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Sunday, June 10, 2012
More than a decade later, Ritz still inspires

By Doug Binder

Portland Track Festival Ritzenhein
Dathan Ritzenhein put on a show for fans at the Portland Track Festival, running two 5,000 meter races in 13:19 and 13:58 less than an hour apart.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- It's been almost 11 years since Dathan Ritzenhein capped his high school career by running 8:44.43 in the tw0-mile at AOC Outdoor Nationals.

The product of Rockford, Mich. helped launch a resurgence in American high school distance running (along with Alan Webb) and the feat he pulled off Saturday night at the Portland Track Festival showed he still has what it takes to inspire.

Ritzenhein ran a 5,000/5,000 double about a half hour apart (a women's 5,000 was held between the two races). He ran 13:19.76 in the A section race the turned around and ran 13:58.68 in the B section race.

Whether it was a race plus a workout, or the whole thing was a workout, was a matter of semantics. Ritz showed that he is ready for the upcoming U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, where he will enter the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. And his star power has not diminished. After the first race a group of boys from North Central (Spokane, Wash.) edged closer to Ritzenhein as he pulled on his warmups, just to get an up-close look at him.

"The plan was to get in the fast 5K and run relaxed and then concentrate on the last lap," Ritzenhein said. "Then come back and run 14 minutes as a workout."

Ritzenhein said it was the first time he'd "doubled" since college -- and even then it wasn't back-to-back 5,000s.

Ritzenhein's real achievement over the past year has been overcoming adversity and having the patience and persistence to build back up again. In 2011, Ritzenhein underwent surgery on his Achilles tendon and then suffered a post-operative infection. The combination put his running career in jeopardy.

"Last year was a nightmare. It was awful," Ritzenhein said. "I've been healthy now for 11 months and I'm happy to be able to be back at it again."

But Ritzenhein healed and began training again. In January of this year he competed at the U.S. Olympic marathon trials and placed fourth, missing a slot for the London Games. This spring, everything is pointed toward making a third Olympic team in the 5,000, the 10,000 -- or both.

Alberto Salazar, Ritzenhein's coach, called the first race of the night "a tune-up" for the Trials, with an emphasis on accelerating at the end. The second race fell into place because of where it fit on the meet schedule. Rather than go do a five-mile tempo somewhere in the dark of night, the second 5K offered a chance to run a controlled effort.

"Coming back (from the marathon) the focus is on the track right now," Ritzenhein said. "I'm enjoying being out here competing."