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The Men's start, 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, photo by Kevin Morris

Pandemic Challenges USA Olympic Men Marathoners to Craft a New Plan B

 [Part One of a two-part series]


"Life is What Happens to You While You're Busy Making Other Plans." -- John Lennon.

The best marathoners possess an array of skills. They are disciplined and goal-oriented as they map out a training build-up for a season-capping race. They are resilient enough to rise above the inevitable injuries, the interruptions in training, And they respond quickly and adapt to unexpected challenges: last-minute changes in race day weather conditions; a mid-race surge; a missed aid station; even an untied shoe lace. But no marathoner has been prepared to face the unprecedented and pervasive challenges currently presented by the COVID-19 virus. Here are the stories of 3 of the 6 American marathoners who have made Team USA and will compete in the marathon in the Tokyo Olympic Games, if held as currently scheduled for next summer.


One of the world’s hottest sprinters two years ago, Ronnie Baker numbered London among his 4 Diamond League wins. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

IN THE FIRST YEAR of the post-Bolt era Ronnie Baker impressed: he won the ’18 Millrose 60 in a meet record 6.48, captured the 60 bronze at the World Indoor and won 4 Diamond League 100 titles, including a successful defense of his Pre crown, defeating reigning world champ Christian Coleman, who had set the indoor 60 WR just months before. By season’s end, the former TCU sprint star had posted the year’s second-fastest clocking (9.87) and earned the No. 2 Ranking heading into ’19’s World Championships campaign.

January 27th, 2020

On February 29th – dubbed by many as “Leap Day” – hordes of finely-tuned American men and women will take to the Atlanta streets to compete in the 2020 USA Olympic Team Marathon Trials. The task here – the first of two pre-race pieces on the men’s and women’s Olympic Marathon Trials – is to analyze the field, forecast who the top performers will be, and predict the athletes who will represent the USA in this summer’s Olympic Games marathon races in Japan. The men who make the Olympic team will likely by the top 3 finishers. An accurate prognostication is virtually impossible in this 26 mile 385 yard event where anything can happen (and almost always does), the weather on race day is unknown, and the event boasts a field containing nearly all of the country’s best athletes who have trained in solitude, hidden any physical tweaks or aches, and – for many – purposely haven’t raced a marathon in quite a while. One would have to be very good to get it right. Just a little bit of luck will help make these predictions look wiser than deserved . Here goes:

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.

Carrie Dimoff ’05, center, at the 2019 World ChampionshipsNoushad Thekkayil/Shutterstock

By Dave Hunter '72

November 27, 2019

Few athletes have as lengthy and circuitous a path to athletic success as Carrie Strickland Dimoff ’05. After walking on to Princeton’s cross country and track teams, she struggled to figure out her best event, trying middle-distance runs and the 400-meter hurdles before finding a niche in the 3,000 meter steeplechase. She set a school record in the steeplechase in 2004, but soon after, heel woes and stress fractures interrupted her training. “I had a great experience running at Princeton,” Dimoff said. “But my running talents and abilities really didn’t develop fully there.

Carina Viljoen and coach Lance Harter had plenty to celebrate about as the Razorbacks won not only their first XC crown, but also claimed a calendar year triple of national titles.


Terre Haute, Indiana
November 24, 2019

On an NCAA XC Championships day when the prevailing weather was unfit for man, woman, or beast, brimming-with-confidence Weini Kelati gained separation early and galloped on to an impressive individual victory in 19:47.5. Meanwhile a talented and experienced Arkansas squad captured its first-ever crown, edging BYU by 6 points, 96–102.

After overwhelming performances in winning her Conference and Regional races by 49 and 57 seconds, New Mexico junior Kelati stepped into the starting box as the cofavorite with Wisconsin senior Alicia Monson. With athletes facing a steady, annoying rain, temperatures in the mid-30’s, and the LaVern Gibson Championship Course softened by several days of an intermittent precipitation, which athlete would better handle the weather, the competition and the moment?

“This is easy,” Weini Kelati thought of her decision to throw down an early move.


