Competing on the last day of the Olympics is like having a final exam on graduation day. That's why it's nearly impossible to find a male marathoner hanging out in Rio right now.
**"**I don't like it being the last event," said American Meb Keflezighi, who will start and finish his fourth Olympics on August 21st. "I don't. I dislike it a lot. You're missing everything."
In 2000, Keflezighi ran 10,000 meters on the track in his Olympic debut. His race finished early, so he attended other events, saw the city, and took a vacation. As a result, he said, "I still say my most memorable Olympic experience was Sydney," even though he won his first medal, silver, in the marathon four years later in Athens.
In London, he finished fourth. At Rio on Sunday, the 41-year-old father of three will try to become the oldest marathon medalist in Olympic history. For now, in an effort to avoid all pre-race distractions, Keflezighi is in Mammoth Lakes, California, training at altitude. He spent the first week of the Games watching on TV as Michael Phelps, Simone Manuel, and the U.S. rowers claimed gold four time zones away.
When contacted by phone on Saturday night, he said he also wanted to watch the women's marathon on Sunday.
"I hope they show it on TV," he said—for professional reasons. "I haven't seen the course yet. I was planning to watch the course."
After that, Keflezighi said, he was going to drive down to 4,000 feet elevation and run his last hard "repeat workout," which meant five or six miles of intense speed intervals, plus three miles of warm-up and three miles of cooldown—about 11 to 12 miles in all.
"I've been running every single day, training hard," he said. "I look forward to taking a day off. I'll probably take Tuesday off, if I can convince myself."
Tuesday?! That's when he leaves Mammoth at 4 AM, Pacific Time, with his family and heads to Los Angeles to join his former UCLA coach, Bob Larsen, for their 12:30 flight from LAX to Miami, then from Miami to Rio.
If all goes well, he said, "I'll be there at 7 AM on Wednesday."
Keflezighi has been known to fly coach class, stuck in steerage wearing compression socks like the rest of us. But not this time.
"On the way out, I did upgrade myself to business class," he said. "Actually, my wife insisted on that. I'm like, I'm a small guy, it is no problem. Back when I had my hair, I was 5'7''. I'm now 5'5''. All those miles shrunk my height, you know?
"Whatever. You get your regular seat. But my wife insisted."
Once he lands, Keflezighi said, "it's going to be get in and get it done. I won't be doing too much besides eating and seeing a couple of points [on the course], if that. Just keep a low profile."
It's preparation, but also self-preservation.
"You know how I am after a marathon," he said. "I can't even walk. In London, the Wednesday after the race, I was still in a wheelchair. I had to take a wheelchair to the airport. Yeah, I beat myself up. This is my 24th marathon. It's been a tough road. I'm looking forward to doing the one [in Rio], getting it over with, then I've got two more, and I'll be done [with my career]. I'll be even happier when I'm done."
The final two are TBA. The Olympics are a given. "I always enjoy them, even though I would have loved to have been there for the whole time," Keflezighi said. "Obviously, the sport has done a lot for me, and I would love to give the sport as much as I can."
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