Tuesday, January 16, 2024

A User’s Guide to the 2024 US Olympic Team Trials Marathon Trials

Article by Rabbi Benjamin David

A rabbi is writing about the Olympic Trials? Well, yes.  As a longtime runner and ardent fan of the sport, I am super excited about the rapidly approaching marathon trials in Orlando . In this article, I will analyze and give my odds for a total of 70 top men and women who will be toeing line on February 3. I have divided the main players into a series of groupings based on how likely I feel they are to make the team.

A few words before we got to the preview itself: To me, the event that is the marathon trials feels like the most cut-throat race in sports: One singular day to be at your best and earn your way to the Olympic Games.

While they’ve lost some appeal, the Olympics still hold allure in a world that often feels quite jaded. The modern Olympic Games, now more than a century old, are about the world coming together, athletes from every corner of the globe uniting us for two fleeting weeks. At a time when we are as divided as ever, even a brief period of unity is certainly welcome and needed. To be clear, in running, a sport without a Super Bowl or World Series, the Olympics are the absolute pinnacle. 

I attended the trials for the first time in 2007, when it was held in Central Park, and marveled at the high-stakes nature of the race: the top three punch their ticket to the Olympics; everyone else goes home with their dreams (at least temporarily) shattered. That year, on a cold November Saturday, Ryan Hall coasted to a decisive win; gritty performances by Dathan Ritzenhein and Brian Sell clinched the second and third spots. (The women’s event would be held in the spring in Boston). This was the same race that saw the tragic death of Ryan Shay, a running hero to many of us. The emotion and spirit of the day were breathtakingly real. I found myself instantly inspired, deeply moved and rather obsessed.

Work commitments precluded my ability to attend in 2012 in Houston, though I watched on TV as six fantastic runners earned their way to the London games (and many others went home with no shortage of regret and disappointment). In 2016, when the event was held in Los Angeles, I was in the process of battling cancer. I do, however, remember watching from the couch, depleted and worn out. I was so taken by those gunning for a top spot as well as those who, without professional contracts, had managed to qualify for the trials and toe the line with the country’s best. This was Galen Rupp’s first marathon and his announcement to the world that he was as much a force on the roads as he had been on the track. (He would go on to win the bronze on the streets of Rio that summer). Amy (Hastings) Cragg, who had finished an agonizing fourth in Houston, redeemed herself by winning the women’s race in L.A. All three U.S. women would place in the top ten in Rio. 

Four years ago, in late February 2020, my brother and I flew down to Atlanta to watch the race in person. On a brisk, windy day, Galen Rupp, Jacob Riley and Abdi Abdirahman earned their way to Tokyo (though they’d have to wait another year for the Olympics due to the pandemic). Aliphine Tuliamuk, Molly Seidel and Sally Kipyego won on the women’s side. Both races proved that these marathons are seriously hard to predict. Abdi was forty-three years old on race day(!) Molly Seidel was running her first-ever marathon(!) Many of the favorites went home empty-handed.

Two final points before unpacking this year’s event:

  1. The qualifying standard for the U.S. marathon trials is 2:18 for the men and 2:37 for the women. (Men could also qualify by running a sub-1:03 half marathon; women could do the same with a sub-1:12 half marathon). The criteria to actually stand on the starting line at the Olympics is far more complex. In short, your country must have someone do one of the following to run the marathon in Paris: Place in the top 5 of a Platinum Label Marathon (I.e. one of the World Major Marathons), run a marathon under 2:08:10 / 2:26:50, be in the top 65 in the world rankings in the marathon (with a limit of three athletes per country) as long as you have run under 2:11:30 / 2:29:30. Confused? Me too. Because, for instance, the U.S. men only have two men that have run the 2:08 standard as of now, there are currently only two men’s spots available. The third would be acquired if/when the final world ranking is announced (not until May) and the U.S. has someone high enough on the list. The women have already unlocked their three available spots. 

  1. The start time of this year’s trials have been a major issue. After it was announced that the marathon in Orlando would begin at noon, there was significant chatter regarding the heat and risk it would cause the athletes. After much advocacy, a petition and some public pressure, the start time has officially been moved to 10AM. Will this help certain athletes and hinder others? We’ll see. 

