The magic number for Aaron Sharp and J.T. Service was 2:22:00-the time that would put them on the road to the Olympics. Sharp achieved it last December, finishing 10th at the California International Marathon in Sacramento in 2 hours, 20 minutes, and 24 seconds. Service broke the barrier in June, clocking 2:21:29 to place eighth at the Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota.
“The highlight of my career was going the last 200 meters, knowing I was getting an Olympic qualifying time,” Service said.
Sharp and Service, a pair of 27-year-old UCSB graduates, will join 132 other elite runners in New York City on Saturday morning, November 3, and compete in the U.S. Men’s Marathon Trials for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The 26.2-mile race course will start at Rockefeller Center, wind around Central Park six times, and finish at Tavern on the Green.
This will be their Olympics. Only the top three finishers will go on to Beijing; the rest will have to be content to say they were a few seconds or minutes late. The field has four sub-2:10 marathoners, including 2004 Olympic silver medalist Meb Keflezighi and Ryan Hall, the phenom from Big Bear who this year set a U.S. half marathon record of 59:43.
“I’m honored to be in this race,” Sharp said. “I hope to get pulled along and run a PR [personal record].”
“This is the strongest, deepest field ever for a U.S. marathon,” Service said. “To finish in the top 25, it would be the race of my life.”
The ranking of each runner is reflected by his bib number-Sharp’s is 70 and Service’s is 103-but Service thinks a tough course will work to his advantage. It was hot in Duluth, as it was during the L.A. Marathon last March when Service was the first American finisher.
“Central Park is never flat,” Service said. “It’s a rolling, up-and-down course. You’ll feel good early, but those hills wear you out after 20 miles. I plan to gut it out.” Sharp said his strategy is “to run a patient race.”
Service and Sharp both credit UCSB coach Pete Dolan for instilling in them a passion for running that has burned steadily since their college careers ended. They were members of the 2001 Gaucho cross-country team that finished 17th in the NCAA championships. Both were hungry to run faster after they graduated four years ago.
“I was 16th out of 16 runners when I started at UCSB,” Service said. “Pete gave me a chance. He got me to love running.” Dolan continues to run a strong program, as his women’s cross-country team took first and the men’s second at last week’s Big West Championships.
Sharp was also a late bloomer, though perhaps his running ability is not surprising-his mother, Debra Sharp, qualified for the women’s Olympic marathon trials in 1988. She coached him at Santa Clara High in Oxnard, and now he is coaching at Santa Clara and Oxnard College, where he is a part-time PE instructor.
Service, who lives in San Jose, is finishing up his law degree at Santa Clara University. “This will be it for my running career,” he said of the trials.
The start of Saturday’s race (4:35 a.m. Pacific Time) will be televised on NBC’s Today Show, and the race will be streamed in its entirety via the Web at NBCSports.com.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: San Marcos put up a fight in the 48th Big Game against the Santa Barbara Dons, but a 24-10 defeat kept the Royals winless in the prep football season. St. Bonaventure, which has never lost a Channel League game, visits San Marcos on Friday night, November 2. The other schools in action Friday are still in contention for the playoffs: Santa Barbara (at Ventura), Dos Pueblos (at Buena), and Carpinteria (hosting Grace Brethren). After an epic battle for first place in the Frontier League-falling an extra point short of Santa Clara, 42-41-Bishop Diego has the week off.
HOCKEY BREAK: Bob Miller ranks right up there with Vin Scully and the late Chick Hearn as gifted sports broadcasters in Southern California. Miller’s gig is the National Hockey League, and he’s been the Voice of the L.A. Kings for more than 30 seasons. He will appear at Borders in Goleta on Sunday, November 4, at 2 p.m., to sign copies of his book, Bob Miller’s Tales from the Los Angeles Kings.