2024 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials Instant Reaction + Takeaways

By David Melly

February 3, 2024

Heading into the 2024 Olympic Marathon Trials, the consensus was that there was no consensus: Anyone could make the team.

And the races delivered big time, with topsy-turvy place changes and unexpected finishes on both the men’s and women’s side. In the men’s race, Conner Mantz and Clayton Young, the top two seeds in the field, did come away with the top two places, but the surprising news was who wasn’t in the mix, as two sub-2:09 seeds – Scott Fauble and Sam Chelanga – dropped out and reigning champion Galen Rupp struggled to a 16th-place finish.

In the women’s race, almost nothing went as expected as Puma Elite’s Fiona O’Keeffe became the youngest Olympic Marathon Trials champion in history in her first ever marathon with her 2:22:10 victory, defeating a stacked roster of American record holders, multi-time Olympians, and veteran racers in the process. After a DNF at this race in 2020, Emily Sisson did make her second Olympic team – first on the roads – but 2:19:12 runner Keira D’Amato sadly did not make it to the finish line and the top 10 was full of lesser-known faces.

We had a great time on the Trials watchalong with HOKA just steps away from the finish line – the vibes were high and Chris Chavez, Kyle Merber, Eric Jenkins, and Sara Sutherland kept the fans entertained for 2+ hours on a beautiful (but warm for the runners) Saturday morning. You can watch that replay and all our post-race interviews with the athletes on our Youtube channel.

Full results can be found here. Our takeaways on a historic day in Orlando can be found below:

Men's U.S. Marathon Olympic TeamMen's U.S. Marathon Olympic Team

Johnny Zhang / @jzsnapz

Conner Mantz Kicks To Victory And His First Olympic Team

With two NCAA cross-country championships, a 2:08 debut, and the fastest seed in the field, Conner Mantz has felt like the heir apparent to the crown of “next great American marathoner” for a few years now, but his 2:09:05 Trials win and first Olympic berth solidifies his spot as the nation’s top dog.

Mantz and Young were able to drop the competition with a huge assist from Hansons-Brooks athlete Zach Panning, who took the pace from a relatively-pedestrian 5:00/mile tempo to sub-4:50 at mile 6 and kept the pace there until mile 20. For a good chunk of the race it looked like Team USA was well-positioned to unlock a third qualifying spot once and for all, as the projected finish time was under 2:08 until the final few miles, but the 70-degree direct sunlight eventually got to even the best guys in the field. Panning would ultimately fade to 6th but still put up a solid 2:10:05 finish.

In that last few miles, there was no doubt that the Provo duo would make the team, but with even 100 meters to go, Mantz and Young were still stride-for-stride. Young appeared to have more run left in his legs, doing the bulk of the leading once Panning fell off and even taking time to hype up the crowd in the last mile, but in the final steps Mantz sprinted past his teammate to grab the title by 1 second as Young cheered him on. Both men were ecstatic to make their first Olympic team and seemed to be more focused on celebration than battling it out for the prize money.

Fiona O'KeeffeFiona O'Keeffe

Johnny Zhang / @jzsnapz

Fiona O’Keeffe’s Incredible Marathon Debut Results In Olympic Trials Win

With so many big names in the race, only diehard Puma fans were really convinced that Fiona O’Keeffe or her teammate Natosha Rogers could make an Olympic team in the marathon in their debuts. O’Keeffe has a 67:42 half marathon PB (U.S. #7 all-time) and her coaches, Alistair and Amy Cragg, seemed convinced before the race that she was built for the marathon, but the women’s field seemed so top-heavy that even a great debut performance might not be enough to make the team.

And yet, when O’Keeffe took the lead shortly after halfway, she looked the most comfortable of any athlete in the lead pack and mile after mile only got stronger. The 25-year-old smoothly opened up a gap on Sisson, 2015 Boston Marathon champ Caroline Rotich, and 2:20 runner Sara Hall and never looked back. Her 2:22:10 debut was the fastest-ever by an American woman, and given the talent level of the field she beat, it’s not hard to imagine that sub-2:20 is just around the corner.

Many pre-race contenders for the team had a rough go, with Keira D’Amato dropping out around 20 miles and Betsy Saina making it 22 before calling it quits. The pace yo-yoed more than the men’s race and, with the temperature creeping upward and the women spending roughly 25 more minutes in the midday heat than the men, the warm conditions really seemed to take their toll on the field.

From 136th to 2nd: Clayton Young Has Epic Marathon Trials Improvement

Before Clayton Young’s 2:08:00 breakthrough in Chicago last fall, the ASICS runner’s marathon career had gotten off to a fairly rocky start. Young debuted in Atlanta in 2020 but only managed a 2:29:46 for 136th place, and in his first Chicago the following year, he was on track for a top-10 finish before falling only 300 meters from the finish line and losing 3 minutes and 5 places. Along the way, he’d picked up a few wins at shorter road races including a pair of national titles in 2023, but it wasn’t until last fall when he entered the conversation of potential Olympic contenders.

Young, who trains with Mantz in Utah, had a smoother buildup than his training partner (who dealt with a stress reaction in November) and seemed to be the most in control of all the leaders at each point in the race. He’s gotta get bonus points for sportsmanship as well, offering his training partner a pull from his water bottle after Mantz missed one of his own and hyping up the crowd even as he got passed in the final few strides.

Emily SissonEmily Sisson

Johnny Zhang / @jzsnapz

Emily Sisson Rebounds From 2020 Trials Disappointment

While it’s hard to feel bad for the fastest runner in the field, the weight of expectations had to be crushingly heavy for the American record holder heading into this weekend. And after a mixed-bag of a run at the 2023 Chicago Marathon, Sisson and her supporters had to be a little nervous that they might be in for a tougher path to the Paris Olympics than it seemed on paper.

