and Louise. It's time for Kip and Abdi.
"We just have great respect for both of you and [for] your friendship that's helped both of you at the highest level," said NYRR president and CEO Mary Wittenberg.
The two have been close friends all the way back to their college days in the late 1990s, when Abdirahman, now 35, competed for the University of Arizona and Lagat, now 37, for PAC-10 rival Washington State.
A few years after graduation, Lagat had to decide whether to follow his coach, James Li, from Pullman to Tucson. Knowing that Abdirahman was already there made the change an easy one.
"I knew that my best friend was going to be in Tucson," said Lagat, adding that Abdirahman, who graduated from high school in the city, even introduced him to the realtor from whom he bought his house. "He is like a brother. Whenever I have a problem, and I need to talk to somebody right away, I just ring Abdi."
"Bernard always keeps me on my toes," said Abdirahman in return. "Bernard always tells me the way it is, but the toughest person in the whole group is Gladys [Bernard's wife]. 'Abdi, you need to tell me what's going on, you're not training the way you're supposed to be training. What's going on?'"
He credits the couple, along with Li and others in the community, with getting him through the past few years of coping with injuries.
"They are the people who do all the work in the background," he Abdirahman said. "I just do the running. That's it."
When he crossed the finish line in Houston on January 14, Abdirahman earned a spot on his fourth U.S. Olympic team, a total that Lagat will try to match by qualifying for London 2012 at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials this summer. If history is any indication, Abdirahman will be a factor. Before the 2007 IAAF World Championships, Lagat said, his training partner pushed him hard at their training camp at altitude in Flagstaff. The result? Lagat became the first man in history to win gold medals at 1500 meters and 5000 meters at the same World Championships. "He is the ideal training partner," Lagat said. "It has worked so well; that's why we don't change anything."
Asked about the most important thing they've learned from each other, neither man had to stop and think.
"Discipline and goal-setting and hard work," said Abdirahman, who acknowledged spending the early years of his career having perhaps a bit too much fun. "Take running as your job and as your profession. That's one thing I learned from Bernard and I am so thankful. I just happened to have one of my best friends who happens to be one of the great distance runners of all time teach me the ropes. I want to say thanks, Bernard."
Lagat, in turn, praised Abdirahman's ability to do work extra hard when that's what it takes to succeed and "the virtue of being willing to listen. It doesn't matter what you tell him, he's going to listen and he never gives up."
A decided underdog, Abdirahman needed that attitude going into the marathon trials. "He wasn't even on the radar going to Houston," Lagat said. "I believed it, I knew it, I was telling him 'just go do it, man, you are ready.' Don't stop whenever you have an obstacle. He may have been having a few injuries, but he doesn't give up. Whenever I have a small problem I think of a bigger problem that Abdi has had, and he overcame it."
Will they someday be doing a marathon together?
"We train together and I know what he is capable of," said Abdirahman. "The day he decides to do the marathon, I know he's going to do well."
"Abdi is trying to be real modest in saying that he hasn't been pushing me for the marathon. He has been," countered Lagat, to laughter from his training partner. "I tell him, I just want to try one more time in the Olympics and after that we'll see what's going to happen. I can't wait to step on the roads with my buddy and see what I can achieve. Abdi has always insisted I could do well, and I have to believe in him."
Keflezighi, Hall, and Abdirahman, a four-time U.S. champion on the track at this distance, will be competing in the eighth-annual UAK Healthy Kidney 10K in Central Park on May 12 for a prize of $25,000 for first place, the largest of any 10K in the world. The race will begin at 8:00 a.m.