Published: Sept. 1, 2012 By

ritzenheim running

Dathan Ritzenhein (Hist’06), once the American record holder in the 5K, is a three-time Olympian. CU has had more than 70 Buffs compete in the Olympics.

It could have been the lasting image of Dathan Ritzenhein (Hist’06) for this Olympic year.

The former CU running standout finishing fourth in the January 2012 U.S. Olympic marathon trials in Houston, ending up a mere eight seconds behind the third and final competitor to qualify for the London Games.

As USA Today reported, Ritzenhein “sobbed in the finish area while his coach, the former great marathoner Alberto Salazar, comforted him.”

But “Ritz” wouldn’t let his quest for a third consecutive Olympic berth end like that.

“Just missing it was a hard pill to swallow,” says the 2003 NCAA cross country champion. “When I was fourth, it was only by eight seconds. Eight seconds in the marathon is like leaning at the tape in a track race.”

Despite the heartbreak of not qualifying for the Olympic marathon 3 1/2 years after being the top American finisher in the event at the 2008 Beijing Games (ninth), Ritzenhein regrouped in a hurry to gear up for Plan B.

And what a Plan B it turned out to be.

Ritzenhein turned his attention to the 10,000 meters, a race he ran — but didn’t finish — at the 2004 Olympics where he competed with the aftereffects of a broken foot. At the rainy Olympic track and field trials race in Eugene, Ore., in late June, he punched his ticket for London by finishing third and achieving the Olympic “A” standard with a time of 27:36.09.

“I have the utmost respect” for Ritzenhein and race winner Galen Rupp, says Matt Tegenkamp, who finished between the two. “Dathan, with the pressure, knew he had to get the standard and get going after it from the gun.”

This time, there was a much different image for Ritzenhein followers to remember.

According to the Eugene Register-Guard, “as he left the track and headed toward the awards stand, Ritzenhein reached across a barrier for a long embrace with his wife, Kalin, and their 4-year-old daughter, Addison.”

It was quite an accomplishment for Ritzenhein, a three-time USA cross country champion. Not only did he bounce back from the marathon trials disappointment, but he did so a year after two potentially career-threatening Achilles surgeries.

That’s why the marathon trials result “was kind of devastating because I had a very rough year last year,” Ritzenhein says.

But that made earning an Olympic berth all the more satisfying.

“There were hard parts, especially early on, because that (track) speed was so far removed from the training I had done and because of the injuries and the surgeries that I had,” he says. “So everything really had to come together, and I had to stay really positive. That was hard at times.”

Some athletes dream of competing in one Olympics. To be a three-time Olympian before turning 30 is particularly gratifying.

“The thing about the Olympics is it supersedes whatever sport you’re in,” Ritzenhein says. “There are no other events that really do that. It breaks the realm of just running, and people are watching from all walks of life.”

And, to be sure, there are plenty of sacrifices made along the way. A typical week for Ritzenhein involves running 110 miles or so and spending hours on end in the weight room, doing therapy and getting recovery-related massages. All told, Ritzenhein estimates he averages five to six hours per day in training-related activities.

Ritzenhein’s family knows well what’s entailed. After all, his wife is Kalin Toedebusch(Psych’06), a former All-American cross country runner at CU, and his two kids have grown up immersed in the sport.

“It is really a lifestyle,” says Ritzenhein, who has lived in the Portland, Ore., area for the last three years. “There are no holidays. There are no weekends. Every day is training . . . Even on Christmas day, you do two runs or you do a hard workout.”