As I watch the women's marathon, it occurs to me that, more than any other event, The marathon's absence would make the Olympics seem like the Olympics light. Here, to finish first one must first finish. As I watch Dina Caster from the U.S. drop out from a foot injury, and the favorite Paula Ratcliffe from Britain, from the last Olympics collapsing in an emotional heap a scant 4 miles from the finish, suddenly the idea that Michael Phelps' run in with a pair of leaky goggles was anything close to being worthy of the term "courageous" seems ludicrous. Try to imagine Phelps (who has indeed earned his superstar status), a few meters from the finish, breaking down physically or emotionally and being unable to get there on his own power, and you start understanding what sets the marathon apart.
The marathon is everything the Olympics should be, courage, training, athletic ability, dedication, discipline, and passion. There are no judges to award victory based on frivolous aesthetics, no referees to soil the competition with amateurish errors, and no rules so complicated an interested viewer could watch the entire competition and have no idea who won. It is the runners, and the course, and little else. It has the most romantic story associated with it, and of course the most interesting history of how it came to be the distance it is.
Long live the marathon, and a toast to everyone who competes in it.