U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

Missing the Olympic marathon team can mean a wait of 4 years, or a few months

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As Des Linden saw three women ahead of her late in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials — in a race where only the top three go to the Olympics — she considered dropping out for the second time in her 20 career marathons.

“For one split-second,” she said. “I hate to even think this, but there’s a point in the race where it’s like, well, s— I’m running [the] Boston [Marathon on April 20]. Should I just shut it down and jog in?

“But it mattered to me, and that’s why I came out here. I still fought all day. You’re already too far into this, and it means a lot. Pull your head out of your ass and go.”

Linden said she didn’t give up until the last 100 meters of the 26.2-mile race. Not until Sally Kipyego crossed the Atlanta Centennial Park finish line 11 seconds ahead of her, clinching the last spot on the U.S. team for the Tokyo Games.

Linden, the most decorated woman in the record field of more than 400, came thisclose to becoming the first U.S. woman to make three Olympic marathon teams.

MORE: Olympic Marathon Trials results

For Linden and the other favorites who missed the team, there will be more races, more marathons. But this race, the trials, will not happen for another four years. Linden will be 40 come the next Olympic year. Then again, 43-year-old Abdi Abdirahman finished third in the men’s race.

“If you asked me four years ago, I wouldn’t have planned on being here,” said Linden, whose career was reinvigorated by making the 2016 Olympic team and then winning the 2018 Boston Marathon. “Meb [Keflezighi] made the team at 41 [in 2016]. So that’s certainly popped in my mind.”

Bernard Lagat is 45 years old and a five-time Olympian. He finished 18th on Saturday, failing to break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history (which Abdirahman ended up snatching).

Like Linden, Lagat plans to return to marathon training after a short break and race 26.2 miles again this spring (though Lagat has not chosen a specific one). Before trials, Lagat did not rule out returning for June’s Olympic Track and Field Trials in the 10,000m, according to Sports Illustrated.

“I feel like with how I ran today, 2:14 in a [hilly] course like this in a windy day, I want to give 100 percent, one more good run somewhere in Europe,” he said. “I’m not going to stop.”

Jordan Hasay, the second-fastest U.S. female marathoner in history, knew something was wrong from the first mile.

A hamstring injury affected her build-up. Then this week, a lower-back issue flared. She tried to block it out, but Hasay dropped from the lead pack just before the halfway point.

“It was just all about finishing,” said Hasay, who ran in purple and gold in honor of Kobe Bryant. “It sucks when you’ve got an hour to go, and you’ve got to keep running.” 

She crossed more than 10 minutes behind winner Aliphine Tuliamuk in 26th place. She was enveloped in the arms of men’s winner Galen Rupp, with whom she shared a coach in Alberto Salazar before Salazar was banned last fall in a doping case. Salazar is believed to be appealing. Neither Rupp nor Hasay were implicated, and both have a clean drug-testing record.

Other women’s favorites who struggled dropped out to preserve their legs for the track trials 10,000m. Hasay was determined to finish after withdrawing on the eve of the 2018 Boston Marathon (heel) and two miles into the 2019 Chicago Marathon with a torn hamstring.

“I worked this hard to not sit and watch this on TV,” said Hasay, who at 28 seemingly has years of marathoning ahead of her.

Jared Ward, who was third at the 2016 Olympic Trials and sixth in Rio, was considered arguably the safest pick to make the marathon team. The men’s field wasn’t seen as deep as the women, and no man could match his consistency the last two years.

But Ward, an adjunct statistics professor at BYU, was 27th. Once Ward dropped from the leaders and saw his Olympic dream fade, he thought of his four kids between ages 1 and 7.

“I want my kids to know that when things get tough, we can still do hard things,” he said of finishing. “We don’t have to pull the plug when things get hard. So I feel a sense of accomplishment.”

Ward noted that he will always have that magical day at the trials in Los Angeles four years ago. And that, at 31, he is 12 years younger than Abdirahman.

“I was ready to pull the plug and consider a different marathon, but the streets were just yelling for me,” Ward said. “My mantra going into this race was, ‘Beyond me.’ There’s more to this than me.”

Emily Sisson, arguably the women’s pre-race favorite, and Molly Huddle, the American record holder at 10,000m, did not finish. Sisson and Huddle, who share a coach and sometimes train together, made strategic decisions after losing contact with the leaders around the 20th mile.

They don’t have to wait four years. As soon as Sisson and Huddle walked off the course on Saturday afternoon, they became favorites to make the Olympic team in the 10,000m at the track trials in June.

