The U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, scheduled for Saturday morning in Houston, will include a healthy sample of Maine.

Sheri Piers of Falmouth, Kristin Barry of Scarborough, Erica Jesseman of Scarborough and Gladys Ganiel O’Neill, a Harrington native and graduate of Narraguagas High who now lives in Ireland, all plan to run Saturday morning through the streets of the nation’s fourth-largest city.

This will be the second Olympic Trials for Piers, 40, and Barry, 38. It’s the first for Jesseman, 22, and O’Neill, 35.

“I think I feel more relaxed this time,” said Piers, whose qualifying time of 2 hours, 37 minutes, 24 seconds made her one of 45 women to meet the Olympic “A” standard, resulting in an expense-paid trip to Houston for the trials. “Obviously, there’s no pressure. I just want to have a good time.”

Piers spoke before boarding a flight with Jesseman Thursday afternoon to Texas. Barry had taken an earlier flight and Ganiels already was in Austin, the capital of Texas.

“It should be a great weekend,” said Piers, who has trained with Barry and Jesseman for the event. “And I’m happy to be doing this with Kristin and Erica. It’s kind of a special thing for us.”

The women’s race is scheduled to start at 9:15 a.m. For the first time, the men’s U.S. Olympic Trials are being held in the same city, on the same day. The men’s race will begin at 9 a.m.

NBC-TV plans same-day coverage of the trials from 3 to 5 Saturday afternoon. Prize money of $250,000 is available in each race, plus bonuses. Each individual champion will earn $50,000.

The men’s field includes Olympians Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi and Dathan Ritzenhein. Headlining the women’s field are Desiree Davila, Kara Goucher, Magdalena Lewy Boulet, Deena Kastor and Shalane Flanagan.

The top three finishers in each race, barring unusual circumstances, will represent the United States in the 2012 Olympics in London.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, the 1984 gold medalist from Freeport, said, “The only one I would be shocked about if she didn’t make the team is Shalane Flanagan. I think it’s wide open.”

Probably not wide enough to include any of the Maine runners, whose sights are set more on personal bests.

Barry, now fully recovered from knee surgery in April, enters the race with mixed emotions.

“A year ago, I couldn’t run at all,” she said. “So in one sense, I’ll be so happy to be on the starting line. But then, this is not the me I wanted on the starting line. I imagine it’s my last one, so I’ll run the best I can.”

Physically, “the machine is healthy,” Barry said, “but the engine, I don’t know. We’ll see how it holds up.”

For Jesseman, the marathon is only the second of her career. She qualified by winning October’s Hartford Marathon in 2:45:00.

“I think Erica is really, really excited about it,” Barry said. “She wasn’t sure what to expect with that first marathon, and then to qualify right out of the gate, she’s probably feeling overwhelmed, happy and excited. I know for a goal she’d like to try to run under 2:40.”

Barry met the “B” standard with a 2:40:38 at the 2010 Arizona Marathon. O’Neill did likewise at the 2011 London Marathon with a 2:41:22.

Saturday’s course begins with a 2.2-mile loop followed by three 8-mile loops, similar to the layout in London.

“I think they’re all ready to go,” said Samuelson, who, as an Olympic medalist, could have chosen to run, but instead is in Houston as something of an ambassador for the sport. “I certainly think (Jesseman) has huge potential and I think Sheri and Kristin are experienced enough to finish in the top third (of the field). Weather conditions (little wind, temperatures around 40) will be great for them, based on the weather we’ve had in Maine.”

Yarmouth natives Susannah Beck and Patrick Tarpy and North Yarmouth native Ben True also qualified for the marathon trials — with times in the marathon, half marathon and 10,000 meters, respectively — but elected not to participate.

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH

 


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