NEW YORK -- Elite distance runner Ryan Shay, who collapsed
and died Saturday during the U.S. men's marathon Olympic trials,
had been diagnosed with an enlarged heart but cleared by doctors,
his father said.
"The thing that made him such a great runner may have killed
him," Joe Shay told The Associated Press.
An enlarged heart like Ryan's is most commonly found in
drinkers, smokers or people who are overweight, the father said.
But it also translated into extra endurance -- crucial for a
Ryan and other top athletes underwent medical testing in
Flagstaff, Ariz., where he trained, last spring, Joe Shay said, and
he was cleared for running.
"He said the doctors told him that because your heart rate is
so low, when you're older you may need a pacemaker to make
adjustments on that," said Joe Shay, adding his son first was
diagnosed with a larger than normal heart at age 14.
Scientists long have noticed the phenomenon of the "athlete's
heart.'' Athletes who train hard in aerobic sports, such as
cycling, running or swimming, tend to have a bigger heart that
pumps more blood throughout the body.
The 28-year-old Ryan Shay collapsed about 5½ miles into the
"I got a call that Ryan had fallen down ... then I got another
call that his heart had stopped," Joe Shay said.
The medical examiner's office said an autopsy will be performed
What was supposed to be a glorious weekend for the sport became
instead a wake. That somber mood is sure to carry over to Sunday's
New York City Marathon, in which 38,000 runners will compete.
"It's a big loss for the running community," said 2004 Olympic
women's marathon bronze medalist Deena Kastor, who used to train
with Shay in California. "It's a day we should be celebrating. It
has cast a pall."
Shay and Ryan Hall and their wives had hoped to celebrate
together after the trials. Now Hall is dedicating his race at the
Olympics to Shay.
Minutes after Hall crossed the finish line first in record time,
his arms raised in triumph, he heard the unthinkable news.
Shay was one of Hall's former training partners, and Shay's wife
was Hall's teammate at Stanford.
"That just cut me straight to the heart," Hall said. "It
makes you forget what you just did."
Organizers had decided to pair the trials with the storied
annual marathon, hoping the timing would attract large crowds. The
plan worked, as fans fought gusty wind to line the compact
26.2-mile course, which began in Rockefeller Center and traipsed
through Times Square before heading to Central Park for five loops.
They witnessed a potentially historic day for American marathon
running. Hall, a 25-year-old who had never raced the distance
before April, established himself as a contender in Beijing, with a
trials record time of 2 hours, 9 minutes, 2 seconds. Joining him in
China will be Dathan Ritzenhein (2:11:07) and Brian Sell (2:11:40).
Meb Keflezighi, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist, was hobbled by
cramps in both calves and fell back to eighth.
Shay hit the ground near the Central Park boathouse, a popular
Manhattan tourist spot.
"He crossed right in front of me and stepped off the course,"
said runner Marc Jeuland of Chapel Hill, N.C., who did not see Shay
collapse. "He nearly tripped me."
A statement from USA Track & Field said Shay immediately
received CPR. He was taken to Lenox Hill Hospital, where he was
pronounced dead on arrival at 8:46 a.m., according to New York City
A recreational runner died during last month's Chicago Marathon,
the warmest in that event's history. But the death of an elite
athlete during a major competition is a rare and startling
On Friday, Hall and his wife, Sara, and Shay and his wife,
Alicia, went for a run in Central Park. Shay seemed fine, Sara Hall
The Halls and Alicia were college teammates. Sara Hall considers
Alicia one of her closest friends; she was a bridesmaid at the
Shays' wedding in July.
It was in New York two years ago while watching the NYC marathon
that Shay met his future wife. Alicia, who's hoping to make it to
Beijing in the women's 10,000, was a two-time NCAA champion and the
collegiate 10,000-meter record-holder while running as Alicia Craig
At the 2004 Olympic men's marathon trials, Shay was a favorite
going in but was hampered by a hamstring strain and finished 23rd.
Shay was born May 4, 1979, in Ann Arbor, Mich., the fifth of
eight children in a running family. His parents are the cross
country and track coaches at Michigan's Central Lake High School.
"He achieved through hard work and effort goals and dreams that
most people will never realize," Joe Shay said. "He was a
champion, a winner and a good person. ... He used to say, 'Dad,
there's a lot of guys out there with a lot more talent than me, but
they will never outwork me.' "
At Notre Dame, Shay earned a national
individual track title with his victory in the NCAA 10,000 meters.
Shay went on to become a five-time national road racing champion,
winning the 2003 U.S. marathon, 2003 and 2004 half-marathon, 2004
20k and 2005 15k.
A moment of silence was observed for Shay, as well as for the
recently slain brother of a Notre Dame football player, before Navy
played Notre Dame in South Bend., Ind.
He trained in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., with the Halls, Keflezighi
and Kastor before moving to Flagstaff, Ariz.
"If you probably asked him if there was any way he wanted to
go, it was out on the race course," said Terrence Mahon, who
coached him in Mammoth.
Abdi Abdirahman, who dropped out of the marathon because of
injury, trained with Shay for the past 3½ months in Flagstaff.
"I'm speechless. I still don't believe it," he said. "I
probably was the last person to talk to him. We ate breakfast
together, we ate lunch together, went to bed at the same time."
For Hall, Saturday culminated a reluctant route to the marathon.
Neither Hall nor the second-place finisher, the 24-year-old
Ritzenhein, had run a marathon as of a year ago. Saturday marked
the second career race at the distance for both.
Hall broke away from the leading pack of five runners at about
the 17th mile Saturday. He looked relaxed and fresh the entire race
and was pumping his fist and bellowing over the final miles.
Too soon, those bellows became hushed words of shock and
sympathy for Shay.
"He was a tremendous champion who was here today to pursue his
dreams," said Craig Masback, CEO of USA Track & Field. "The
Olympic trials is traditionally a day of celebration, but we are