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January 27th, 2020

The USA Olympic Team Women’s Marathon Trials race is likely to be distinctly different than the men’s race. Unlike the men’s competition where veteran marathoners Leonard Korir and Galen Rupp have been viewed as the favorites, the women’s race will feature a handful of athletes who have rung up closely-bunched impressive times, shown great progression, and displayed toughness in prior marathons and other championship competitions. And with the announced retirement earlier this fall by 3-time Olympian and 2-time Olympic marathoner Shalane Flanagan, an emerging pack of young and accomplished marathoners is eager to show the more seasoned competitors that this is their moment. The women who make the Olympic team will be the top 3 finishers.  Let’s assess the field.

The Favorites:
• Amy Cragg / Qualifier: 2:21:42 Tokyo 2018: Cragg comes in as the defending Trials champion and the Trials record holder [2:28:20]. Her win under sweltering conditions in LA’s ’16 Trials was impressive. In Rio’s steamy Olympic marathon she finished 9th [2:28:25].. But perhaps her most memorable marathon performance was in the ’17 world championships in London. Digging deep, Amy showed incredible toughness in her bronze medal battle over the final miles with Kenya’s Flomena Cheyech Daniel. Cragg uncorked a desperate drive on the final straightaway to secure 3rd place, just inches away from silver and only 6 seconds away from gold. Yet uncertainty swirls around her preparedness for next month’s Trials. Her impressive PR qualifying time - #5 on the USA all-time list – is two years old. And this summer the former Arizona State star sustained a serious hamstring injury during a Mammoth Lakes trail run. Her recovery through active release therapy has taken time. But in early November, Cragg stepped down in distance to participate in a 5K road race in New York finishing a strong 3rd in 15:54. Yet the question lingers: when she toes the Atlanta starting line, will the 35-year-old Cragg be physically ready and mentally prepared for the battle before her?

• Sara Hall / Qualifier: 2:22:16 Berlin 2019: 36-year-old Hall is another of the more experienced competitors. The spouse of USA Olympic Marathon Trials record-holder Ryan Hall, Sara has shown her current fitness by posting the a 2:22:16 marathon clocking last fall [#6 on the USA all-time list] on Berlin’s speedy course. In 2019 Hall raced frequently and posted impressive marks over a range of distances. After her 1:08:58 tune-up race in the 2020 Houston Half marathon, this RRCA-supported athlete should be able to step to the line with a clear head and confidence in her fitness.

• Jordan Hasay / Qualifier: 2:20:57 Chicago 2017: When Hasay moved up to the marathon 3 years ago, some discounted her chances for success. Jordan has proved the doubters to be wrong. Her qualifying mark, albeit 2+ years old, is nonetheless #2 on the USA all-time list. In fact the former Foot Locker and NCAA champion while at the University of Oregon has posted 2 of the top 10 fastest marathon times ever run by American women. But it has been a tumultuous fall for the 28-year-old Hasay as her long-time coach Alberto Salazar was given a 4-year ban in late September and her American record attempt at October’s Chicago Marathon was aborted when she tore her hamstring in the second mile and was forced to drop out. Now aligned with former world record holder Paula Radcliffe as her new coach and with her hamstring pronounced as healed, Hasay will need to recapture that 2017 magic on race day. If she can, a place on the Olympic team should be hers.

• Molly Huddle / Qualifier: 2:26:22 / London 2019: While 7 race-day competitors will begin the Trials race with qualifying marks superior to Huddle’s entry mark, all of them will be keeping an eye on this decorated Notre Dame star. A supreme championship racer, the 35-year-old American record holder at 10,000 meters has won a total of 8 national outdoor titles at 5000 and 10,000 meters. Her half marathon PR of 1:07:25 is #2 on the USA all-time list. Guided adroitly by her long-time coach Ray Treacy and presumed to be in great fitness, Huddle, along with Emily Sisson, will likely be the alpha racers all will watch carefully. Oh, and don’t be misled by Huddle’s meek and gentle demeanor which belies the fire and competitive spirit that burns within this champion.

• Desi Linden / Qualifier: 2:26:46 / New York 2019: Desiree Linden will come to Atlanta with the chance to do what no American woman has ever done before: to make her 3rd USA Olympic team as a marathoner. Always a gamer, the 36-year-old Linden has proved to be a consistently top flight performer in the big races. While 9 of her Trials competitors will step to the line in Atlanta with faster qualifying times than Linden, Desi has rung up 11 performances over her storied career faster than the USA Olympic Trials record of 2:28:20, most recently her 2:26:46 in November’s NYC Marathon where she finished 6th as the 1st American woman finisher. Linden handles tough conditions better than almost anyone. When a horrific nor’easter ravaged the 2018 Boston Marathon, Linden sucked it up, kept her cool, and soldiered on to victory, the first US women to win the Patriots’ Day classic in 33 years. Now facing her 4th marathon Trials, the crafty Linden will likely race wisely, ensure an honest pace early, and run tough through the series of rolling hills in the final 6 miles.

