Fiona O’Keeffe beats Emily Sisson and Dakotah Lindwurm in women’s race as Conner Mantz and Clayton Young finish ahead of Leonard Korir in the men’s event
The much-anticipated US Olympic Marathon Trials lived up to expectations on Saturday (Feb 3) with Fiona O’Keeffe winning the women’s race on her debut at the distance while training partners Conner Mantz and Clayton Young finished one-two in the men’s event.
Racing under bright blue skies on a sunny and increasingly warm morning in Orlando, Florida, some athletes bloomed in the testing conditions while others dramatically wilted.
As O’Keeffe stormed home in 2:22:10, US record-holder Emily Sisson was runner-up in 2:22:42 as Dakotah Lindwurm proved a surprise package by taking the third and final place in the women’s team for the Paris Olympics in 2:25:31.
Young appeared to let his friend Mantz take victory in the men’s race by one second in 2:09:05. Behind, Leonard Korir, who was fourth in the US trial for the 2021 Tokyo Games, won a dramatic race for third in 2:09:57. Due to the intricacies of Olympic selection, though, Korir does not yet know if he has a definite place in this summer’s Games.
Just missing out in the men’s race were Elkanah Kibet (2:10:02), CJ Albertson (2:10:07) and Zach Panning (2:10:50), the latter being the long-time leader before fading out of contention in the final two miles.
Similarly, Jessica McClain (2:25:46), Sara Hall (2:26:06) and Caroline Rotich (2:26:10) finished in fourth to sixth places. In tough conditions, though, Galen Rupp, the 2016 Olympic bronze medallist in the marathon, finished only 16th while a number of top contenders did not finish at all such as 2020 women’s trials winner Aliphine Tuliamuk, Scott Fauble, Betsy Saina, Jenny Simpson, Paul Chelimo and Sam Chelanga to name just a few.
“It means a tonne,” said Mantz. “I’m just really grateful to be out here. Every mile I was telling myself ‘I’m running this mile for my dad’ and ‘I’m running this mile for my mum’ and ‘I’m running this mile for Clayton and my old team-mates’ and then I ran the last mile for my wife.”
Young was only 136th in the last US Marathon Trials and said: “The underdog mentality suits me well. If you had me out of your top three then I’m there now and I forgive you all. Let’s go to Paris! We’re sending the best team with Conner and Lenny Korir and a big shout out to Zach Panning, who led most of the way, plus our coach Ed Eyestone.”
The races started at just after 10am with 200 men and 149 women in contention. Temperatures were around 18-19C but rising steadily as sizeable crowds gathered. “For Florida these conditions are optimal,” Joan Benoit, the 1984 Olympic marathon champion, said.
The event was only broadcast in the US – live on Peacock with delayed coverage on NBC – and had been receiving huge hype in recent days from the US running media.
As the men set off cautiously, the women’s race saw a more honest pace with Sisson pushing it in front of a big pack.
The men passed halfway in 64:07 with the women going through 13.1 miles in 71:43. Soon after the lead groups in each race began to splinter.
At 17 miles Rupp dropped off the pace as Panning was stretching things out relentlessly. Wearing a yellow cap and sunglasses, Panning was responsible for much of the work in the second half of the race, eventually breaking away with just Mantz and Young on his heels.
Ultimately, though, Mantz went past him 22 miles with Young following and despite hanging on bravely he was eventually overtaken by firstly Kibet and then the strong-finishing Korir. “After finishing fourth last time, I told myself I really needed to make the team this time,” said Korir.
The women’s race saw O’Keeffe’s first big attempt to breakaway at around 17 miles fail before another further move at 19 miles saw her burst clear decisively. From then on she seemed full of running as she realised she was heading toward trials glory.
The crowd was denied a shoot-out between Mantz and Young, though, as Young seemingly let Mantz take the win as the duo just missed out on breaking the 2:09:02 trials record held by Ryan Hall. Such was their confidence, the duo high-fived each other through a water station with seven miles to go when Panning was still leading.
Young didn’t seem to care about finishing runner-up to Mantz either. After throwing away his cap at 23 miles he spent part of the remaining three miles increasingly waving to the crowd and show-boating as selection for Paris became a certainty.
O’Keeffe came home alone in a trials record to produce an upset ahead of favourite Sisson. “I had to pinch myself with about eight miles to go and just tried to stay focused on the running and go back to the feeling of workouts that I’d done,” said O’Keeffe.
Sisson added: “I feel so emotional today after making my second Olympic team in front of lots of friends and family here today.”
Lindwurm said: “I was just calling on the Lord in those final four miles and praying that I could do it. I’m such an underdog and feel so blessed to be here. I’m still in awe but I had this undeniable belief in myself.”
“I think we’ll be ready to rock and roll in Paris,” added O’Keeffe.
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