Mammoth Lakes Olympians Race Strong at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics

Jul 14, 2021

The 2016 Rio Olympics were nothing short of dramatically awe-inspiring and the athletes who trained in Mammoth Lakes stepped up to the challenge of performing their best on the world’s biggest athletic stage. The nine male and female athletes who made Mammoth Lakes their high altitude training camp represented five countries in track and field as well as cycling. Seven were first-time Olympians, three ran personal bests at the Olympic Games, two ran season’s bests, one set a national record, and one earned a silver medal. In the weeks, months, and years prior to the games, these athletes logged hundreds of miles on the roads, trails and track, eating, sleeping and training for their Olympic dreams.

Meb Keflezighi, United States, Marathon

The 2004 Athens Olympics marathon silver medalist and 2014 Boston Marathon champion did not have his best day at the Rio Olympics, but that did not stop Meb Keflezighi from capturing hearts on race day. Keflezighi reportedly was not keeping fluids down on the 70-degree day in Rio de Janeiro. He stayed with the leaders through the first half of the race, but lost touch with the front of the pack when he stopped to throw up seven times. Keflezighi who moved to Mammoth Lakes in 2001 now resides in San Diego with his family, but returns to Mammoth Lakes for high altitude training stints prior to major races. In the final steps of the marathon, Keflezighi slipped on the wet pavement and fell. With characteristic finish line dramatics, he did a few push-ups before walking across the line. He finished 33rd in 2:16:46. “I guess I will be known for the epic finish there,” Keflezighi told Runners World. “It wasn’t excessive celebration by any means. Somehow [the fall] just happened.”

Koen Naert, Belgium, Marathon

After a stay at the Mammoth Lakes Crib last summer and running a marathon personal best of 2:10.31 at the Berlin Marathon, Koen Naert, secured his spot on the Belgian Olympic Team. He immediately booked a return trip to Mammoth Lakes and spent the final weeks of Olympic marathon preparation running in the mountains. Naert finished in 22nd place in 2:14:53. “I’ve learned so much from Deena and Andrew (Kastor) about racing a marathon. We made some crucial appointments about my preparation regarding heat training and fuels, so I had a very good preparation in Mammoth Lakes (before the Olympics),” Naert wrote in an email. “Crossing that finish line was amazing. I’ve worked so hard for it, and that feeling of being an Olympian gave me goose bumps!”

Sarah Attar, Saudi Arabia, Marathon

The first woman to run for Saudi Arabia at the 2012 London Olympics, Sarah Attar moved to Mammoth Lakes last year to train at high altitude under the guidance of ASICS Mammoth Track Club head coach, Andrew Kastor. This year Attar was invited by the International Olympic Committee to compete in the marathon as a wild card entry. She became the first Saudi woman to run the marathon at the Olympic Games and finished in 132nd place in 3:16:11. “I had a strong race overall, which is what we came to do. It was an honor to be able to run in another Olympics for Saudi Arabia,” Attar said in an interview for VICE Sports. “The main goal was to have a strong race, and I am very happy with my performance. I know that I ran that race to the best of my abilities and did what I could on that day. I’m excited to see what else I’ll be able to do in the marathon in the years to come.”

Alexi Pappas, Greece, 10,000 meters

In her fourth altitude training stint in Mammoth Lakes, Greek-American Alexi Pappas stayed at the Mammoth Lakes Crib while she prepared for her Olympic debut representing Greece. Pappas finished in 17th place in the 10,000-meter final in a personal best and national record time, 31:36.16. She wrote about her experience for NY Times Well documenting everything from the eating hall to the medical tent and the Rio Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies. “I’m glad I went to both, but my favorite was the Opening Ceremonies,” she wrote. “As a Greek, I entered the stadium first. I wondered if this is how Rihanna feels at her concerts? I tried not to cry, but every time I made eye contact with any person, I cried.”

US Army World Class Athlete Program – Paul Chelimo, United States, 5,000 meters

Led by Coach Dan Browne, the US Army World Class Army Program made Mammoth Lakes home base for an altitude training stint prior to the US Olympic Trials. The move paid off for the team, which qualified four athletes for the Rio Olympic Games. They returned to Mammoth to prepare for the Olympics. “It’s a way to be an ambassador for the U.S. Army and show how Army strong these guys are and what we can accomplish,” Browne told Runners World after the team’s success at the US Olympic Trials. “It’s such a joy to see these them succeed and play a small part in it, and I’m very grateful.” Most notably, WCAP’s Paul Chelimo ran a personal best winning his preliminary heat to qualify for the 5,000-meter final. He then ran a 16-second personal best to finish in second place winning the silver medal in 13:03.90. “After the last lap [in the prelims], I wasn’t spent,” Chelimo told LetsRun.com. “I was not spent and I ran a personal best, 13:19 and that gave me a lot of confidence. When I was warming up [tonight], I realized there was something special in me. I was feeling really great. That’s the best I’ve ever felt in a warm-up.” Other Olympians that train with the WCAP program include Hillary Bor (steeplechase), Shadrack Kipchirchir (10,000 meters), and Leonard Korir (10,000 meters.) Bor won his first round heat steeplechase to qualify for the finals where he finished seventh in a personal best time of 8:22.74. Korir ran a season’s best 27:35.65 for 14th place in the 10,000-meter final. Also in the 10,000 meters, Kipchirchir placed 19th in a season’s best 27:58.32.

Toms Skujins, Latvia, Men’s Cycling Road Race

Toms Skujins (Cannondale Pro Cycling Team) stayed with us at the Mammoth Lakes Crib looking for an edge in his preparations for the 2016 AMGEN Tour of California. A surprise stage winner in the 2015 ATOC, Skujins has had his fair share of success in the the Golden state and took home another stage win in 2016. Following that, Toms prepped for Rio where he represented his native Latvia with a strong performance in the Men’s Cycling Road Race, finishing 59th. As he said in his blog post following the experience, “For most people Olympics is once in a life time and being an Olympian already is a huge deal.” “The race itself was fast, hard, humid and hot,” Skujins wrote. “The ‘dangerous’ downhill was such a blast to fly through. Loved it.”

Monica Prelle

Monica Prelle is an outdoors, wine, and travel writer who would rather be running, climbing, or mountain biking. See more of Monica's posts here, read more of her work at monicaprelle.com and connect on twitter @monicaprelle

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