• Emily Sisson / Qualifier: 2:23:08 / London 2019: Among the youngest of the favorites at age 28, Sisson is a highly-talented, gutty racer who is sure to be a factor on race day. Her inaugural marathon in London last year was impressive and her 2019 half marathon PR [1:07:30 / #3 on the USA all-time list] suggests she can handle any pace. At the ’19 world championships in Doha Sisson finished 10th [31:12.56] in the 10,000 final. Her 2019 nation-leading mark in the women’s 10,000 [30:49.57] should allow Sisson to be a formidable finisher over the final miles in Atlanta.

In The Hunt:
• Emma Bates / Qualifier: 2:25:27 Chicago 2019: The 27-year-old Bates comes in with the 7th fastest qualifying marathon – a 2:25.27 inaugural marathon outing in Chicago last fall. The former Boise State star can perform in championship settings, having captured the NCAA 10,000 meter crown in 2014 [32:32:35]. Another RRCA-supported athlete, Emma posted an array of quality times in 2019: 1:11:13 [twice! – in Pittsburgh and New York] and cranked out an even more impressive 10 miler [52:18] in the Cherry Blossom race.

• Kellyn Taylor Johnson / Qualifier: 2:24:29 / Duluth 2018: The 33-year-old Johnson has the 5th fastest qualifying marathon mark in the field with her 2018 clocking at Grandma’s Marathon. She has impressive PR’s in the half [1:10:16] and the 10,000 [31:40.70] which suggest she could step up if any of the favorites falter.

• Sally Kipyego / 2:25:10 Berlin 2019: A seasoned competitor in championship settings and a former NCAA champion at 5000 and 10,000, Kipyego should be unfazed by yet another big moment in Atlanta. The 34-year-old former Kenyan athlete has a 1:08:31 PR in the half marathon and her marathon debut clocking of 2:25:10 last fall in Berlin gives her the 6th fastest marathon qualifying time in the field. Kipyego, who has earned 10,000 meter silver medals in both the Olympic Games and world championships, would be a definite threat if she is in the hunt over the final miles.

• Stephanie Bruce / 2:27:47 Chicago 2019: Bruce’s 2019 marks include PR’s in both the half marathon [1:10:44] and the marathon [2:27:47] and suggest this 36-year-old RRCA-supported athlete is on the top of her game going into the Trials.

The Longshots: Will any of these up-and-comers, all of whom shined in January’s Houston Half Marathon, have that storybook race in Atlanta?

• Katy Jermann Moen / Qualifier: 2:31:55 New York 2019: Another athlete receiving assistance from the RRCA, the 27-year-old Moen bettered her 2019 PR with a 1:09:38 half in Houston earlier this year. Might she be poised to bust a big race in Atlanta?

• Lindsay Flanagan / Qualifier: 2:28:08 Chicago 2019: Armed with an “A” standard qualifying mark posted last fall, this 29-year old Colorado resident showed she is ready by posting a half marathon PR 1:09:37 in Houston half marathon race. Flanagan, one of a goodly number of Trials entrants supported by RRCA programs, has marathon experience dating back to 2015 which should aid her in the Trials competition.

• Molly Seidel / Qualifier: / 1:10:27 San Antonio 2019: The 25-year-old Seidel topped her qualifying mark with a 1:09:35 [just a step behind Huddle] in the 2020 Houston half. This former NCAA cross country and 10,000 meter champion could well surprise.

• Becky Wade / Qualifier: 2:33:03 Toronto 2019: Her 1:09:40 in her 2020 tune-up race in Houston shows this RRCA-supported marathoner is primed for a strong effort in Atlanta.

• Aliphine Tuliamuk / Qualifier: 2:26:50 Rotterdam 2019: Another sharp tune-up performance [1:09:49] in the 2020 Houston half marathon affirms this talented racer and RRCA-supported athlete is ready to go.
• Samantha Bluske-Palmer / Qualifier: 2:29:07 Frankfort 2019: Bluske-Palmer, 28 years old, is yet another RRCA-supported athlete who could surprise. Unlike many, she has a couple of top-flight marathon competitions under her belt, including her A-qualifier PR clocking set in Germany last fall. This Ohio resident tuned up in Houston Half Marathon with a PR finishing time of 1:11:07.

The Crystal Ball: Provided the weather is favorable, the abundant talent in this race suggests the 4-year-old Trials record [2:28:20] could be in jeopardy. With serious 2019 injuries raising yet unanswered questions about the start line fitness for both Cragg and Hasay, look for Huddle and Sisson to set the early tone, run negative splits, and capture the first 2 team berths with Huddle crossing first. An epic battle for the final ticket to the Games will follow. A duel between Linden and Hall could develop, with Hall’s superior closing speed propelling her to the 3rd and final Olympic team position.

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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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