Not long ago, Ryan Hall was seen as the future for American distance running. Hall would be the one to deliver Olympic medals, win major marathons and break up the East African dominance of all distance events. For a while, Hall carried the weight of American hopes well.
After running an American record in the half marathon, becoming the fastest American-born marathoner and dominating the 2008 Olympic Trials, expectations for Hall were justifiably high.
It seemed only a matter of time before Hall would break through and deliver a major victory.
Now, over three years after Hall's magical performance at the Olympic Trials, there has been no victory. There have been high placings, certainly, but Hall has failed to truly contend for a victory.
At the Olympics, Hall was not a threat, choosing to race from the back of the pack, gradually moving up to a 10th place finish. In light of all of the pre-race hype, this was not the performance Americans expected of Hall.
It seemed Hall was more content hitting splits than racing. Hall was still young, however, there would be more chances to win a marathon.
Hall has not won a major marathon since the Olympic Trials. He has placed highly at the Boston and New York City Marathons, but again in these races, did not seem a true threat to win the race. Again, Hall seemed more concerned with looking at his watch than racing.
At Boston last year, Hall stuck to his race plan, taking the lead early in the race when the pack was not running his desired pace.
Marathons are not won by hitting splits in the opening miles. The first five miles of a marathon are of little consequence if you cannot face the pain of the last five.
Hall did not go with the leaders when they surged late in the race. American Meb Keflizighi tried to stick with the leaders. Hall ultimately placed higher than Keflizighi, but that hardly mattered. Meb stuck his nose in the race, while Hall seemed to be out for a glorified tempo run.
After the race, Hall showed little emotion, and seemed happy that he had executed his race plan. This was hardly easy to take for American running fans. This was the runner we had pinned our hopes to?
Hall needs to take a look at Kara Goucher's 2009 Boston performance. After seriously contending for the victory, Goucher broke down in tears after the race. Her passion showed Americans that she wanted to, and probably expected to win.
Hall certainly wants to win, but right now, it does not seem like it is his top priority. He seems more concerned with running set times.
Until Americans see Hall hanging with the Kenyans and Ethiopians in the last 10-K of a marathon, they will continue to be disappointed.
Feeding the disappointment and doubt has been Hall's strange and frustrating past year.
Hall pulled out of the Chicago Marathon this fall. Shortly after pulling out of Chicago, Hall parted ways with coach Terrence Mahon. What followed were a series of blog entries, that left Americans seriously questioning Hall's commitment and desire to compete at the highest level.
Hall has always been up front about the role his faith has in his life, and his STEPS Foundation has always consumed much of his time, but these things have never seemed to affect his training. Now, it seemed they were. Hall stated that prayer would now help shape his training.
Hall is now self-coached, and the results have been far from great. He did not run well in the New York City Half Marathon which left many questioning his decision to leave his coach. Expectations for Hall at Boston this year are considerably lower than in the past. No one knows how Hall will perform.
With the men in green and black of the Oregon Track Club running so well, Ryan Hall no longer carries the hope of the American running community. That load now falls on Chris Solinsky and Galen Rupp.
Maybe Hall was never meant to carry the hopes of an entire country. Not everyone can handle that kind of pressure.
With a good performance this year at Boston, Hall can quiet the whispers and doubters who question his passion and commitment.