TSX BULLETIN: Mantz and Young, O’Keeffe dominate U.S. marathon trials

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At long last, the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials was held in Orlando, Florida, under sunny conditions with starting temperatures just under 60 degrees when the men took off at 10:10 a.m.

In the end, the men’s race followed the script with the two favorites – Conner Mantz and Clayton Young – running comfortably to the finish, but women’s winner Fiona O’Keeffe stealing her race in a stunner.

A big pack moved together through the first six miles, with Zach Panning in the lead, then shrank to 14 by the 8-mile mark, with all of the favorites comfortably situated. Panning, in his fourth career marathon with a 2:09:28 best from 2022 and 13th at the 2023 Worlds, was in the lead through the half in 1:04:07, with Teshome Mekonen beside and 10 now in contention.

Ethiopian-born Mekonen took over at 14 miles; he became eligible to run for the U.S. in December 2022 and was in his fifth career marathon, having finished 24th in Berlin last October. Panning took over again at 15 miles, with Mekonen and U.S. qualifying leader Mantz right with him and 10 still running together.

Now the grinding started. Four-time Olympian and Rio 2016 marathon bronze winner Galen Rupp fell off the pace at 17 miles as the lead group shrunk to seven. Mekonen fell off the back at 18 miles and 13-time U.S. national distance champ Leonard Korir was showing signs of struggle to stay with the five in front of him.

Now came the break. Panning led at 19 miles, after miles of 4:44, 4:52 and 4:53, that broke everyone except Mantz and training partner and no. 2 time qualifier Young. Elkanah Kibet and Andrew Colley were five and six seconds back, and if Panning could keep this pace, he would run faster than the Olympic qualifying time of 2:08:10 (which Mantz and Young had already done).

So the racing on the street and against the clock was set. Panning clocked 4:51 to mile 20, on 2:07:38 pace. The three leaders slowed to 4:59 to mile 21, but were now 16 seconds clear of the field. They slowed significantly at 22 miles, at 5:07, with Mantz taking over and then to 5:06 for Panning at 23, which would have him finish beyond the 2:08:10 qualifying mark.

Young and Mantz moved ahead at 24, with a 5:09 mile and Panning dropped to third, now 19 seconds back. He was still third by 24 seconds, but his shot at an Olympic qualifying time was gone.

The two favorites coming in – Mantz and Young – picked up the pace to 5:03 at 25 miles, with Panning third (a 5:28 mile), but losing ground rapidly to Kibet, now three seconds behind him. Young and Mantz cruised past 26 miles at 5:16, with Korir and Kibet now 3-4.

Mantz won at 2:09:05 with Young one second back, and finish-line temps right at 70 degrees (F). Those are the nos. 2-3 performances ever in a men’s Olympic Trials marathon.

Korir out-sprinted Kibet for third in 2:09:57 to 2:10:02, but well short of the Olympic qualifying time, although there are possibilities for later inclusion. Korir’s time is the ninth-fastest in Trials history.

Manta and Young were the clear favorites going in and they showed their class and earned their ticket to Paris.

The women’s race began at 10:20 a.m., and 14 were together through the first six miles, with 40-year-old Sara Hall, the Worlds fifth-placer from 2022, and former American Record holder Keira D’Amato taking turns in the lead. By eight miles, there were 13 in the lead pack and defending Trials champ Aliphine Tuliamuk had dropped to 24 seconds behind the leaders.

Marathon debutante O’Keeffe, the 2022 U.S. 10 Mile champ, took over at 10 miles, with the top 13 still bunched. Then Dakotah Lindwurm – in her 13th career marathon – grabbed the lead at 12 miles, and D’Amato edged to the front at 13. At the half, D’Amato, Lindwurm, O’Keeffe, Hall and Emily Durgin all crossed in 1:11:43 as temperatures were now in the mid-60s.

O’Keeffe popped back into the lead at 14, with the lead pack at 12. She remained there through mile 16, but suddenly D’Amato had dropped back, four seconds behind the lead pack of nine. Betsy Saina, 35, a Kenyan 10,000 m Olympian in 2016, but who transferred to the U.S. in 2021, was right in contention in her 11th career marathon. Lindwurm dropped back by the 17-mile mark, leaving seven in the lead group, on pace for a 2:23:13 finish,

Only five remained in contention by 18 miles, with O’Keeffe, American Record holder Emily Sisson, Hall, Saina and Durgin running together. Then Durgin dropped off the back at 19 as O’Keeffe – hardly a favorite to make the team – threw in a 5:22 mile to take a five-second lead at 19 miles.

And there was no let up. O’Keeffe hammered out a 5:20 mile and Sisson ran 5:25 to reach mile 20 in 1:48:57 and 1:49:07. Saina and Hall were at 1:49:20 and Durgin had caught up to them and now had a chance to make the team.

O’Keeffe kept pushing: 5:27 at mile 21, with now a 16-second lead in Sisson, and chaos behind them. Saina, Hall and Durgan all slowed to 5:47 miles and Caroline Rotich (5:36) and Lindwurm (5:39) moved in places 3-4! At 22 miles, O’Keeffe finished another 5:27 mile and had a 21-second lead on Sisson (5:32), with Lindwurm and 2015 Boston Marathon champ Rotich, 39, together, 35 seconds back and Hall chasing both, another nine seconds behind.

O’Keeffe stayed on the gas, running 5:21 to reach 23 miles with a 31-second lead on Sission and looking unbeatable. Lindwurm and Rotich – who gained a U.S. affiliation only in October 2023 – were together at 3-4 and Hall was another 15 seconds down. O’Keeffe timed 5:23 to 24 miles, with Sisson cruising in second and Lindwurm and Rotich still together. Hall’s hopes had faded, now 28 seconds behind them.

Both O’Keeffe and Sisson punched hard to mile 25, running 5:09 and 5:10 and O’Keeffe maintained a 40-second lead in the race of her life. Lindwurm broke free of Rotich, running a 5:44 mile as Rotich faded to 5:55 and looked to be a solid third.

Sisson pressed, running a 5:15 mile to 5:22 for O’Keeffe to narrow the gap to 14 seconds by 26 miles, but O’Keeffe won going away in 2:22:10, moving her no. 10 all-time U.S. in her first race at the distance. It’s by far the fastest U.S. Olympic trials marathon ever, blasting Shalane Flanagan’s 2:25:38 from 2012.

Sisson was second at 2:22:42, her third-fastest ever, and Lindwurm, at 28, got third at 2:25:31, her third-fastest ever, to get a trip to Paris. Jessica McClain passed the fading Rotich and Hall and got fourth (2:25:46), with Hall fifth at 2:26:06 and Rotich sixth at 2:26:10.

The top three times were the three-fastest in U.S. marathon trials history and this race now has seven of the all-time top 10.

There was $600,000 in prize money in this race, with 10 places receiving $80,000, $65,000, $55,000, $25,000, $20,000, $15,000, $13,000, $11,000, $9,000 and $7,000.

Much more to unpack from this race, but it was a considerable success for Mantz, Young and the stunning O’Keeffe, and after all the worries about weather, appeared to run smoothly with finish temperatures just about 70 at the end.

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