Disappearing Moment

Olympic Trials: Predicting Orlando

I cannot wait for the 2024 U.S. Olympic Team Trials — Marathon. I have never been more excited about a sporting event. Not when my favorite teams made the World Series, Super Bowl, or NBA Championship. Not for March Madness or a title fight. It has everything I love about sports.

The most important element is the sport itself. It is a great time to follow running. Every week has running events that matter. Those events are documented in thoughtful articles and podcasts, and high quality videos. I find the relevant results in Alison Wade’s Fast Women and Kyle Merber’s The Lap Count, two excellent newsletters. Race organizers or networks post videos and results within hours. If I want to watch live, there are free or inexpensive streams. Dozens of podcasts feature top athletes: my favorites are Ali Feller’s Ali on the Run and Nobody Asked Us, hosted by Des Linden and Kara Goucher. Linden, a Boston marathon champion and two-time Olympian, still competes in the marathon. Goucher retired five years ago after making two Olympic teams and missing a third by one spot. Both Linden and Goucher released superb memoirs in 2023, as did their competitor, Lauren Fleshman. Good for a Girl, Fleshman’s book, won the £30K William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award.

A growing number of shoe, apparel, and equipment companies are sponsoring athletes. Many of these companies have committed to celebrating diversity. When more athletes make a living as runners, the sport becomes more interesting. These are the athletes whose stories I follow.

I watch them race to cope with the elation and exertion of my own running. The grind. The tears. Running is distilled pubescence. All hormones, volatility, smells, striving, and affiliation. It is coming into power and recognizing our boundaries. It is “death in small doses daily” so we can “go on with the business of living.”

Unlike many other sports, people compete in running year-round and all over the world. There are professional and elite events. Exciting races for people who are younger or in school. Races for athletes with different physical abilities. Masters competitions for older runners. Nonbinary divisions at elite marathons. Open events for anyone who wishes to compete.

While many athletes are getting increasing attention, the marathon is having a moment. Like me, a lot of runners dream of sharing the road with the world’s best at the most prestigious events. The marathon also has a transcendent athlete, Eliud Kipchoge, a two-time Olympic champion. Kipchoge is the charismatic star of Nike’s Breaking2, which introduced the world to carbon-plated “supershoes”. He has run five of the ten fastest marathons and held the world record from September 16, 2018, until October 8, 2023. His record was broken by Kelvin Kiptum, who has also run the third- and sixth-fastest marathons. Their major competitor for best male marathoner is Evans Chebet, who won Boston and New York in 2022. He then won Boston again in 2023, beating Kipchoge. It looks like the three will compete against each other for the first time at the Paris Olympics this summer.

As much as I enjoy dynasties and dominance, I prefer what is happening among the athletes who race as women. (I’ll write “women” or “men” for the rest of the essay; you’ll know what I mean.) Nine of the ten fastest marathoners of all time are still competing. They range in age from 24 to 32, which means they are entering or still in their peak years. By comparison, Kipchoge is 38 and likely to slow down soon.

The women marathon stars are at least as charismatic as the men. Sifan Hassan is my favorite professional athlete. She won the only two marathons she has run and has the second-fastest time on record. She competes for gold medals in the 1,500, 5,000, and 10,000 meters in a single Olympics or World Championships while training to win major marathons. The way she does it is even more exciting: falling down and getting up to win (or not), stopping to stretch in the middle of races, jogging at the back of the pack until the last possible moment. Her races are must-see events. I plan to write an essay about her soon.

Letesenbet Giday is another favorite, seemingly capable of anything. She has a graceful, textbook stride and a penchant for pushing beyond her limits.

Other must-see runners include Hellen Obiri. Peres Jepchirchir, and Amane Beriso Shankule. If they are in a race, be sure to stream it.

As much as I enjoy watching runners from all over the world, as an American, it is easiest to follow Americans. Unlike the American men, American women are competing for podiums. The men may be competing for just two Olympic berths. The women will compete for the full complement of three. Olympic entry standards are complicated; Erin Strout provides a good overview of how qualifications and the trials work. The intent is for at least three athletes from each country to run faster than the Olympic Standard. The U.S. men have two runners with the Standard; the women have 13.

That’s one of the reasons the Marathon Trials are getting a lot of attention. There is drama in (more than) 13 medal contenders competing for 3 spots. The most recent trials, in Atlanta, were a big event. Fans expect another memorable competition on February 3 in Orlando.

