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.
Why she’ll make it: Being the previous American record holder in both the marathon and half marathon is a pretty good resume. It feels like yesterday, but the 2:19:12 in Houston was two years ago now and since then, she has raced a lot. If I am armchair quarterbacking my analysis, I get the impression that she really likes racing. But this Trials build seems like the most intentional training block of her career, with no other distractions. It probably was tempting to line up more, but her workouts look good and she’s actually had regular training partners.
Why she won’t make it: She is coming off a disappointing performance at Worlds where she suffered some hip flexor problems.
Why we want her to make it: The inspiration! Keira’s story has transcended the elite running world and her balance of working mom and elite runner is the sort of thing NBC could really attach themselves to ahead of Paris.
Kevin Morris / @KevMoFoto
Why she’ll make it: How about that bronze medal? Look around the world of women’s marathon running right now – the world record is 2:11 now! And Molly is the defending bronze medalist, who clearly knows how to run championship-style races. Momentum is on Molly’s side as she ran a personal best (2:23:07) in Chicago. And prior to going dark on Strava, her mileage was up!
Why she won’t make it: Molly will probably have to run a pace she never has before to make this team. Even her half marathon personal best (69:20) multiplied by two is not under the American record.
Why we want her to make it: Because she drinks beer! But mainly because she has been through hell at many points in her career and bounced back and after lots of injuries and disappointments since Tokyo, it’d be wonderful to see another high note.
Kevin Morris / @KevMoFoto
Why she’ll make it: The defending champion! Aliphine was being overlooked as a qualifier in 2020, and she then won the damn thing. It’s hard to express just how different the all or nothingness of this event plays into the psychology of it, and the best predictor of future success is past performance.
Why she won’t make it: Tuliamuk was supposed to run Chicago this fall, but withdrew with a hamstring issue shortly before. She looked very strong in New York 2022, finishing seventh, but never fully built off that momentum in 2023.
Why we want her to make it: During the pandemic, Aliphine gave birth to her daughter Zoe and entered the Olympics with an abbreviated training block. Halfway through she was forced to drop out due to a hip injury. This is her opportunity to return at full strength!
(Since initially writing this I saw this update on Aliphine, which indicates the hamstring is still a point of concern.)
Why she’ll make it: A few months ago, Betsy Saina was flying so far under the radar that she’d have been considered a dark horse. That only lasted so long because now everyone remembers, “Betsy Saina runs for the US.” Saina ran 30:07 for 10,000m back in 2016, and has now transitioned to the marathon very well, highlighted by a 2:21:40 in Tokyo. And she has proven that in addition to running fast courses, that she can do it in tough conditions – it was well into the 70s for her Sydney win.
Why she won’t make it: Please get back to me on this one.
Why we want her to make it: Her ceiling just feels so high! My recurring point about modern marathoning is that it’s never been more important to have been a good track runner because at these speeds you need some turnover.
Why she’ll make it: 2:18:29 – that’s why! Even on an “off-day” in Chicago, Sisson was the top American in a loaded field. My Roman Empire is Sisson lapping the entire field four times in the 2020 Olympic Trials 10,000m because it was two hundred degrees out and she was the only one not bothered by it. If having to come up with a strategy to beat Sisson, the best bet may be just to pray.
Why she won’t make it: In 2020 Sisson was a DNF after a really strong debut in London – anything can happen. No one is safe! This is the excitement of the Trials!
Why we want her to make it: If we are going off the descending order list of who the best Americans are then Emily is at the very top of it and we want our very best to represent the US in Paris. Of course, that’s why we run the race though.
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.