Conner Mantz and Clayton Young — training partners, former BYU collegiate champions and Utah natives — are going to the Olympics.
On Saturday morning, they finished 1-2, respectively, in the nationally televised U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Orlando to qualify for this summer’s Paris Olympics.
Mantz finished the fourth marathon of his life with a time of 2:09:05, one second ahead of Young. Leonard Korir, the 37-year-old naturalized citizen from Kenya, was third in 2:09:57.
As usual, the 26.2-mile race was one of attrition. Mantz, Young and Zach Panning bided their time in the lead pack of 10 runners through the middle miles and then made a break at about 18 miles. At one point, Mantz reached his left hand back for a high-five with his training partner, who was running on his heels.
Mantz and Young dropped Panning at 23 miles, and ran to the finish together. The last three to four miles looked like another one of their many training runs on the outskirts of Provo, Utah. They could be seen talking to one another and occasionally looking over their shoulders to see what was happening in the race behind them. They eventually opened such a big lead that they were smiling and talking and waving to the crowd. Young veered to the right to exchange high-fives with the crowd. They ran together until the final 200 meters when Mantz moved into the lead.
They become the third and fourth Utahns to qualify for the Olympic marathon, all four of them former BYU runners, Utah natives and former church missionaries. Ogden native Ed Eyestone, the BYU coach who coaches Mantz and Young, made the team in 1988 and 1992. Jared Ward, from Kaysville, made the team in 2016. And now Mantz, who grew up in Smithfield, and Young, from American Fork, have made the marathon team in 2024.
Their performance Saturday was reminiscent of the 1984 Olympic track and field trials, when Henry Marsh, Doug Padilla and Paul Cummings, all BYU alumni, won all three distance races — the 3,000-meter steeplechase, and the 5,000- and 10,000-meter runs.
At the finish, Mantz and Young shook hands and embraced, and then turned and watched the rest of the race unfold. Mantz and Young wrapped the American flag around their shoulders and mingled with the crowd.
Afterward, Mantz told NBC, “The last two miles I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish the race, but Clayton said, ‘Just run behind me. Just stay together.’ I thought Clayton would pull away, but he said, ‘No, I’m not going yet.’” He said he fought through the pain of the race by dedicating each mile to someone close to him. “I’d think, I’m running this mile for my mom, and I’m running this mile for my dad and this mile for my old (BYU) teammates that I saw on the course, this mile for my coach and I ran the last mile for my wife.”
Looking back, Mantz said of his running career, “The goal was always to make an Olympic team.”
Mantz and Young were pre-race favorites by virtue of their performances in last fall’s Chicago Marathon, where they ran the fourth and seventh fastest times ever by Americans — 2:07:47 and 2:08:00 — but some experts didn’t take Young seriously. One broadcast team placed a sign on the wall of their booth that said, “Young has no chance.” Young was very confident nonetheless and said all week that he was embracing the underdog role. “If you had me out of your top three, I forgive you,” he said at the finish.
“I’d like to give a big shoutout to our coach (Eyestone) who really made it happen and to Jared Ward, who was our mentor,” he told NBC. “We ran this race for him and all those who helped get us here.”