Saturday, November 3, 2007
Shay dies during U.S. Olympic marathon trials
NEW YORK -- Top distance runner Ryan Shay died during the U.S. men's Olympic marathon trials Saturday, overshadowing what was supposed to be a showcase day for the sport. Shay collapsed about 5½ miles into the race and was taken to Lenox Hill Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 8:46 a.m., New York Road Runners president Mary Wittenberg said. He was 28. Ryan Shay, wearing red gloves, races through Times Square during the 2008 U.S. men's marathon trials in New York. He was 28 years old. "It cuts a knife through everybody's hearts," said Wittenberg, whose group organized the race. She said Shay received immediate medical attention. The medical examiner's office said an autopsy will be performed Sunday. "There were several layers of medical response. It was very quick," said Wittenberg, who would not elaborate on what steps were taken. Shay of Flagstaff, Ariz., hit the ground near the Central Park boathouse, a popular Manhattan tourist spot, during the 26.2-mile qualifier for the Beijing Games. "He crossed right in front of me and stepped off the course," said runner Marc Jeuland of Chapel Hill, N.C., who did not see Shay collapse. "He nearly tripped me. He would not have been taxed at that point." Ryan Hall, Dathan Ritzenhein and Brian Sell won the three spots on the men's marathon team, prevailing in a field of 131 that included Meb Keflezighi, silver medalist at the 2004 Olympics. This was an unusual format for the trials, which began at Rockefeller Center before heading to Central Park for five loops. The aim was to maximize attention a day before the New York City Marathon, where millions usually line the streets. A recreational runner died during last month's Chicago Marathon. This death, however, was especially startling considering Shay was an elite athlete. "He was a tremendous champion who was here today to pursue his dreams," said Craig Masback, chief executive of U.S. track and field's governing body. "The Olympic trials is traditionally a day of celebration, but we are heartbroken." It was in New York two years ago while watching the marathon that Shay met his future wife, Alicia, also an elite distance runner. Alicia was a college teammate at Stanford with Hall, and his wife, Sara. Sara Hall was a bridesmaid in their wedding in July. "He had an incredible ability to push himself to the limit," Sara Hall said of Shay, with whom she and her husband used to train. Alicia was a two-time NCAA champion and the collegiate 10,000-meter record-holder while running as Alicia Craig at Stanford. She was hoping to make it to Beijing in the women's 10,000 meters. Shay was a favorite going into the 2004 trials but was hampered by a hamstring strain and finished 23rd. He was a five-time national road racing champion, winning the 2003 U.S. marathon, 2003 and 2004 half-marathon, 2004 20k and 2005 15k. "If you probably asked him if there was any way he wanted to go, it was out on the race course," said Terrence Mahon, who coached Shay at Mammoth Lakes, Calif. Shay was the NCAA 10,000-meter champion in 2001, the first national individual title in track for Notre Dame. It was clearly a difficult day for Hall, who said at the start of his postrace news conference, "As great as the moment is, my heart and my thoughts are with Ryan Shay." Hall, bellowing over the final mile with his victory ensured, had never run a marathon before April. But he served notice he could compete with the world's best when he made the fastest marathon debut by an American, finishing eighth against an elite field in London in April. On Saturday, he won in a trials record time of 2 hours, 9 minutes, 2 seconds. He was followed by Ritzenhein in 2:11:07 and Sell in 2:11:40. Khalid Khannouchi, the 35-year-old former world-record holder who has never made an Olympic team, was fourth, nearly a minute behind Sell. Khannouchi, who has battled injuries, could earn a spot on the squad if Ritzenhein later qualifies in the 10,000 meters and chooses to compete in that race instead in Beijing. Keflezighi, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist, was in the lead pack for much of the race but fell back to eighth. Hall broke away from the leading pack of five runners at about the 17th mile. He looked relaxed and fresh the entire race, pumping his fists as he drew closer to the finish. Hall came to Stanford as a miler but steadily moved up to longer distances over the years, finally realizing the marathon was his race. "It's a big loss for the running community," said 2004 women's marathon Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kastor, who used to train with Shay. "It's a day we should be celebrating. It has cast a pall. The distance running community is very close." News of Shay's death hit hard in Central Lake, Mich., where his parents are the cross country and track coaches at the local high school. Shay was one of eight running children in a family passionate about the sport. His parents, Joe and Susan Shay, were not in New York on Saturday because they had two runners competing in the Michigan cross country state championships, said Central Lake High School athletic director Quinn Barry. They were on their way to New York, he said. "This is a little town," Barry said by phone, his voice cracking. "People really rally around people like Ryan. We're deeply saddened. I always admired the way Ryan did things as an athlete. He did things the right way for the right reasons."