It’s not clear why American women are enjoying more success than the men. Some possibilities:

There is another aspect of women’s running to discuss. We are at an inflection point with the kits that women wear for racing. Everyone knows they are retrograde. The incongruity of their persistence accentuates the athletes’ courage, dedication, and vulnerability. I could not wear their kits in public, ogled by executives, cameras, and journalists. “A woman knows very well that, though a wit sends her his poems, praises her judgment, solicits her criticism, and drinks her tea, this by no means signifies that he respects her opinions, admires her understanding, or will refuse, though the rapier is denied him, to run through the body with his pen.”

I look forward to a generation of runners that does not have to deal with this kind of gendering and discrimination.


For most marathons, it is futile to make predictions. Many runners consider winning a tertiary goal. They would rather beat people in their age group or from their country. They avoid trying too hard too early. The risk of “blowing up” is greater than the reward of winning.

There are unique aspects of the Women’s U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon that make it exciting. Unlike other professional marathons, it is country-specific; only people who are eligible to represent the U.S. in the Olympics can run. The U.S., unlike many other countries, sends the top three finishers in the trials; many other countries select the runners who will represent them. For that reason, everyone is giving everything they have to finish in the top three. It will be a race, not a time trial. If the runners want to draft to save energy, it will be off their competitors. If they want someone to help with their pacing, they may have to reciprocate. There is a good chance that heat will be a factor.

A year ahead of the trials, Women’s Running writer Brian Metzler listed 15 Top Women Contenders for the U.S Olympic Marathon Trials

  1. Emily Sisson
  2. Keira D’Amato
  3. Sara Hall
  4. Emma Bates
  5. Lindsay Flanagan
  6. Dakotah Lindwurm
  7. Susanna Sullivan
  8. Sarah Sellers
  9. Nell Rojas
  10. Paige Stoner *
  11. Aliphine Tuliamuk
  12. Sara Vaughn

Others To Consider:

A month ahead of the trials, Nobody Asked Us with Des Linden and Kara Goucher named the runners they expected to be most competitive:

I included asterisks next to the runners who were on one list and not the other. If you want to know who the favorites are, they are the ones on both lists. If you gravitate to stories, consider the runners with asterisks.

My Top 25

For this essay, I developed a system to rank my expectations for who will make the Olympic team. (See below, Appendix: My Point System.) The points I gave to each runner don’t matter. They were a means to an end: creating groups of athletes.

The Top Five Four

In running, there is the idea of a race being tactical or honest.

In a tactical race, the best athletes are risk averse. They steward their energy and run in a pack, taking turns drafting and pacing. The fittest runners wait as long as they can to reveal their strength and speed.

In an honest race, everyone tries to finish as fast as they can. That can mean running alone or “hitting the wall” before the finish line.

If they are healthy, get good weather, and run an honest race, three of these four women will fill the Olympic slots. If it takes breaking 2:22 to make the team, these are the women who do it.

All four go into the race expecting to make the team. Anyone from this group who does not make it will feel the hurt and I will hurt with them.

  1. Emily Sisson. American record holder. We expect great things every time she runs. A big fan favorite.
  2. Keira D’Amato. Recent American record holder in the full and half marathon. Funny and beloved.
  3. Emma Bates. Injured and not running in the Trials. She plans to run Boston in April, which makes this more and less heartbreaking.
  4. Molly Seidel. Bronze medalist in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. A brilliant iconoclast.
  5. Betsy Saina. Strong, tough, and smart. Has succeeded against the world’s best.

The Rest of the Top Ten

These six runners are successful competitors. No one should expect them to make the team, and no one should expect them not to make the team.

  1. Sara Vaughn. Excels on flat courses. Orlando is flat.
  2. Sara Hall. A top runner for a long time, and still on top. Unless things go sideways, she will break Des Linden’s new Masters Record (age 40 and over) in this race.
  3. Lindsay Flanagan. Top U.S. finisher in the last World Championships.
  4. Susanna Sullivan. Made the last World Championship team. Recovering from an injury.
  5. Nell Rojas. Fierce in many distances. Ready to take the next step and make a team.
  6. Aliphine Tuliamuk. Won the last Trials three years ago.

Everyone’s Favorite Underdogs (so are they underdogs?)

These two women are getting a lot of attention leading up to the race. Among the less obvious challengers, they are the most obvious.