Terre Haute, Indiana

November 23rd, 2019

IN LAST YEAR’S NCAA Women’s XC Championships, Weini Kelati threw down a strong move midway through the race, but her bold attempt to capture the individual title proved to be ill-fated as Colorado’s Dani Jones reeled in the Lobo star on the snow-covered final stretch to snatch the win.

Fast forward to this year: the 22-year-old Eritrean native employed a similar strategy. This time it worked. “I wasn’t planning to get away, but I was trying to find a place that I couldn’t get tripped or blocked out,” Kelati said after the race. “So, I saw it and I was like, ‘The risk is kind of crazy, but I didn’t know how far I can go like this.’ So, I decided to wait a little bit and then I was like, ‘I kind of feel pretty good and I was like why not just try the risk?’ And I tried to pull away from everyone else.”

Once separated from the field and free from future jostling, Kelati suspected she had made the right move. “I thought to myself ‘This is easy,’” she said on her decision to throw down an early move. “I knew I was fit. I have been running 6M of tempo every day. And this race is less than 4M. Why not just try it? And then I decided to take off and it was like, Wow!”

Hardly threatened and in control after her early surge, Kelati sailed on for the win, ultimately extending her margin of victory to about 60m by the finish. With the win, the New Mexico junior joined Notre Dame’s Molly Seidel to become only the second woman to win both a Foot Locker HS title and later an NCAA individual crown.

Pressed to consider how her dominating NCAA individual cross country victory ranks among the many other wins she has notched over the years, the reigning track 10K champion responded without hesitation: “I would have to say this is the greatest victory.” Being mindful that she has remaining eligibility, her response to that same inquiry may well change before her collegiate career concludes.


Last Night In Doha!  2019 IAAF                                                         World Athletics Championships

Joshua Cheptegei, 2019 10,000 meter World Champion

October 6th, 2019

Doha, Qatar

The men’s 10,000 meter run was one of many finals on the 10th and final day of the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships. With the men’s marathon having been held the night before – at midnight, no less – there was no chance for the often-attempted marathon/10,000m double. This 10,000 meter final would be more pure, consisting mainly of 10K specialists and only two athletes doubling back from the 5000 meter races held earlier in this gathering.

Because global 10,000 meter finals are almost always tactical affairs, world-leading clockings are of limited assistance in attempting to project world championship performances. Ethiopian Hagos Gebrhiwet is #1 on the world leader board with a 26:48.78 clocking he notched in winning the loaded Hengelo race earlier this year by beating a number of athletes who will competing in this 25-lap final. The 22-year-old Yomif Kejelcha, #3 on the WL list at 26:49.99, is an incredible young talent who could well be a factor in this final. Rodrigue Kwizera [#4 on the WL], Ethiopian Andamiak Belihu [#5 on the WL], and Switzerland’s Julien Wanders [#10 on the WL] all could contest for the medals. Leonard Korir and Lopez Lomong, the two Americans, lack the flashy impressive sub-27 minute clockings, but could become quite influential in a tactically-paced race.

Last Night In Doha!                                                         2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships


Lelisa Desisa Is The First Ehiopian World Marathon Champion Since 2001

Doha, Qatar

October 5th, 2019

Day Nine of these 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships featured many anticipated finals. Miles away from the festive crowds and bright lights of Khalifa International Stadium, 73 intrepid distance runners were preparing to compete in one of those finals: the men’s marathon to be staged along Doha’s famous Corniche, one the most striking city backdrops in the Middle East.

The loop marathon course set out for both genders is really striking. The start line is set 195 meters behind the finish line which is situated right in front of covered VIP seating accommodations. After the opening 195 meters, the competitors navigate 6 repetitive loops of the 7 kilometers. The 42.195 kilo Corniche course – a flat, freshly-paved roadway – would normally be a track conducive to fast times – except for the expected incredible heat.

But after a week of barely tolerable weather with temperatures approaching 110 degrees Fahrenheit with high humidity, the athletes competing in the men’s marathon received a break. As if through divine intervention, race day arrived with the usual high temperatures, but with humidity levels of 45% - as opposed to the 85% humidity that plagued the women’s marathon. Perhaps the men would race in weather conditions that were merely challenging, not impossible.