Without further ado, here is my somewhat educated, relatively thorough, fairly subjective guide to this year’s race (with shoe association in parenthesis):


Virtual Locks:

On the men’s side, I can (almost) guarantee that at least two of the following will make the team:

Galen Rupp - won the trials in 2016 and 2020, bronze medal in the marathon at the Rio Olympics, has won the Chicago and Prague Marathon, ran a somewhat pedestrian 1:04 at the Houston Marathon this January in the midst of heavy marathon training, his last few marathons have not been stellar but it’s very hard to bet against him, under new coaching since Alberto Salazar, his previous coach, was banned for the sport for doping violations and sexual misconduct (Nike)

Connor Mantz - BYU graduate, coached by the legendary Ed Eyestone, was top American at the Chicago Marathon in October (beating Rupp among others), is a true rising star in American distance running, comes in with expectations on his shoulders (Nike)

Clayton Young - also a BYU graduate, trains with Mantz, very humble, very gritty, was second American at Chicago in October, less than a minute behind Mantz, seems to improve with every race, will conceivably stay by Mantz’s side in Orlando (Asics)

Scott Fauble - has been at the forefront of American running for a decade, has been top American at Boston, left the Hoka NAZ training group to run with Team Boss in Colorado (alongside Emma Bates, Emma Coburn and others), now sponsored by Nike, master of all things burrito, the difficult course and conditions in Orlando could favor him (Nike)

Futsum Zienasellasie - still a kind of ‘sleeper’ pick in spite of the 2:09 he ran in Rotterdam in the spring, won CIM in 2022, trains with NAZ Elite in Flagstaff, will almost certainly be top 5 if having a good day

On the Cusp:

I would not be surprised if at least one of the following made the team:

CJ Albertson - known for less traditional training and an even less traditional racing schedule (he ran two marathons in seven days in December), won CIM, known for pushing the pace as he did in Boston in 2021 where he led through 20 miles, holds the world record in the 50K, has been training for Orlando’s weather by running on a treadmill in front of heat lamps (Brooks)

Sam Chelanga - has seemingly been on the professional running circuit forever, holds the NCAA record in the 10,000, ran his PR of 2:08 at Chicago in October, ran 1:03 at the Houston half just now, at 38 years-old this could be his last shot, has been training in Utah with Connor, Clayton and Jared (Nike)

Reed Fisher - runs with Tinman Elite in Colorado, if healthy he would be a factor but that’s a big IF, recently dropped out of the NYC Marathon with a calf injury, ran 2:10 in Boston in 2022 (Adidas)

Biya Simbassa - ran 2:10 in Prague in the spring, has a speedy half marathon PR of 1:00:37, beat a number of big names at the Houston half marathon just now, could be a good sleeper pick

Elkanah Kibet - another runner who has been a contender for a long time at virtually every distance, ran his PR of 2:09 in Boston in 2022, was 11th at the NYC Marathon in November

Leonard Korir - was achingly close to making the team at the 2020 trials, finishing three second behind Jacob Riley, made the 10K team in 2016, has run 2:07 for the marathon, 59:52 for the half, he’ll be in it if healthy and having a good day

Teshome Mekonen - ran 2:10 in Berlin in September, became an American citizen in 2022, has a 1:00:02 half marathon PR, will likely be in the mix late 

Parker Stinson - past winner of the U.S. 25k championships, has run 2:10, 4th at the Houston Marathon last January, ran a disappointing time at the Houston half just now, seems due for a big breakthrough (Saucony)


Someone here would need to have the race of their life AND have weather, a too aggressive pace and/or injury take out some top contenders:

Joel Richow - ran 2:10 in Chicago in October, 1:03 at the Houston half just now

Sidney Gidabuday - ran a 1:04 at the Houston half just now, ran 2:14 at the NYC Marathon in November, as run 1:01 for the half

Andrew Colley - ran 1:03 at the Houston half just now, ran 2:11 at the Chicago Marathon in October

Nathan Martin - ran his 2:10 PR in June, 33 years old

Colin Bennie - ran 2:09 in 2020 at the Marathon Project, was 9th at the 2020 trials, has been a bit MIA

Jacob Thomson - could be a contender if he has a good day, ran a 2:11 marathon in July and a 1:02 half in October (Under Armour)

Jared Ward - made the team in 2016, ran 2:11 in Berlin in September, age is not on his side but he’s surprised us before (Saucony)

Nick Hauger - 2:12 PR from 2021, runs for Hoka NAZ Elite

Frank Lara - ran a 2:11 at the Houston Marathon in 2023, ran 1:03 at the Houston half just now, sponsored by Altra, still hasn’t peaked in the marathon (Altra)

Matt McDonald - was in the mix until the final miles in Atlanta, has a 2:09 PR from Chicago 2022

Zach Panning - ran a smart race to finish in the top ten at the World Championships last summer, ran 2:09 in Chicago 2022, he’s proven he can run well in the heat, is flying under the radar, will come in very prepared as a Hansons-Brooks runner (Brooks)

Matt Llano - has not had stellar success over the past few years, has run 2:11 in the marathon and 1:01 in the half but neither recently, formerly of HOKA NAZ Elite, now with Under Armour, also works as a realtor, 35 years old (Under Armour)

