Meet The Women Running In The Most Diverse U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials In History

A record high 12 percent of participants are women of color

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Scheduled for Feb. 3 in Orlando, Florida, the 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon boasts a remarkable assembly of 160 women, forming the most exclusive and talented field in American women’s marathon history. 

This reduction from the 2020 participant count of over 450 is attributed to the heightened qualifying standards of 2:37:00 for the full marathon and 1:12:00 for the half.

We’ll be on-site at the 2024 US Olympic Marathon Trials to bring you live updates beginning at 9:30 a.m. ET on Saturday, February 3. Find our live updates here on race morning.

The top three finishers, surpassing the 2:29:30 time within the qualifying period, will secure coveted spots on the U.S. Olympic Team, set to compete in the Paris Olympics on August 11.

Despite the more stringent qualifying time, this year’s women’s field showcases an unprecedented level of diversity, with over 12 percent of participants being women of color

Approximately 12 percent of the field, constituting around 20 athletes, falls into this category, marking a significant increase, according to USA Track and Field statistics.

Women’s Running spoke with eight exceptional women of color who are part of this historic event, delving into their perspectives on racing to represent not only their country but also their communities.

Meet The Women Running In The Most Diverse U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials In History 1
Photo Credit: Scott McDermott for NYRR

Optimism With Growth

Sara Passani, a 30-year-old elite marathoner from Los Angeles, expressed optimism about the growing representation of women of color in the Trials to Women’s Running. 

Passani, who qualified in 2020 and surpassed the 2024 qualifying standard with an impressive 2:34:33 at the California International Marathon in 2022, sees this trend as promising, making the race even more thrilling.

Erika Kemp, the fastest U.S.-born Black female marathoner, echoed Passani’s sentiments. 

Kemp, inspired by the increasing presence of women of color in road races, finds encouragement in the evolving landscape of the sport and the pursuit of ambitious goals.

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Celebrating Culture and Identity

Maggie Montoya, a first-time Olympic Trials competitor with a personal best of 2:28:07, highlighted the significance of representation within the sport. 

As a Salomon-sponsored pro finishing a master’s in public health, Montoya, originally from Rogers, Arkansas, emphasized the importance of acknowledging existing disparities and fostering a sense of belonging for underrepresented communities.

Joanna Reyes, a full-time pharmacist from San Jose, California, shared her experience with Women’s Running of being the sole Hispanic runner in elite fields. 

Reyes, who qualified for her second Olympic Trials with a PR of 2:36:26, emphasized the pride she feels in representing her Latina heritage and expressed her hope for increased diversity in marathon pursuits.

Tammy Hsieh, a bioanalytical chemist from Boston who qualified on the last possible day, highlighted the lack of Asian American representation in running. 

Hsieh, who started running in 2015, underscored the importance of encouragement for Asian American kids to pursue sports, reflecting on her own journey to find community and meaning in running.

Betsy Saina, a Kenyan-born U.S. citizen since 2020, is expected to be a leading contender in the marathon. Saina’s story emphasizes the potential to inspire others through visibility, showcasing what is possible for runners who may not fully see themselves represented in the sport.

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Inspiring More Women of Color to Pursue the Sport

Athletes emphasized the role of community in their running journey, with Erika Kemp highlighting the importance of finding the right run clubs for support. 

Visible representation was identified as a key factor in promoting diversity and inspiring participation in road races, a sentiment aligned with the goals of the Running Industry Diversity Coalition.

Nell Rojas, who finished 10th at the 2023 Boston Marathon, stressed the importance of being visible to Black, Indigenous, or People of Color runners at large races, helping them overcome feelings of not belonging in the running community. 

The significance of showcasing diverse women from different backgrounds was underscored by Sara Passani, who acknowledged the potential to push the sport forward.

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The Road Ahead

Reflecting on the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, athletes recalled the challenges faced by Aliphine Tuliamuk and Sally Kipyego in terms of media attention compared to other athletes. 

The need for increased inclusion and representation in the running industry was emphasized, with Kidan Kidane, an Ethiopian-born athlete, sharing her hope to inspire women of color to pursue their goals despite challenges and barriers.

The athletes also recognized the power of storytelling in gaining visibility, particularly in terms of sponsorships

Peyton Thomas highlighted the need to shift media narratives to center around joy for BIPOC and queer runners, showcasing their accomplishments and contributions to the larger society.

As these women of color prepare to take on the 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, their stories highlight the progress made and the ongoing journey toward a more inclusive and representative running community.

Photo of author
Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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