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Beehive State will be well-represented in U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

Only two schools have more alumni among the qualifiers than BYU

Jared Ward smiles as he crosses the finish line to win the overall in the10K in the Deseret News 10K race July 24, 2015, in Salt Lake City.
Jared Ward smiles as he crosses the finish line to win the overall in the10K in the Deseret News 10K race July 24, 2015, in Salt Lake City.
Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — With dreams of an Olympic berth on the line, the biggest field in the history of the event is expected to toe the line for the running of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials Saturday in Atlanta, and among them will be at least 23 athletes with Utah ties.

Ten former BYU runners qualified for the trials and nine have been and/or continue to be trained by Ed Eyestone, the BYU coach and former two-time Olympic marathoner.

Only two schools have more alumni in the race than BYU — Syracuse has 12, Colorado 10, BYU 9 (BYU would have 11, but Jon Kotter didn’t enter the race despite having a qualifying time, and Rory Linkletter, who also has a qualifying mark, is ineligible as a Canadian citizen, according to Eyestone). None of this should be surprising given BYU’s recent placements in the NCAA Cross Country Championships — seventh, third, second and first from 2016 to 2019.

Eyestone’s friend and former training partner, Paul Pilkington, a former world-class marathoner who now is the head coach at Weber State, coaches five trials qualifiers, four of them former Weber State athletes.

The top three finishers in the men’s and women’s races will represent the U.S. in the Olympic Marathon this summer in Tokyo. Three-time Olympian Galen Rupp, who won a bronze medal in the 2016 Olympic marathon and a silver medal in the 2012 Olympic 10,000-meter run, and Jordan Hasay, a former prodigy on the track, are the favorites at the trials. Rupp clocked 2:06:07 in 2018 and Hasay 2:20:57 in 2017.

To qualify for the trials race in Atlanta, the men had to run 2:19 in the marathon or 1:04 in the half-marathon; for women, the qualifying times were 2:45 and 1:13. Those standards might have been set too low. Some 772 runners have qualified and declared for the trials — 261 men and 511 women — and that doesn’t include those who have qualified and elected not to race. By comparison, the 2016 marathon trials had 457 qualifiers — 211 men, 246 women — and that was reportedly the largest field in the history of the trials.

The marathon is a race of the masses in which anyone can walk off the street and qualify for the Olympics or compete with the best (imagine such a thing in, say, the NBA). Amber Green, who lives in St. George, ran her first marathon as a 19-year-old in 2000 and finished 854th in the St. George race with a time of 4 hours, 23 minutes and 37 seconds. A dozen years later she won the race and went on to qualify for the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Marathon trials, the latter with a time of 2:43:48.

The qualifiers from Utah include two engineers, an accountant, a financial planner, a dental student, a lawyer, two college professors, a nurse, a school teacher and a computer mapper.

Among Utahns, Jared Ward has the best shot of qualifying for the men’s team. He finished third in the 2016 Olympic Trials and then delivered one of the surprising performances of the Olympics by finishing sixth in Beijing (Ward and Eyestone, who are both from the Ogden area, are the only two Utahns ever to qualify for the Olympic marathon). Ward is running well. Last year he ran 2:09:25 to place eighth in the Boston Marathon and 2:10:45 to place sixth in the New York City Marathon and was the top American finisher in the latter. He has the fourth fastest qualifying time heading into the trials.

“Ward is running very well, and he has a very good chance,” says Eyestone. “He’s on most people’s watch list; he’s one of the guys whose name is mentioned (among the favorites).”

One of the most surprising developments is the sudden emergence of Jerrell Mock, a graduate of Logan High who competed for Colorado State. He ran his first and only marathon in October and finished 10th in the prestigious Chicago race, with a fine time of 2:10.37. That’s the sixth fastest qualifying time entering the trials.

Connor McMillan, who competed for American Fork and BYU, delivered a surprise of his own by finishing 10th in the New York City Marathon last fall with a time of 2:12:07, a remarkable 11-minute improvement over his previous best time.

