The road to the U.S. Olympics ended in Houston for Fernando Cabada, but not before he signaled his return to the elite class of American long distance runners.
The 29-year-old Cabada -- a Buchanan High School graduate who now lives and trains in Boulder, Colorado -- ran a personal-best 2 hours, 11 minutes and 53 seconds to finish seventh.
"To wake up today and know that I'm a 2:11 marathoner feels great," said Cabada during a Monday telephone interview from San Antonio where he spent time with a childhood friend. "This was probably the strongest U.S. marathon trials in history."
The race -- won by 36-year-old Meb Keflezighi in 2:09:08 -- generated five of the top 10 times in Olympic trials history.
Cabada knew by the 8th mile, when he was 22nd place and 1 minute, 19 seconds behind the leaders, that he would not finish in the top three and earn a ticket to the London Summer Olympics.
"I executed my plan," said Cabada, who earned $7,000 for seventh place. "The race went out fast, and I had to be conservative.
"It would have been stupid for me to try to beat everyone in the first 20 miles."
The course, a triple loop around downtown Houston, had several 180-degree turns that made it difficult for runners, said Cabada.
"It kind of messed up our momentum," said Cabada, who hopes to run a marathon in Boston or Europe this spring.
Cabada, who was in 22nd place midway through the marathon, gradually moved up by maintaining a pace that hovered between 4:52 and 5:08 per mile.
Cabada chatted with runners close to him.
"Look, our dreams of making the Olympics are over, but we can still make PR (personal record) and make some money," recalled Cabada.
Cabada hit the wall at mile 25. He covered the last two miles in 5:15 and 5:18.
"At that point, I didn't care if I got passed," said Cabada, who found enough energy and incentive to maintain the seventh-place he reached after the 23rd mile.
"At mile 23, I passed the 10th- and 9th-place runners, and I knew that would be $5,000," said Cabada, whose childhood of poverty has driven him to earn money to help himself and his family.
Only the top 10 runners got prize money.
Cabada got more than that.
"Honestly, I feel like I'm a 14-year-old kid all over again and in high school," said Cabada, who plans to visit Fresno in a few weeks for training. "I know I have 4-6 years left. I haven't even hit my prime yet
"I know what I'm made of. It's just going up from here."
Cabada wants to break the 2:11 marathon mark, because that is where the money is. He hopes a sponsor will pick up him based on Sunday's finish.
Cabada has heard suggestions from friends that he represent México in the Olympics, a possibility because his grandparents are Mexican. The fastest Mexican marathoner, Carlos Cordero, has a time of 2:13:13, under the Olympic qualifying standard of 2:15.
Cabada won't do that, however.
"This is my country. This is América," he said.
"This is where I was born and raised, and where I need to represent," said Cabada, who noted he doesn't speak Spanish.
Still, Cabada remains proud of his Mexican roots and culture.
Cabada was the first Latino of 10 to finish Sunday's marathon.
Turlock's Miguel Nuci was in 100th place after mile 15 when he dropped out almost 8 minutes behind the leaders.
Desiree Dávila second
In the women's race, Chula Vista's Desiree Dávila qualified for her first Olympics with a second-place finish of 2:25:55.
Dávila, 28, traded the lead with eventual winner Shalane Flanagan (2:25:38) throughout the race.
"Going into the last mile it was kind of this internal conflict where I really wanted to make a push and see what I had left," said Dávila, who came into the race seeded No. 1 based on her second-place finish at the Boston Marathon.
Dávila knew that Kara Goucher -- who finished third in 2:26:06 -- was right behind her and that fourth-place finisher Amy Hastings had made huge surges throughout the race.
"I couldn't assume that (Hastings) had been dropped," said Dávila. "My calves were just cramping up and ultimately I was like, finish it off and get the job done.
"I didn't have enough confidence in being able to catch Shalane and I didn't want to lose the spot I had."
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