Olympic Trials and tribulations of Jeff Weiss

March 23, 2014
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Photo courtesy of Ella Studios
McGuffey High School graduate Jeff Weiss, shown at the 2011 Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis-St. Paul, qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the marathon for the second time.
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Photo courtesy of Slippery Rock University
Jeff Weiss won PIAA championships in track and cross county at McGuffey before embarking on an All-America career at Slippery Rock.

Jeff Weiss chases his dreams one step at a time.

The reason he’s so successful doing so is because his steps are much faster than most others.

The 27-year-old Weiss, a 2005 graduate of McGuffey High School and 2009 Slippery Rock University alumnus, qualified for the Olympic Trials last Sunday when he blistered the 13.1-mile half-marathon course in Virginia Beach, Va., with a personal-best 1:04.47.

His time was 13 seconds under the qualifying time of 1:05.00 for the U.S. Olympic Trials, which will be held in Los Angeles in March of 2016. He also shaved 53 seconds from his previous best half-marathon time.

“I’m relieved it’s over,” said Weiss. “The pressure is over.”

This is the second time Weiss qualified for the Olympic Trials. In October of 2011, Weiss crossed the finish line of the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis-St. Paul in ninth place with a time of 2:17:22, well within the qualifying time of 2:19:00.

But the short turnaround time took its toll. Weiss competed in the trial in Houston three months later and finished 81st in the 84-man field.

“It was not a good race,” Weiss said. “I did crappy training, but it was a good experience. This time, I have time to build up for the race (in Los Angeles).”

Weiss took advantage of the relatively flat course at Virginia Beach, quite a difference from the hills of Western Pennsylvania and now Ravenswood, W.Va., where he is a middle school health teacher. He takes some refuge by crossing the bridge that spans over the Ohio River and connects Ravenswood to Portland, Ohio, which offers flatter courses to train.

“It’s easier on my body,” Weiss said. “You don’t realize just how hilly Western Pennsylvania is until you run someplace else. Physically, I’m more mature now. Geography has helped a ton (in Virginia Beach).”

Like nearly every race now, a large clock guards the finish lines of these type of races, so Weiss had a good idea how close he was to hitting the Olympic qualifying time.

“I was never on the course before,” said Weiss. “I knew it would be flat, being it was Virginia Beach. I was worried about the windiness. Mile 7-to-9 was the worst because that’s where the headwinds were.”

Weiss knew he was on a qualifying pace, but then fear overtook him.

“The final approach is a little deceiving,” he said. “You could see the finish area, and it appeared to be about 400 yards away. But it ended up being a little further. I didn’t want to be the guy who ran 1:05.05, and miss it be five seconds.”

Kenya’s Kiprono Kurgat won the race in 1:04.23 and Morocco’s Mohamed Fail took second in 1:04.24.

Weiss prepared for this race the way he trains for all running events: on his own.

“I would say 90 percent of the time, I’m on my own,” he said. “Sometimes, a college kid will come down and run with me. There is a guy from Marshall who runs with me sometimes, too.”

Sometimes, his wife, Megan, gives it a go, but most of the time Weiss is alone with his thoughts. He was surprised, however, how many people in Ravenswood, a town of about 4,000 where his wife grew up, knew about his accomplishment.

“I’m not someone who is going to announce it,” he said. “Social media is another thing. No one down here knows where Slippery Rock is, but there is Instagram and Facebook. People have been great to me here.”

The 2016 trial is held on the same weekend of the Los Angeles Marathon, the trial on Saturday, the marathon Sunday. Weiss expects he will compete with between 110 and 130 runners for the three spots available.

“Los Angeles will be my Super Bowl,” Weiss said. “The chances of me making the team are low, but anything is possible. I think I can crack the top 30 or top 25. We’ll just see what happens.

“I know this. I will make sure I am ready.”

Joe Tuscano has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1980. He has covered all sports for the newspaper, including the Steelers, Pirates, Pitt football, local college football and wrestling. He has worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Jeannette News-Dispatch and North Hills Record. He graduated from Duquesne University in 1980.

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