Hey now! Just because we haven’t won Olympic Gold every single year doesn’t mean we’re poor overall. Frank Shorter, 1972 winner, got the silver in 1976, and a teammate finished fourth in both 1972 and 1976. At this Olympics we walked away with a silver and a bronze.
Downfalls for U.S. marathoners have been at varying times poor showings from world class runners or just good runners being outclassed by stellar runners from other nations, cough Kenya cough cough. In 1984, for instance, Alberto Salazar was the world record holder, but his Olympic place was a mere 15th. Between then and now we’ve just hit sort of a slump; when you have the 100 or so best runners from all the 6 billion people on the planet competing once every four years or so it’s just going to happen occasionally.
Times fluctuate a great deal between marathoners from one race to the next, as they did with Salazar. This year in the trials the American men came in first, second, and third with the fastest finishing times in trials since 1984, but in the Olympic race the first place trials finisher, Alan Culpepper, came in 12th. Some world class atheletes never win the gold. Grete Waitz (Norway) won the NYC Marathon 9 times but only one Olympic silver. Bill Rodgers (U.S.) won the NYC and Boston marathons four times each but never won any Olympic medal at all.
This is true in other sports, too. A guy who I office with is the former No. 1 ranked pole vaulter in the world; he once held all four indoor and all four outdoor NAIA titles, set seven indoor records, and was the first person to ever clear 19 feet. However, between boycotts, injuries, and just plain bad luck, he never medaled at the Olympics. C’est la vie.