  1. Dakotah Lindwurm. Excels in competitive races. Don’t sleep on Minnesota.
  2. Gabriella Rooker. Former gymnast, new runner, and new pro. No one knows how fast she can finish. Don’t sleep on Minnesota.


This is why I made the list. I wondered who was getting less attention than they deserved. Who was hiding in plain sight. Who can run with a chip on her shoulder.

  1. Tristin Van Ord (Interview on Women’s Running Stories podcast). Top American in a competitive 2023 Houston Marathon.
  2. Maggie Montoya (Interview on the C Tolle Run podcast). The other former gymnast. Fourth U.S. woman at the 2022 Chicago Marathon.
  3. Lauren Hagans. Not overlooked by my definition. Good namecheck by Des and Kara. She’s legit.
  4. Des Linden. I am working on an essay, “Des Linden and the Ontology of Cool”. Sifan Hassan is my favorite athlete; Des may be my favorite celebrity. After making the previous two Olympic teams, she was a close fourth in the Atlanta trials three years ago. I don’t think she races if she doesn’t expect to succeed. Prediction: if she’s in the top 10 with 5K left, she makes the team.
  5. Jacqueline Gaughan (Athlete Bio on the Orland 2024 Olympic Trials website). Because I am old and can’t understand new movies, I imagine her watching Meatballs the night before the race. Also because, to the extent that any great runner can be a cipher, she’s managed it. If anyone is going to come out of nowhere to make the team, it’s Gaughan.
  6. Emily Durgin (Interview on the Ali on the Run and C Tolle Run podcasts). “The Next Molly Seidel”… of 2022. That’s a reflection of the Olympic cadence and the news cycle, not Durgin’s talent.

The Other Top 25 Marathoners Who Are Entered in the Race

The preceding group is composed of runners who others underrated. The seven runners in this list are the ones who I may not be giving the credit they deserve.

  1. Paige Wood. She’s #10 on the Women’s Running list.
  2. Annie Frisbie. Good call by Des and Kara.
  3. Sarah Sellers. She’s #8 on the Women’s Running list. She gets dinged in my system for not running in the recent majors.
  4. Molly Huddle. Good call by Women’s Running.
  5. Kellyn Taylor. Good call by Des and Kara. I like runners who push the pace. I hope she does well.
  6. Stephanie Bruce. If Sara Hall or Des Linden do not set a new Masters Record in Orlando, Stephanie Bruce might. The big variable is her postpartum recovery.
  7. Molly Grabill. Unsponsored and she ran for the U.S. in the 2023 Road Running Championships. I’m rooting for her.

This Year’s Molly Seidel?

Molly Seidel overcame bad weather, a tough course, and a large field in Atlanta to finish second in her debut marathon. That placed her on the 2021 U.S. Olympic Marathon Team. In her second marathon, she fought crushing heat to win the bronze medal in the Tokyo Olympics. That’s encouraged other top runners to make their marathon debut in the Trials. And it’s encouraged fans and journalists to look for The Next Molly Seidel. These three are the best candidates:

  1. Jenny Simpson (on the Ali on the Run and C Tolle Run podcasts, and a profile in Outside). More successful than anyone else in the race… at a much shorter distance: 1500 meters. If she can Molly Seidel, can she Sifan Hassan? She grew up near Orlando and her husband and training partner has run a sub-2:19 marathon. I expect her to break 2:20 at some point. She may break the American record. I have no idea if it will happen in Orlando.
  2. Fiona O’Keefe (profile in Alison Wade’s Fast Women). Fast, successful, and young by marathon standards. About the same age as Seidel when she made the team. She made the Runners World Top 10 (paywall), along with Keira D’Amato, Lindsay Flanagan, Sara Hall, Gabriella Rooker, Betsy Saina, Molly Seidel, Emily Sisson, Aliphine Tuliamuk, and Sara Vaughn.
  3. Natosha Rogers (profiles at Alison Wade’s Fast Women and Kyle Merber’s The Lap Count). Talented, tough, and mercurial. If she shows up fit, tapered, and follows her race plan, she will be tough to beat.

This is over 2,500 words. I wish I had the knowledge and talent to write 10 times as many. There are dozens of other stories in the Athlete Bios on the Orlando 2024 Trials website.

Every athlete who qualified for the Trials is a star. They deserve our appreciation. I look forward to seeing them run on February 3.

Appendix: My Point System

I created a point system for this essay. I based it on data that was available and had a good chance to be relevant. I look forward to figuring out which additional factors to consider.