NEW YORK — Meb Keflezighi was in the best shape of his life.
Then he injured his hip during the U.S. marathon trials and failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympics. After that experience, it’s easy for Keflezighi to be philosophical about trying to run the New York City Marathon 69 days before the trials for the 2012 Games — something no other top American is daring to attempt.
“Why put all the eggs in one basket?” he said Friday. “I love New York. It’s almost like the Olympics here.”
It’s also easy to take that approach for a runner who has accomplished so much.
“I’ve been very fortunate with my career. I already have an Olympic silver medal — it would be nice to do it again. I already have a New York win — it would be nice to do it again,” Keflezighi said. “Other than that, if I can run, I’m happy with it.”
So he’ll race Sunday, trying to add to this 2009 title, when he became the first American man since 1982 to win the NYC Marathon. Then he’ll compete again Jan. 14 in Houston, seeking to make his first Olympic team since 2004, when he became the first American man to medal since 1976.
Keflezighi dismisses talk that he’s running the two marathons “back-to-back” considering that he’s completed 26½-mile training runs each of the last two weekends. He’s been at full strength since mid-July and feels fit, healthy and prepared.
Plus he’s done this before. In 2004, 70 days after his runner-up performance in Athens, he finished second in New York in what was then a personal-best time.
“I don’t have to do something spectacular at the trials,” Keflezighi said. “I’ve just got to be first, second or third.”
Running in New York is also good for business — lots of exposure, lots of sponsors. That’s especially true for a 36-year-old who in 2016 plans to be hanging out with his wife and kids instead of trying to qualify for another Olympics. Keflezighi made an appearance Friday as part of his new endorsement deal with Skechers.
He set his current personal best of 2 hours, 9 minutes, 15 seconds in winning in New York two years ago. Sunday’s field includes three runners who have gone under 2:05: defending champion Gebre Gebremariam of Ethiopia and Kenyans Geoffrey Mutai and Emmanuel Mutai (no relation).
“It’s a stacked field, but that’s how it was in 2009,” Keflezighi said.
Keflezighi was an after-thought coming into the ’09 race after the hip injury nearly derailed his career. He’s finished on the podium three times in New York — no wonder he loves the city so much.
Born in Eritrea in East Africa, Keflezighi’s family fled war when he was 10 and eventually settled in San Diego, where he took up running in junior high. The former UCLA star trains in Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
He’s not stressing over how the next chapter of his athletic career will read over the next few months.
“Things happen. I’m not going to regret it,” Keflezighi said. “I’m going to give every opportunity I can to maximize my potential. New York is part of the plan and hopefully London will be.”