Paul Chelimo - making his marathon debut, a major unknown but has had significant success on the track

It Would Take a Miracle:

Mick Iacofano

Chad Hall

Lou Serafini

Noah Droddy

Josh Izewski

Abdi Abdirahman

Reid Buchanan

Tyler McCandless


Virtual Locks:

To me the women’s race is far more intriguing as there are at least a dozen runners who have a very, very good shot of making the team. Without a doubt, hearts are going to be broken and people with stellar resumes will be left off the team. It should make for an extremely compelling race. I believe at least two people on this list will make the team:

Emily Sisson - holds the American record in the marathon, previous American record holder in the half marathon, ran the 10K at the Tokyo Olympics, has a 2:18 PR, has not had many marathon efforts without a pacer, will be nearly impossible to beat if she’s healthy (New Balance)

Keira D’Amato - current American record holder in the half marathon, previous American record holder in the marathon, top ten at the World Championships in the marathon, has raced a lot in the last few years (Nike)

Molly Seidel - second at the trials in Atlanta (which was her first marathon), won the bronze at the Tokyo Olympics in the marathon (in scorching conditions), super tough, great racer, will contend for the win if healthy, has helped put Puma on the map, was an all-American at Notre Dame (Puma)

Betsy Saina - still somewhat unproven in the marathon but tons of raw talent, qualified with her 2:21 in Tokyo in March (the third fastest of all qualifiers), had a storied career at Iowa State, while still a Kenyan citizen placed 5th in the 10,000 at the 2016 Olympics, hard to imagine three people beating her if she’s on

Dakota Lindwurm - seems to be on the rise with every race, ran 2:24 in Chicago in October, has run 1:09 in the half marathon, has won the Grandma’s Marathon twice, seems primed for a big breakthrough (Puma)

Lindsay Flanagan - won the Gold Coast Marathon in 2022, was 8th at the Tokyo Marathon in 2023, was top American at the World Championships marathon in Budapest this past summer, has been top ten at Boston, runs well in the heat, could be a sleeper pick

They Will Be in the Mix:

Sara Hall - fifth at World Championships in Eugene in 2022, second at the 2020 London Marathon, former American record holder in half marathon, has run 2:20 for the marathon, all-American at Stanford, has competed at virtually every distance, has never made an Olympic team, 40 years old, coached by her husband Ryan Hall (Asics)

Kellyn Taylor - was eighth at the trials in Atlanta, trains with Hoka NAZ Elite, ran well at the NYC Marathon in November, she’s a certified firefighter (Hoka)

Emily Durgin - inexperienced in the marathon but brimming with talent, runs for Adidas, ran a 2:26 at the Toronto Marathon in October, has run a 1:07 in the half, has a shot if the chips fall right (Adidas)

Sara Vaughn - another veteran with a great chance, won CIM in 2021, had lots of success early in her career in the 1500, ran a 2:23 in Chicago in October

Nell Rojas - was ninth at the trials in Atlanta, tough and strong, ran 2:24 in Boston in April, has been top ten at both Boston and NYC, ran an impressive 1:08 at the Houston half just now, will not be afraid of the big stage, will be a factor if ‘on’ (Nike)

Annie Frisbee - always in the mix it seems, has been top ten at the NYC Marathon, has a 1:10 PR in the half marathon, seems due for a breakthrough and big race (Puma)

Lauren Hagans - runs with Hoka NAZ Elite, will definitely benefit from her various teammates experience and knowledge, worked her way up to the marathon and ran the fourth fastest American debut ever when she won Grandma’s Marathon in June in 2:25, followed this up with a 1:10 at the Valencia Half Marathon, has had success in the 3K and 5K, seems primed to run faster than 2:25 (Hoka)

Aliphine Tuliamuk - runs with Hoka NAZ Elite, won the trials in Atlanta but has been plagued by injury of late, a perennial competitor, has been top ten at the NYC Marathon, won the 2023 U.S. half marathon championship, ran 2:24 to take 11th in Boston in April, will certainly be in the mix if healthy and prepared but those are question marks (Hoka)

Des Linden - Boston Marathon champion in 2018, twice an Olympian in the marathon (2012, 2016), finished fourth in Atlanta, author, podcast host, crowd favorite, whisky connoisseur (Brooks)

Molly Huddle - previous American record holder in the 5k and 10k, has run both distances at the Olympics, it still feels as if she still has not run her best marathon, turns 40 in August

It’s Possible:

Jenny Simpson - longtime queen of the 1500, moving up to the marathon only now, the big stage will not scare her, runs with Puma (Puma)

Natosha Rogers - has been competitive at virtually every distance for a decade, ran the 10K at last summer’s World Championships where she finished 14th, very tough and gritty, could be a sleeper pick (Puma)