Last Night In Doha!                                                                 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships

Kenya's Kipruto (left) Edges Ethiopia's Girma For Steeple Crown


Doha, Qatar
October 4th, 2019

An anticipated highlight on Day Eight of these 2019 World Athletics Championships was the final of the men’s 3000 meter steeplechase. The complexion of this event was markedly different than in recent years of global contests due to the absence of American record holder Evan Jager who has been sidelined this entire year due to a nagging foot injury. Although Jager, a steeplechase medalist in both the ’16 Olympic Games [silver] and the ’17 world championships [bronze], was out of the picture, the superior quality of the field was beyond question as every single steeplechaser listed in the 2019 top ten world leader list was present for this global gathering and had made the final.

For many, the final was shaping up to be a showdown between two co-favorites. 23-year-old Soufiane El Bakkali, the ‘17 world championship silver medalist, came to Qatar with the world-leading mark of 8.04.82 and three 2019 Diamond League steeplechase wins to his credit, including one here in Doha in the Khalifa International Stadium. The other co-favorite, 19-year-old Ethiopian Getnet Wale, who upset Bakkali in the Brussels DL final, arrived with the #3 clocking [8:05.51] on the world leader list.

But another steeplechaser, not in this year’s top ten world leader list, nonetheless deserved some consideration. Although an aggravated foot injury kept Conseslus Kipruto out of competition until late in this extended season, the 24-year old Kenyan nonetheless came to Doha with glittering credentials: reigning Olympic and world championship steeplechase gold medalist; 16 Diamond League victories and 3 DL steeplechase championship wins, and a personal best of 8:00.12. But having competed in only 3 races this year, including a lackluster 7th place finish in the Brussels DL steeple final, Kipruto remained a mystery. Would he be a factor in this world championship final?

Shortly after the start of the steeplechase – a grueling 7½ lap event featuring 28 barriers and 7 water jumps – two Ethiopians, ’19 DL champion Getnet Wale and his young countryman Lamecha Girma, stormed to the front to lead the field through the first kilometer in 2:39.55 – sub 8:00 pace. The pace eased slightly as Girma hit 2 kilos in 5:22.95. Although the tempo – still on world leader pace – had worked to thin the field, a tight pack of Girma, Bakkali, and now Kipruto were still well positioned for the battle for the medals as the bell lap began. On the backstretch, 18-year-old Girma went first, uncorking a powerful sprint, his bid for the gold. Even Girma’s aggressive final water jump, clearing the water completely, was insufficient to shake Bakkali or the surprising Kipruto. The trio tore around the final curve for the drive down the homestretch. While Bakkali began to sag, a perfect final barrier clearance appeared to give Girma the slight edge he needed to capture the gold. But a relentless closing sprint by the crafty Kipruto positioned him for the all-important final drive to the line. A perfectly-timed lean at the finish was just enough to give Kipruto [world leading 8:01.35] the victory over Girma [8:01.36, an Ethiopian national record] by the slimmest of margins. Bakkali posted a season’s best 8:03.76] to capture the bronze. DL champ Wale [a personal best 8:05.21] was 4th while France’s Djilali Bedrani [a personal best 8:05.23] crossed next to round out the top 5.

Three Americans made the steeplechase final. Knowing that medals were unlikely, each hoped to run a competitive race that evidenced progression. 29-year-old Hillary Bor finished 8th in 8:09.33, just missing his PR clocking of 8:08.41 set at Doha’s Diamond League meet earlier this year. Stanley Kebeni finished 10th in 8:11.15, his best clocking this season. And former Indiana University athlete Andrew Bayer finished 12th in a personal best of 8:12.47. Standing with his steeplechase teammates in the mixed zone after the race, Bayer served as the spokesman. “Honestly my goal was to come in and finish in the top half of the field and break 8:10 in the final,” revealed the former NCAA 1500 meter champion. “I can look at places where I can still improve a lot. So I am excited to take a little break here and get ready for next year. This has been a really good learning experience. I’m frustrated that I was 12th, but it kind of lights the fire to be better next year. The goal here is to be vying for medals and we have a big jump to go there. But we start by seeing if we can get into that top 5. It’s great to be here with these guys [Bor and Kebeni]. It’s been a good time.”

/ Dave Hunter /

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

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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