Coming into the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Sunday, there had yet to be an American man to run the 2024 Olympic automatic qualifying standard time of 2:08:10.
With the U.S. Olympic Trials taking place in early February, a mere four months away, this was a source of concern for U.S. marathoners.
In order for Team USA to send a full squad of three runners to the Paris Olympics, American runners must “unlock” each spot. This can be done in one of three ways: either running under the Olympic automatic qualifying time, placing top five in a Platinum Label Marathon, or by specific world rankings.
Because the latter is a less guaranteed route to follow, the focus was placed on getting the men to run under the automatic qualifying time. Considering that before the Chicago Marathon, only six Americans had ever run under 2:08:10, this would be quite the feat.
Crossing the line in 6th and 7th place, respectively, Conner Mantz and Clayton Young answered the call, each clocking a personal best and unlocking two spots for American marathoners at next year’s Olympic Games.
Mantz ran a time of 2:07:47, and his former university teammate and current training partner, Young, ran a time of 2:08:00.
Mantz took 29 seconds off his previous personal best, which he set in his marathon debut at the 2022 Chicago Marathon. Having a standout year, Young also set his previous personal best last year in Chicago, running 2:11:51. His time on Sunday takes almost four minutes off his previous best.
Prior to the race, Mantz felt confident he was in form to run under 2:07, however, he spoke of the challenges he faced in the final 4k. Nonetheless, he is leaving the race excited about his result and running a qualifying time.
Mantz explained that since his run in Chicago last year, he’s clocked around 5,000 miles. Young says that for the last 16 weeks, he’s put in 120 miles per week. Both say they’re completing this volume running only six days per week.
Although Mantz and Young claimed these spots for Team USA, they are not guaranteed to fill them in Paris. This will depend on USATF’s selection policy and the results of the Olympic Trials this February in Florida.
What it does mean is that there is less uncertainty surrounding the Olympic qualifying process for the Americans.
Galen Rupp, another notable American taking to the start of the 2023 Chicago Marathon, is coming off two challenging years since placing second at the 2021 Chicago Marathon.
Contending with ongoing back pain, Rupp has completely overhauled his running style and biomechanics.
Although he didn’t run under 2:08:10, he was just behind his American compatriots, finishing 8th in 2:08:48. Rupp is returning from his performance at Chicago positively, regardless.
Rupp, speaking with Runner’s World following his race, “It was a good step forward for me today, I just kind of died the last 6 miles. I didn’t feel like I had the leg speed at the end. From a breathing standpoint, I felt great.”
Looking to the future, the Americans will be fighting to get a third automatic qualifying time. Ed Eyestone, a former Olympic marathoner and now coach to both Mantz and Young, said their priority coming into Chicago was to run qualifying times.
Eyestone said they wanted to make sure the opportunities were there for all Americans come the Olympic Trials. Of course, Eyestone hopes it’s Mantz and Young who will claim those spots but knows the two men can be proud of the fact that they opened the door.
Looking back at the race splits of Rupp and fourth-ranking American at Chicago Sam Chelanga, it is clear where the American struggled: the final five miles. At the 35k mark in the Chicago Marathon, both Chelanga and Rupp were running well under the qualifying pace, 2:06:59 pace and 2:07:17 pace, respectively.
It’s in the final 7.195k that both Americans went too far into the red. Chelanga ran that final distance at a 2:17 marathon pace in 23:20 and Rupp at a 2:16 marathon pace in 23:15. This would leave Chelanga to cross the line 9th, in a time of 2:08:50, and Rupp in 8th with a time of 2:08:48.
With most of the best Americans having run their fall marathon, it leaves limited chances for the U.S. to claim a third automatic qualifying time. Their best chances are found in 5th-ranked American Elkanah Kibet and 7th-ranked American Futsum Zienasellassie, both of whom will run the New York City Marathon on November 5th
If no American meets the automatic qualifying time, Team USA will hope to have another runner ranked high enough in the world rankings to earn a third spot that way.