Maggie Montoya - has PR’s of 2:28 and 1:09, won the Gary Bjorklund Half Marathon in June, ran 1:09 at the Houston half just now, has not yet peaked in the marathon

Susanna Sullivan - represented the U.S. at the World Championships this past summer in the marathon (held in Budapest in the heat), led for a good portion of that race, has finished 6th at Chicago, ran 1:10 at the Houston half just now

Laura Thweatt - had a strong race in Atlanta, where she finished fifth, has a 2:25 PR from 2017, comes in with experience 

It Would Take a Miracle:

Amber Zimmerman

Roberta Groner

Kim Conley

Neely Gracey

Molly Bookmyer

Stephanie Bruce

Sarah Pagano

Final notes on the race:

People who have made the team in the past are arguably most likely to make the team again (as Galen and Abdi did in 2020, Meb, Shalane and Des did in 2016). You have an advantage if you’ve punched your ticket in the past. For the marathon trials, this seems to favor Galen and Molly Seidel.

Teammates tend to do well at the trials, as Shalane Flanagan and Amy Cragg did in 2016 and Shalane and Kara Goucher did in 2012. Will this bode well for Mantz and Young?

Hanson-Brooks, an elite running team located in Michigan and run by brothers Keith and Kevin Hanson, has a good record of getting people on the team. Their athletes arrive at the starting line feeling prepared and ready. Brian Sell made the ’08 team. Des made the team in 2012 and 2016. In 2020, Jacob Riley made the team (even if he was no longer with Hanson at that point). What will this mean for Zach Panning?

Because the women have already unlocked three spots for the Olympics, there is little motivation to go out super fast. Expect this race to be strategic to start. None are chasing a fast time, which is not the case on the men’s side. Expect the men’s race to be more aggressive with at least a small group of runners getting out hard from the gun. 

Ben is the Senior Rabbi of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel of Elkins Park, PA. A cancer survivor, he has run 21 marathons. He holds PRs of 3:15 for the marathon and 1:30 for the half. At 46, he still enjoys pushing himself and combining his running with supporting a variety of causes. Follow him on Instagram: @RabbiBPD or Twitter: @BDinPA 

RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased via shopping links our pages. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

Comments and Questions Welcome Below! 

RoadTrailRun Official Store Custom Fractel Caps and Bucket Hats
Cap:$39                                                             Bucket:$49
Limited Release! SHOP HERE
Men's & Women's SHOP HERE
FREE 2 Day Shipping EASY No Sweat Returns

Men's and Women's SHOP HERE

Men's & Women's SHOP HERE

Men's & Women's  SHOP HERE

Men's & Women's SHOP HERE


Google "roadtrailrun Shoe Name" and you can be quite sure to find just about any run shoe over the last 10 years

Please Like and Follow RoadTrailRun
Facebook: RoadTrailRun.com  Instagram: @roadtrailrun
Twitter: @RoadTrailRun You Tube: @RoadTrailRun


Schrauf said...

Clayton Young over Connor Mantz. Interesting!

jaystorey said...

Gabi Rooker: https://www.orlando2024trials.com/athlete/13/34/gabriella-rooker

Guarantee she will be 'in the mix'

Anonymous said...

How does he completely ignore her? She's got a pretty dang good shot. How insulting.

Anonymous said...

Keep an eye on Christian Allen also of BYU. Impressive CIM this past December despite fueling issues. Trains with Mantz, Young and Ward. Will be in the mix and may be just outside the cut…..or not.

Anonymous said...

Interesting list. I think Zach panning was criminally underrated. Who thinks Reed Fischer and Parkerstinson are going to beat Zach Panning? Also

Anonymous said...

Mantz is making the team unless he gets hit by a bus, Young beating him is a long shot.

Panning is definitely top 8 meaning he has better than an outside shot based on weather and how the race unfolds...but he'll run smart regardless.

Rupp "has" to be "on" that day. Yes, he's a great runner but he's not what he was...still should be top 3.

Fauble is hit or miss. The potential to make it "if" all works out his way, if not, top 10.

Seidel won't make it this time around, too many runners that are clearly better.

If the race starts at 10am with 55-60 degrees and a high later in the day of low 70's, the weather won't be the factor that many are thinking it will be. A 60 degree start will yield a sub 2:09 or very close to it unless they have too much wind.

Good luck to all as you've earned the right to be there and give it your best shot

Anonymous said...

P.s. The comment about Gabi Rooker is true, at 2:24 she should have been mentioned for sure. But for her to make the team, the stars will have to truly align perfectly...but the weather and opening pace could play into her favor as an outside shot to finish high.

Anonymous said...

Stars align...should not have been left out of the virtual lock or in the mix given the other marathoners included. Think it was an oversight!