Just two weeks ago the running world was buzzing over the performance of former BYU stars Conner Mantz and Clayton Young in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. It was a big story when two runners from the same school — and current training partners — finished one-two in the trials.

“It will be incredible to represent my country and my university, as well as compete alongside Clayton and Conner in Paris. I owe a great deal of my success to the foundation laid by Ed Eyestone and the BYU cross-country and track programs.” — former BYU runner Rory Linkletter

The story just got better. On Sunday morning,  former BYU teammate Rory Linkletter met the stiff Olympic qualifying standard in the Seville Marathon in Spain. That means three former BYU runners will almost certainly compete in the Paris Olympic Marathon — Mantz and Young representing the U.S. and Linkletter representing Canada. As BYU coach Ed Eyestone noted, that’s about 4% of the field. The Olympic marathon field will be limited to 80 runners.

The 27-year-old Linkletter, who was born in Canada and raised in Utah, finished 13th in the Seville race, but surpassed the stiff Olympic standard by nine seconds with a time of 2:08:01. The only way Linkletter could be denied a spot in the Olympic race is if three Canadians surpass his time before May 5. That is highly unlikely. Linkletter’s time Sunday is the third fastest ever by a Canadian. And the qualifying standards for the Olympics are by far the most difficult in history.

“It will be incredible to represent my country and my university, as well as compete alongside Clayton and Conner in Paris,” Linkletter said. “I owe a great deal of my success to the foundation laid by Ed Eyestone and the BYU cross-country and track programs.”

Mantz, Young and Linkletter were teammates on BYU’s 2019 cross-country team, which finished second in the NCAA championships. Eyestone, the longtime BYU coach, continues to train Mantz and Young in Provo; Linkletter trains with a professional team in Flagstaff, Ariz.

After seeing the 2020 Olympic marathon field swell to 106 men and 88 women, World Athletics dramatically lowered the automatic qualifying standards for the 2024 Games to reduce the field. The automatic standards are 2:08:10 for men (it was 2:11:30 in 2020) and 2:26:50 for women (down from 2:29:30 in 2020) — times that would have won the last two men’s Olympic marathons and the last women’s Olympic marathon.

Runners who fail to meet those standards can still qualify for Paris if they finish in the top 80 of the world rankings (based on time) in the next three months.

All of which makes it even more unlikely that one school would produce three Olympic marathon qualifiers. Mantz and Young finished the trials with times of 2:09:05 and 2:09:06, respectively, but they met the automatic Olympic qualifying standard in last fall’s Chicago Marathon with times of 2:07:47 and 2:08:00, making them the fourth- and seventh-fastest American marathoners ever.

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Conner Mantz, Clayton Young finish 1-2 at Olympic Marathon Trials

For the record, this will bring the total to five former BYU runners (and Utahns) who have claimed six spots in the Olympic marathon — Eyestone himself in both 1988 and 1992, Jared Ward in 2016, Mantz, Young and Linkletter in 2024. All of them graduated from Utah high schools. Four more BYU alums represented the U.S. in Olympic distance races — Henry Marsh in the 3,000-meter steeplechase (1976, 1980, 1984, 1988), Doug Padilla in the 5,000-meter run (1984, 1988) and Paul Cummings in the 10,000-meter run (1984).

Another former BYU athlete is a good bet to claim an Olympic berth in this summer’s U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. Kenneth Rooks, who turned pro this year, won both the NCAA and USA championships last summer in the steeplechase.

“I am so proud of Rory Linkletter on his amazing marathon run today in Seville,” said Eyestone. “To run 2:08:01 and achieve the Olympic standard is the culmination of years of hard work and commitment. Rory was always the guy on the (BYU) team holding his teammates accountable in regard to work, rest and nutrition! His attention to detail has paid off and I am looking forward to cheering on three Cougars in the Paris Olympic Marathon.”

The 27-year-old Linkletter, who graduated from Herriman High, has considerable international experience. He represented Canada in the last two World Athletics Championships. In the 2022 world championships in Eugene, Oregon, he placed 20th with a time of 2:10:24 (Cam Levins, who won two NCAA championships on the track while competing for Southern Utah University, set the Canadian record of 2:07:09 in that race). Linkletter was 18th in last summer’s world championships in Budapest, with a time of 2:12:16.

This is part of a growing trend. Current and former BYU runners have been prominent in collegiate and professional competitions on the road and the track in recent years, and this season has been no exception. Four former BYU runners finished in the top 21 of the Olympic marathon trials — Mantz (first), Young (second), Connor Weaver (13th) and Jacob Heslington (21st). Another former BYU runner, McKenna Myler, was seventh in the women’s Olympic marathon trials.

Anna Camp Bennett, another former BYU runner and the 2021 NCAA 1,500-meter champion, placed third in the 1,500 at last weekend’s USA indoor national championships. She continues to train under BYU women’s coach Diljeet Taylor. A number of current BYU runners are excelling in the ongoing collegiate indoor season — Aidan Troutner and Lucas Bons have run 3:54 miles, and Meghan Hunter, Riley Chamberlain and Lexy Halladay rank among the top 10 in collegiate distance and middle-distance races.

On Sunday another BYU grad was celebrating. “It feels surreal to hit the Olympic standard,” said Linkletter.

Canada’s Rory Linkletter, Nico Montanez of the U.S. and China’s Feng Peiyou compete in the Men’s marathon at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, Aug. 27, 2023. | Aleksandra Szmigiel, pool via Associated Press