Kyle Merber’s Potential U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Men’s Picks

By Kyle Merber

January 31, 2024

Last week I said something out loud that I never thought I would work up the gumption to let loose. Watching ESPN in a bar with a buddy, I turned to him and remarked, “you know, I actually respect the hell out of Stephen A Smith!”

The man is a truly once-in-a-generation BROADCASTER. He speaks his mind, without trepidation, and hell, then he says a bunch more stuff that seemingly he had never once even thought about for a minute. He’s got a blindfold on, he’s spinning in a circle, and he’s dispensing takes recklessly at a hundred miles per hour. 

And as a result, in a situation where actual analysis or prognostication is called for, he’s actually perfect. He’ll lack a well-formed opinion, but he’ll talk anyway for a couple of minutes, pivoting hard on a well placed “HOWEVER,” and when he’s done, you didn’t even notice that he basically said nothing.

We’ll come back to Stephen A. in a minute.

The beauty of a race like the Trials marathon is its unpredictability. The odds of picking two perfect trifecta boxes this weekend… well, I’m not a “math guy,” but I doubt any of us will do it.

That’s why the United States’ system of selection is the most hyped in the world. Despite not having the fastest or deepest fields, it’s a chance for athletes to live the American dream! Show up with nothing but a nickel in your pocket and a qualifying mark, and you have as fair of a shot as anyone to make the team – assuming that top three time is under 2:11:30/2:29:30.

This is all to say, I have been ruminating over my picks nonstop the past month and I am still having commitment issues. Partially because I am terrified of being called out by an athlete who made it for not picking them – that motivation is free! And partly because as someone who lives and breathes this stuff, I don’t want to be publicly wrong.

It’s not just a question of who the three best are or even the three fittest. They need to execute on that day, in that moment to realize it. Regardless of how much research, data points or thought exercises we do in the lead-in, the final result will probably surprise us.

As I am wavering back and forth about who to make my final team for Thursday’s prediction show at Hoka’s Citius Cafe, I thought it’d be helpful to channel my inner Stephen A. Smith, and just put a deluge of information – some of it probably wrong – out there, and hope that when I’m done talking, I’ve said something profound or at least worthy of a meme.

Scott Fauble

Why he’ll make it: No one is owed anything in the marathon, but Fauble has paid his dues. He’s consistently run well in New York and Boston with multiple top-American finishes. The Trials don’t have pacers, and Fauble isn’t one of those fancy guys who need someone else to tell him how fast to run. He’s accustomed to actually racing the distance. His 2:08:52 personal best likely doesn’t tell the full story of how fit he has been in comparison to much of the field whose seeds come from Chicago. And apparently he’s fitter than ever before!

Why he won’t make it: Fauble’s attempt to get the Olympic standard in Berlin ended in a DNF after he dropped out 30K in with stomach issues. 

Why we want him to make it: We like Scott! He got grandfathered into the CITIUS MAG group chat as an early contributor. But mainly, Scott gives good interviews, says cool things, and is not afraid to have hot takes on running Twitter.

Galen RuppGalen Rupp

Kevin Morris / @KevMoFoto

Galen Rupp

Why he’ll make it: How do you bet against the guy who has done it twice before? No one else in this field has proven they are a threat to win an Olympic (marathon) medal or win a Major. After a long cycle of injuries and some drop outs, it seemed like his storied career was on its final chapter – then he ran 2:08 in Chicago. Even though he got beat by other Americans in the process, if he has been healthy since October then he likely will have leveled up. And coach Mike Smith can’t seem to miss right now.

Why he won’t make it: I mean, Houston wasn’t great! He only ran 1:02:xx and never even made an attempt to run with the leaders. You could couch it by saying he was in the middle of a block on heavy legs. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me that was his second rep of the day. But that performance does create a bit of doubt…

Why we want him to make it: Rupp won’t just be happy to make this team. On paper, he’s got the best odds of actually doing well at the Olympics. And if he gets hugs from his kids at the finish-line and gives a good post-race interview, then we’ll likely see him behind the mic on some broadcasts in a couple of years.

Conner Mantz

Why he’ll make it: Well, he’s run the fastest this cycle. Mantz took to the marathon immediately and has excelled on flat and fast courses throughout his career – Orlando will be exactly that. And he likely won’t have to be the one up front pushing the pace as surely, someone who has not run under 2:11:30 won’t let it drag. Everything that’s been made public about his training lately is a good indicator of things to come. 

Why he won’t make it: It turns out Mantz is not invincible, as he did suffer a stress reaction in his femur in November. But just about everyone has him in their top three and there is no way we are ALL right, right?

Why we want him to make it: Some athletes make it look so easy, and that’s just not relatable. We want future generations to know that if you want to run fast that it’s going to hurt.

Clayton YoungClayton Young

Kevin Morris / @KevMoFoto

Clayton Young

Why he’ll make it: Clayton Young put together one healthy marathon block and he knocked it out of the park, running 2:08:00. You’re welcome, America! His trajectory at the distance is quite steep, having gone from 2:29 to 2:16 to 2:11 to 2:08. If Mantz is a bull dog then Young is the immaculately groomed Vizsla, and in the chaos of a qualifying situation, having a measured response to the moves may pay dividends.

Why he won’t make it: How good is that kick if he saw the clock in Chicago and couldn’t find that one more second to become a 2:07 guy? 

Why we want him to make it: Look at how much making an Olympic team would mean to him. The world needs more vulnerable men who are in touch with their emotions!

Futsum Zienasellassie

Why he’ll make it: Futsum won his debut marathon in 2022 at the USATF Championships at CIM running 2:11:01, but it was the way he cruised a sub-15 minute 5K from 35 to 40K that gives me a lot of confidence. He ran 2:09:40 in Rotterdam and then was 10th at New York, which are solid performances so the consistency is there. Actually having won a real marathon puts him in elite company in this field, too! 

Why he won’t make it: Rotterdam was a 2:03 race, making it a special opportunity to run fast and while 2:09:40 is good, it might not be good enough to make this team. 

Why we want him to make it: Watch the video below.

Zach Panning

Why he’ll make it: Panning’s in great shape. He recently ran 16 miles at 4:47 pace and when the Internet speculated if he ran that workout too hard, he followed it up with a 2 x 6 mile @ 4:41 the following week. His 13th place finish at the World Championships is being massively overlooked because it was a hot day and therefore the time wasn’t flashy. 

Why he won’t make it: There are a lot of really good guys! Panning’s MO has been to run smart and work his way through a large deep field and clean up guys who run fast. The Trials is going to put him in his first lead marathon pack. 

Why we want him to make it: We like transparent athletes who post their workouts on Strava because it’s fun! But Panning is a late bloomer who will give credence to all the non-Divxision One athletes out there that the size of your school doesn’t determine your future.

For more of the top stories and analysis from the biggest stories in track and field from the past week, subscribe to The Lap Count newsletter for free. New edition every Wednesday morning at 6:30 a.m. ET.

Kyle Merber

After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.