“Have unfinished business in the marathon, so I’ll be back,” was posted on Sisson’s Instagram, “but for now it’s time to rest & refocus.”

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MORE: A U.S. Olympic women’s marathon team of surprises, unique stories

Galen Rupp wins Olympic Marathon Trials, joined by oldest U.S. Olympic runner ever

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ATLANTA — As Galen Rupp covered the final miles of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials with an insurmountable lead, he stayed in routine. He prayed.

“Especially when things start to hurt at the end,” the Catholic runner said. “I certainly was saying a lot of Hail Marys those last couple of miles.”

Rupp extended his exemplary record in Olympic Trials, winning by 42 seconds in 2:09:20 on a hilly course and a windy day. The two-time Olympic medalist repeated as marathon trials champion to make a fourth Olympic team after a challenging year and a half.

Rupp prevailed on a day where all of the other male and female favorites failed to qualify for the Tokyo Games.

He’s joined on the Olympic team by Jacob Riley, who doesn’t have a shoe sponsor, and Abdi Abdirahman, in line to become the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history at 43 and the second to compete in five Olympics.

“He’s a different level runner than us,” Abdirahman said of Rupp, who finished second in his first Olympic Trials final as a University of Oregon senior in 2008. Since then, Rupp won five of his six Olympic Trials finals starts between the track and the marathon.

None of the five women’s pre-race favorites made the Olympic team. Instead, a former Uber driver, a former college star who overcame an eating disorder and a mom made up the podium. More on the women’s stories here.

MORE: Olympic Marathon Trials Results

Rupp, who broke free in the 21st mile, completed a marathon for the first time since October 2018. Since, he underwent Achilles surgery, dropped out of his only 2019 marathon with a calf injury and saw his career-long coach, Alberto Salazar, banned four years in a doping case on Oct. 1.

Salazar is appealing, but for now he can no longer coach Rupp, his student since converting the Oregon native from soccer as a high school freshman. Rupp, who has a clean drug-testing record, was not implicated by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

“The sign of a great teacher is how he passes all his information onto his pupil,” Rupp said when asked about Salazar after crossing the Centennial Olympic Park finish line, before pivoting to credit new coach Mike Smith. “Mike’s done a tremendous job. I’m not trying to take anything away because he’s been a godsend.”

Smith, who coaches at Northern Arizona, helped deliver Portland-based Rupp on less than three months of training. Before December, Rupp had a string of pain for more than a year, since before the Achilles surgery.

“Coming off of that surgery, I had to almost relearn how to run again,” he said. “I took for granted waking up, being able to get out of bed, walk without pain, being able to play with my kids. … I couldn’t do that for a long time.”

Rupp rushed his return to start last October’s Chicago Marathon. He dropped out around mile 23 with a calf injury that forced him to focus on physical therapy the next two months. His wife, Keara, sensed it before the start of the race.

“You looked terrible,” she told him after Chicago. “You were limping. I could tell from the first mile you were in a lot of pain.”

After teaming with Smith and rebuilding his mechanics, Rupp came to Atlanta feeling similar to four years ago. He raced the Rio Olympic Marathon Trials with zero marathon experience.

“It was almost like I was a newbie again to this event,” he said. “Sometimes change can be a really good thing.”

Riley spoke post-race with the thrill of a first-time Olympic qualifier.

“You’re seeing somebody live their happiest moment of their entire life, so it’s pretty special right now,” said Riley, who didn’t race in 2017 or 2018 while dealing with the same Achilles issue as Rupp. He came back for October’s Chicago Marathon, where he was the top American finisher.

Sans shoe sponsor, Riley decided to don the scrutinized Nike Alphaflys, unusually tall shoes with extra foam and a carbon fiber plate said to boost a runner’s efficiency by several percentage points. Other companies since produced their own shoes with similar technology, but they’ve been playing catch-up.

Rupp and Riley both wore Alphaflys on Saturday. Abdirahman, sponsored by Nike like Rupp, said he chose an earlier version, a Vaporfly.

“I would prefer not to think that my presence on the team is due to having a better shoe,” said Riley, noting that the top two women’s finishers were not in Nikes. “I would think it’s my training.”

Abdirahman, born in Somalia and nicknamed the “Black Cactus,” ranked 11th among Americans by best marathon times in 2019. Now he’s set to break Bernard Lagat‘s record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner and become the first U.S. male runner to compete in five Olympics.

