In an age where every reality has been reduced to another manufactured or processed product, where the words and actions of our elected leaders are marbled with hidden agendas and corrosive half-truths, sport seems the last vestige through which to experience an Ivory-Soap version of truth as a by-product of pure effort.

Here we are less than a week out from the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston, Texas.  In a few short days all the hard work, all the sacrifice of the last year, or more, will be born to the starting line by men and women hoping for the stars to align with fate in an expression of human performance. It is on just such occasions that magic can happen – ask Ryan Hall – which is why sport continues to hold us unyieldingly in its thrall.


Kiplagat led Kenyan sweep in Daegu

Though Kenyan women swept the podium at the IAAF World Championships Marathon last summer in Daegu, South Korea, at least one, if not more, of the U.S. women who emerge from next weekend’s Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston must still be considered a medal contender in London 2012. Which is why the women’s race may hold even greater significance in the big picture than the men’s race. There will be a fine field toeing the men’s line in Houston, but the chances of one of them standing on the Olympic podium in August is significantly less probable than their female counterparts. Here’s why.

First, the Kenyan women, though excellent, are nowhere near as dominant as their men. This, too, may change in the future, but at present the opportunities for girls to explore their individual talents in Kenya trail that of boys significantly due to still-standing cultural norms. This leaves the door ajar for women from many other nations to be in contention for Olympic Marathon medals.

Secondly, among the contenders in Houston, Deena Kastor, Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher are already proven internationalists with Olympic and World Championship hardware to prove their bona fides. Though Deena may be past her prime, the 2004 Olympic Marathon bronze medalist and American record holder has experience too vast to dismiss. She isn’t being touted to make the team, and so is playing with house money. The pressure falls on everyone else, and Kastor can race easy of mind, a big advantage in the hothouse atmosphere of a Trials. She knows how to win, how to push, how to hurt. It’s a matter of having enough training beneath her after the birth of daughter Piper Bloom last February and the fragility of her body 11 years after her debut in New York way back in 2001. Since breaking a bone in her foot 5K into the 2008 Olympic Marathon, she hasn’t been the same runner she was before. She has had a good build up, but no one has yet managed three-straight Olympic Marathon teams, nor has anyway whose career debut was eleven years-old has made an Olympic team in U.S. history.

Shalane Flanagan’s 2008 Olympic 10,000 meter bronze and her matching World Cross Country bronze from 2011 are still shiny and polished. If anyone should be considered the favorite, it’s the woman from Portland, Oregon out of Marblehead, Massachusetts and the University of North Carolina. She has the pedigree, as Dad Steve was a member of the Colorado Track Club in their 1970s glory years with Frank Shorter, and Mom Cheryl once held the women’s marathon world record. And since joining Jerry Schumacher’s  group in Portland, Oregon 2 1/2 years ago, Flanagan has rebuilt herself into more of an all-around distance runner rather than the track and cross country star she arrived as. Add on a solid second place debut in the 2010 ING New York City Marathon, and you have the recipe of a Trials favorite.