But Sisson played it smart – staying cool and composed as the field shifted and surged around her, and methodically made her way to a second-place finish and her second Olympic team. Her 2:22:42 result wasn’t anywhere near her lifetime best, but it was the third-fastest result of her career to date and shows impressive consistency so soon after Chicago.

With a 2:18:29 PB, Sisson has to have medal aspirations for the Olympics in mind. And for her, perhaps more than anyone else, this race had to feel like a necessary stepping stone to the main target later this summer. But with so many of the other biggest favorites having a tough day, it goes to show that we can’t take her ability to deliver when it counts for granted.

Leonard KorirLeonard Korir

Johnny Zhang / @jzsnapz

After Missing 2020 Team By Inches, Leonard Korir Moves From 5th to 3rd In Last Mile

2016 Olympian Leonard Korir missed a spot on Team USA at the last Marathon Trials around by 3 seconds – a truly tough place to be. And the former 10,000m specialist hasn’t had quite the same level of success in the last few years on the track. After dropping out of Chicago last fall, some had to be thinking that, at 37 years old, his best years may be behind him.

Even in the late stages of the race, it looked like it would be another devastatingly close miss for Korir, as he was 37 seconds out of third place with 2.2 miles remaining. Although Panning was fading fast, it didn’t seem like Korir would catch up. But with Elkanah Kibet closing hard in front of him, Korir had someone else to help bridge the gap and slingshotted from 5th into 3rd in the final mile. This time, he was on the right side of a close finish and he’ll be heading to Paris for his second Olympic Games.

Dakotah LindwurmDakotah Lindwurm

Johnny Zhang / @jzsnapz

Dakotah Lindwurm Makes Olympic Team Representing Minnesota Distance Elite

Dakotah Lindwurm isn’t just “Minnesota nice” – she’s also Minnesota tough. Lindwurm is known for running incredibly high mileage, often stringing together multiple 130-mile weeks, and for racing frequently: she competed in 3 marathons in 2023 alone. In today’s race, she held off a group of talented chasers to take third place in 2:25:31.

Lindwurm, with a 2:24:40 personal best from Chicago ‘23, was certainly in the conversation as an outside shot to make the team, but it was a bit of a shock to see her so full of run in the middle of the race. Before O’Keeffe took over, she was running stride-for-stride with D’Amato up at the front of the pack, the kind of fearless running that it will take to make a splash against international competition.

It’s also worth noting that, somewhat surprisingly, the U.S. women’s Olympic team is a very youthful one. Lindwurm is 28, O’Keeffe is 25, and at only 32 years old, Sisson is the elder stateswoman of the group. With so much up-and-coming talent getting up to the level of veterans D’Amato, Hall, and Saina, the future is very bright for American women in the marathon.

Zach PanningZach Panning

Johnny Zhang / @jzsnapz

Zach Panning, Elkanah Kibet, and CJ Albertson Fall Just Short of Olympic Spot

The brutal beauty of the Olympic Trials is that every moment of elation happens steps away from other runners experiencing true devastation as they’re forced to shelve their Olympic dreams for another cycle. Fourth place is the hardest spot to finish, and particularly in the men’s race with the field seemingly so open, at least a dozen competitors were credibly aiming for a spot on Team USA and yet fell short.

40-year-old Elkanah Kibet was the unlucky odd man out this time around, finishing five seconds out of third place with his 2:10:02 performance. Kibet works full-time as a technician in the U.S. Army, and while he’s put together a string of his best performances in his late 30s, it’s tough to know that making it another 4-year-cycle will only get harder for him.

C.J. Albertson was expected by many before the race to play the role that Panning ultimately filled, keeping the pace hot and daring the field to chase him, but he struggled to hang on in the middle miles and while he came out with a personal best of 2:10:07, he ended up 5th. Albertson closed the hardest of any of the top 10, running his 26th mile in 4:58 while virtually everyone else was running much slower, but he ran out of real estate, finishing 10 seconds out of an Olympic spot.

Jess McClainJess McClain

Johnny Zhang / @jzsnapz

Jess McClain Shocks The Pundits With 4th-Place Finish; Many New Names In Women’s Top 10

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was Jess McClain (née Tonn), the unsponsored Stanford grad who knocked her marathon PB from 2:29 to 2:25:46 en route to snagging 4th place. If any of the top 3 are unable to make it to Paris, she’s now the alternate for the team as she got comfortably under the Olympic standard of 2:26:50.

McClain was a 7-time NCAA All-American and a professional for Brooks after college, but she’s had a quiet couple of years recently and only ran 2:33:35 in her debut at the 2022 Mesa Marathon. She’ll certainly be one to watch now as she took down a number of heavy hitters in Orlando.

Unsung heroes with comeback stories were something of a theme in the women’s race, as sixth placer Caroline Rotich ran her best marathon in years after switching allegiance to the U.S. in October and seventh placer Makenna Myler set a lifetime best of 2:26:14 less than 2 years after having her second child. And 40-year-old Des Linden finished 11th by doing what she does best- starting out conservatively and methodically picking people off in the second half.

What’s Next?

That’s a wrap on the 2024 Olympic Marathon Trials! While the marathoners rest, regroup, and hit up Disney World, the track and field athletes are just getting started. You can follow our live coverage of the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix tomorrow at 4pm on Twitter, Instagram, and our YouTube channel. 

Next week, the gang will be in New York City for the 116th Millrose Games on Sunday, February 11. You can read and listen to coverage of the athletes entered to compete on our website and keep an eye out for more on-site content in the days to come!

David Melly

David began contributing to CITIUS in 2018, and quickly cemented himself as an integral part of the team thanks to his quick wit, hot takes, undying love for the sport and willingness to get yelled at online.