“That was his first real serious marathon,” says Eyestone. “That’s a good time, and New York is not a fast course at all.” McMillan is ranked 19th heading into the trials. He’s likely to tag along with Ward, his training partner.

If there’s another Utahn to watch it would be Anthony Costales, who, after running for California State University-Chico, moved to Salt Lake City a few years ago to take a job as a junior high school teacher and continue his running. In December 2017, he covered a marathon in 2:17:48 to qualify for the 2016 trials, and a year later he dropped his time to 2:13:12, ranking him 31st in this year’s trials.

Two Judge Memorial High alumni return to the trials — Luke Puskedra, who was fourth in the 2016 trials, and Patrick Smythe, eighth in 2016. Puskedra, whose best marathon was a 2:10:24 performance in 2015, qualified for this week’s race with a time of 2:17:53, ranked 150th. Smythe qualified with a time of 2:13:48, ranked 48th.

On the women’s side, the Utahns are paced by Taylor Ward (no relation to Jared). A former Weber State runner, she is an assistant professor of radiological sciences at Weber State and is pursuing a Ph.D as well as an Olympic marathon berth (her husband Kurt is also one of Pilkington’s assistants). She has finished in the top 10 of the Chicago Marathon three straight years and has the 19th fastest time in the trials field with a time of 2:30:45. She’ll have to cut a big chunk off her best time to qualify.

Sarah Sellers, another former Weber State athlete, made worldwide headlines by coming out of nowhere to place second in the rainy, cold 2018 Boston Marathon, fitting her training before and after her shifts as a nurse. She has run much faster since then, placing 12th in last fall’s Chicago race with a time of 2:31:49.

“She’s in the best shape she’s ever been in,” says Pilkington. “She’s running very well. She’s had some tremendous workouts.”

Lindsey Anderson, another Weber State athlete, and Rena (Chesser) Elmer, a BYU alum, competed in the 2016 Olympic track and field trials as steeplechasers; since then, they have converted to the marathon. Anderson, who competed in the steeplechase at the 2016 Olympic Games, has covered the 26.2-mile distance in 2:34:45, ranked 45th among trials entries. Elmer qualified with a time of 2:40:15.

Assessing Saturday’s women’s race, Pilkington said, “It’s a tough, hilly course. We changed our training because of it — lots of long runs on hill courses. It’s going to be interesting.”

Women’s qualifiers for U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials with Utah connections, listed in order of pre-race ranking

WOMEN Alma mater or residence Qualifying time Rank
WOMEN Alma mater or residence Qualifying time Rank
Taylor Ward Weber St. 2:30:45 19
Sarah Sellers Weber St. 2:31:49 27
Lindsey Anderson Weber St. 2:34:45 54
Jocelyn Todd Utah 2:36:30 76
Rena Elmer BYU 2:40:15 139
Sylvia Bedford SUU 2:42:03 213
Phebe Ko East High 2:42:59 275
Amber Green St. George 2:43:48 347
MerriLee Blackham SUU 2:44:36 455

Men’s qualifiers for U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials with Utah connections, listed in order of pre-race ranking

MEN Alma mater or residence Qualifying time Rank
MEN Alma mater or residence Qualifying time Rank
Jared Ward BYU 2:09:25 4
Jerrell Mock Logan High 2:10:37 6
Connor McMillan BYU 2:12:07 19
Anthony Costales Salt Lake City 2:13:12 31
Patrick Smythe Judge High 2:13:48 44
Nico Montanez BYU 2:14:27 53
Conner Peloquin BYU 2:16:59 99
Aaron Fletcher BYU 2:17:23 116
Jason Lynch UVU 2:17:31 125
Luke Puskedra Judge High 2:17:53 150
Jon Kotter BYU 2:18:07 —*
Jason Witt BYU 2:18:22 181
Bryant Jensen Weber St. 2:18:46 216
Danny Carney BYU 1:03:37 257
Clayton Young BYU 1:03:40 258
*Did not enter race, despite having a qualifying time.