MANTZ, O’KEEFFE WIN THRILLING OLYMPIC TRIALS MARATHON
By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2024 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved, used with Permission ORLANDO (03-Feb) — Conner Mantz and Fiona O’Keeffe scored impressive victories this morning at the USA Olympic Team Trials Marathon, clinching their Paris Olympic team spots with strong times.  Mantz, 27, who had the fastest qualifying time for these Trials, broke away late in the race with his training partner Clayton Young and finished in 2:09:05, just three seconds slower than Ryan Hall’s 2007 event record.  Young only finished a second back and also made the Olympic team.  O’Keeffe, 25, made a sensational marathon debut, pulling away from the pack in the 19th mile and running alone to the finish in a Trials record of 2:22:10, a USA debut record.  Behind her, Emily Sisson (2:22:42) and Dakotah Lindwurm (2:25:31) booked the other two team spots.The third-place man, Leonard Korir, only secured a provisional team spot.  The USA has not yet “unlocked” a third quota position for the Paris 2024 Men’s Marathon, and Korir’s time today of 2:09:57 was well off the 2:08:10 required by World Athletics to secure a third spot.  It is still possible for him to secure a team berth through the World Athletics points system or if another USA athlete runs below the time standard by May 5th.  It is largely out of Korir’s hands at this point.

PANNING BREAKS THE RACE OPEN

Zach Panning, the top American from last summer’s World Athletics Championships Marathon, was the first athlete to make a serious move in today’s men’s race.  Panning, 28, who trains with the Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project, surged to the lead in the middle of the sixth mile, recording a 4:49 mile split.  Sixteen men stayed with him, but that would soon change.

“When I saw Zach hit the front at five and a half miles, I looked at Clayton,” said Mantz, who represents Nike.  “I just looked at him.  I didn’t even nod.  He looked at me, and I was like, we’re going for it.”

Panning, wearing a bright yellow cap and sunglasses, ran a blistering series of miles: 4:49, 4:48, 4:47, 4:51, 4:49, 4:48, and 4:52 through the 13-mile mark.  He hit halfway in 1:04:07, which put the Paris qualifying standard of 2:08:10 within his grasp.  Only seven other men were able to hold that pace: Mantz, Young, Korir, Teshome Mekonen, Galen Rupp, Elkanah Kibet, Andrew Colley, Shadrack Kipchirchir, and Nathan Martin.

Panning felt confident.  He had trained in Florida all winter and knew what the warm and sunny conditions would mean later in the race.  Still a young marathoner, he felt free to experiment.

Zach Panning, Connor Mantz, Clayton Young, photo by Kevin Morris, 2024 US Olympic Trials

“This was my first Trials and, I would say, inexperience was showing a little bit,” he said later.  “I’m really proud of how I raced.”

Panning kept up the hot tempo through 16 miles, then pushed even harder in the 17th mile, where he ran 4:44, the fastest of the race.  That brought the pack down to five: Panning, Mantz, Korir, Colley, and Kibet.  Rupp was five seconds back and would continue to fade in the final miles of the race to finish 16th in 2:14:07.  His quest for a fifth Olympic team was over.  Colley would also drop out.

“I did the best I could to get across the line,” a weary Rupp told reporters.  “It just wasn’t my day today.  It’s obviously really disappointing.  I had hoped to do better. It’s just the way it goes sometimes.”

After hitting the 20-mile mark in 1:37:22, Panning’s energy started to wane.  His next three miles were 4:59, 5:08, and 5:06.  The 2:08:10 finish time, which seemed so doable ten miles before, was now impossible.

“I executed the race plan but maybe got a little antsy a little early,” Panning lamented.  “Just maybe a pinch too excited.  It’s hindsight 20-20.  I’m really proud of how I raced, and I think I did everything I could.”

By the 24-mile mark, Mantz and Young were alone.  Panning was 18 seconds back, and Kibet was coming for him.  Panning only managed a 6:03 for his 26th mile and would finish sixth in 2:09:33.

Clayton Young, Connor Mantz, U.S. Olympic Team Marathon Trials
Orlando, Florida
February 3, 2024, photo by Kevin Morris

But the battle for third wasn’t over.  Korir found new strength after mentally giving up earlier in the race.  He realized that he could catch Kibet and passed him with about 800m to go to take third in 2:09:57.  Korir had been fourth at the 2020 Trials and didn’t want that to happen again.

“When I saw those guys coming back to me and I was seeing it was like 800 meters to go, and I was like, don’t finish fourth again,” Korir told Race Results Weekly.  “Try whatever you’ve got to do.”

Kibet got fourth in 2:10:02 (a new USA masters record by one second), and C.J. Albertson –who was only in ninth place at halfway– took fifth in 2:10:07.

Two pre-race favorites, Scott Fauble and Sam Chelanga, dropped out.

O’KEEFFE STUNS IN MARATHON DEBUT

O’Keeffe only qualified for these Trials with a half-marathon performance (1:09:34), so it must have come as a surprise to her competitors when she and Lindwurm moved to the lead in the 11th mile and went through halfway in a fast 1:11:43.  A very strong group of women were behind them including Sisson, Keira D’Amato, Sara Hall, Emily Durgin, Makenna Myler, Caroline Rotich, Nell Rojas, Lindsay Flanagan, Betsy Saina and Annie Frisbie.

“I guess it felt right,” O’Keeffe explained to reporters later about why she went to the front.  “Maybe a little bit of not knowing what I was getting into.”

O’Keeffe decided to roll the dice in the 17th mile and recorded a 5:16 split, the fastest of the race so far.  She ran 5:27 for the 18th mile, then 5:22 for the 19th.  That bold move launched her into sole possession of the lead.

Fiona O’Keeffe debuts in a win, U.S. Olympic Team Marathon Trials
Orlando, Florida
February 3, 2024, photo by Kevin Morris

“This is going to sound corny, but I just didn’t want to have any regrets today,” O’Keeffe told reporters.  “I wasn’t sure at that stage if it was a mistake or if it was going to pay off.  I just wanted to go for it.”

O’Keeffe ran alone from there to the finish.  When she broke the tape, her race bib was red and stained with blood. The package of an energy gel packet she had tucked into her race uniform had chafed her.

Sisson pulled away from the rest of the women and, like O’Keeffe, ran alone to the finish in 2:22:42.

Emily Sisson takes second, U.S. Olympic Team Marathon Trials
Orlando, Florida
February 3, 2024, photos by Kevin Morris

“I tried to keep my eyes on her,” Sisson said of O’Keeffe.  “Fiona ran a great race. It was an amazing debut.”

The battle for third was epic.  Lindwurm was only in sixth position at the 20-mile mark but moved up to fourth by mile 21 and edged past Rotich to get into third place in the 22nd mile.  It would not be until the 25th mile that Rotich had to let go, and Lindwurm clinched the third and final team spot.

Dakota Lindwurm takes third, U.S. Olympic Team Marathon Trials
Orlando, Florida
February 3, 2024, photo by Kevin Morris

“It feels so good,” Lindwurm told reporters.  “If I’ve dreamed of this once, I’ve dreamed of it a thousand times.  It almost doesn’t feel real.  I can’t tell you how many times I pictured holding this American flag.  I don’t know if I’m ever going to take it off.

Fourth place went to unheralded Jessica McClain.  McClain was in 13th place at halfway (1:12:38), and slowly moved up in the second half running her own race.  She clocked a four-minute personal best of 2:25:46 and finished far better than most expected.

“I know how to run in the heat, so I knew to be patient,” McClain said.  “Pretty much every marathon I’ve run, that’s what I can base my experience on.  A lot of people have come back to me each time.  I know I’m a good second half of the race runner, so I just tried to stay within myself.”

Hall, who is 40, finished fifth in 2:26:06, a national masters record.  These were her eighth Olympic Trials (combining track and marathon Trials).  She has yet to make an Olympic team, and a reporter asked her if she would try again in 2028.

“I never thought I’d still be doing this at this point, so I’d never say never,” Hall said.  “I’m just going to keep doing this as long as I’m enjoying it and improving.  I’m very thankful for that.”

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