“It wasn’t a fluke,” said Abdirahman, who made four straight Olympic teams before missing the Rio marathon trials with a calf injury. “I wanted to do something that had never been done before. People counted me out.”

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

A U.S. Olympic women’s marathon team of surprises, unique stories

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ATLANTA — The U.S. Olympic Women’s Marathon Trials produced an unpredictable team for the Tokyo Games, one with three striking personal stories.

Aliphine Tuliamuk, who won in 2:27:23 and by the smallest women’s margin in trials history (eight seconds), was seeded 10th of 510 qualifiers. Kenyan-born Tuliamuk, who has 31 siblings (dad had four wives), was driving an Uber and crocheting while sidelined by injuries the last two years.

“I did not see this coming,” she said.

Neither could runner-up Molly Seidel, also a first-time Olympic qualifier. Seidel made her marathon debut Saturday, three and a half years after receiving treatment for an eating disorder.

Third-place Sally Kipyego has Olympic experience, taking 10,000m silver for native Kenya in 2012. She gave birth to daughter Emma in summer 2017 and became eligible to represent the U.S. last August. She came to Atlanta seeded sixth, turning out to be the least surprising woman to make the team.

Missing the Olympics: 2018 Boston Marathon winner Des Linden (fourth place), American 10,000m record holder Molly Huddle and Jordan Hasay, the second-fastest U.S. female marathoner in history.

MORE: Olympic Marathon Trials Results

Soon after crossing the Centennial Park finish line, Tuliamuk grabbed a red, white and blue hat from her boyfriend. She had crocheted it for this day to show the love of her new nation.

“When I came here over 10 years ago, I didn’t even think that I wanted to stay here,” said Tuliamuk, who earned a public health degree from Wichita State in 2013 (and was a nine-time All-American for the Shockers). “When the chance came [to become a U.S. citizen], at that point I realized just how fortunate I am. I didn’t even second-guess myself. Now I get to live the American dream.”

Tuliamuk earned citizenship in April 2016. Last June, she was diagnosed with a stress fracture in her right femur. Tuliamuk barely ran until late August, instead developing a side business selling hand-made beanies on Etsy.

In her first race back in November, Tuliamuk established herself as an outside Olympic team contender by placing 12th at the New York City Marathon.

“I knew that I was fit,” she said. “I just didn’t know the extent of my fitness.”

Seidel was a can’t-miss kid. In fourth grade, she had a class assignment to write her biggest wish and dream. She wrote, “I wish I will make it into the Olympics and win a gold medal.”

Later at Notre Dame, Seidel earned NCAA indoor, outdoor and cross-country titles. She also developed an eating disorder, hitting rock bottom while attending the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore., as a spectator. She broke a vertebra earlier that year because she was so weak from losing so much weight.

One of her best friends sat Seidel down in a hotel room in Oregon.

“I think she straight up told me, you look like you’re dying,” Seidel said on the Running On Om podcast. “That was the moment I got help.” Two days later, Seidel checked in for eating disorder treatment.

“I hate seeing photos of myself from that time,” Seidel said on the podcast, noting how she looked when she swept the NCAA Indoor 3000m and 5000m in early 2016. “Knowing that those are out on the internet, and people are seeing those and associating those with winning a national championship, that’s what kills me. There’s some little girl who’s running somewhere that might see the photo and think that’s what I have to look like to win a national championship. And I hate that. I hate that more than anything.”

Seidel had more recent obstacles. She said she was on crutches after placing 13th in the Peachtree Road Race 10km on July 4 in Atlanta.

“My coach and I just had a crazy idea that we might try this and see how it went,” said Seidel, who qualified for trials via a December half marathon. “We had nothing to lose. I’m really grateful for the people around me who are just as dumb as I am.”

Kipyego, the lone qualifier with Olympic experience, moved to the U.S. from Kenya 15 years ago on a college scholarship. She became a U.S. citizen in 2017 but her competition representation switch from Kenya wasn’t finalized until August.

“I always knew that I wanted to be an American,” Kipyego said. “That had little to do with running. … I’ve been able to pay for tuition for children back in Kenya. I’ve been able to support my family, my extended family.”

Kipyego said it took more than a year to recover from childbirth. She couldn’t put together a month straight of training without getting fatigued or ill. She considered quitting often.

“A lot of women have children, they come back and they run and they’re fantastic,” she said. “That was not my story.”

On a podium with Tuliamuk and Seidel to her right, Kipyego closed the post-race press conference with a line applicable to all three.

“I have struggled,” she said. “Today, I was victorious. I was victorious because of where I came from.”

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics