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Which Utah ties have the best chance at an Olympic spot at the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials?

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Former BYU runner Conner Mantz made his marathon debut on Sunday, finishing seventh overall and first among Americans at the Chicago Marathon.

BYU distance runner Conner Mantz warms up at the Smith Fieldhouse in Provo on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. Mantz is one of 22 Utah ties who qualified for the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Some 22 athletes with Utah ties will compete in the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in an attempt to win a spot on the team that will represent the U.S. in the Tokyo Games. It is one of the most fiercely contested competitions in sport, given what is at stake, the rarity of the opportunity — once every four years — and the extreme wealth of talent.

To make the team, athletes must place among the top three in their event. In a heavily populated, talent-rich country like U.S., that makes for long odds.

The list of native Utahns who have passed the stiff test of the track and field trials and gone on to compete in the Olympics is short. That list includes Mark Enyeart (800 meters), Lindsey Anderson (steeplechase), Shalayla Kipp (steeplechase), Ed Eyestone (marathon), Jared Ward (marathon), Tiffany Lott-Hogan (heptathlon), Julie Jenkins (800 meters), Blaine Lindgren (110 hurdles), Richard George (javelin) and Clarence Robison (5,000 meters). (Creed Haymond, a sprinter, made the U.S. track team in 1920, but an injury prevented him from competing.) Only one of them medaled — Lindgren won the silver medal in the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games.

Since the 1980s, when former BYU distance runners Henry Marsh, Paul Cummings, Doug Padilla and Eyestone represented the U.S. in several Olympics, Utah has not been as well represented. It will be a long shot for anyone with Utah connections to qualify for the 2021 team.

Utah ties competing in the U.S. Track and Field Olympic trials
Athlete Event(s) Qualifying mark Utah tie
Tawnie Moore 100 hurdles 13.03 Ex-Weber State, Fremont
Kate Sorensen 400 hurdles 57.46 Weber State, Gunnison
Claire Seymour 800 2:01.91 BYU
Lauren Ellsworth 800 2:02.49 BYU
Anna Camp 1,500 4:08:58 BYU, Fillmore
Whittni Orton 1,500, 5,000 4:09.31, 15:12.91 BYU, Panguitch
Makenna Myler 10,000 32:03.62 Ex-BYU
Courtney Wayment 3,000 steeplechase 9:31.37 BYU, Kaysville
Grayson Murphy 3,000 steeplechase 9:33.79 Ex-Utah
Summer Allen 3,000 steeplechase 9:37.48 Weber State, Orem
Ashton Riner Javelin 188-0 BYU
Michael Bluth 400 45.13 BYU, Riverton
Colten Yardley 400 hurdles 50.04 BYU, Clinton
Abraham Alvarado 800, 1,500 1:46.15, 3:36.82 Ex-BYU
Talem Franco 1,500 3:37.55 BYU, Heber City
Dillion Maggard 1,500, 10,000 3:37.43, 27:54.89 Ex-Utah State
Conner Mantz 5,000, 10,000 13:24.78, 27:41.16 BYU, Smithfield
Casey Clinger 5,000 13:24.90 BYU, American Fork
Garrett Marsing 3,000 steeplechase 8:31.54 BYU, Price
Jordan Cross 3,000 steeplechase 8:30.79 Ex-Weber State, Ogden
Matt Owens* 3,000 steeplechase 8:32.59 BYU, Orem
Zach McWhorter Pole vault 19-0 3/4 BYU
Cameron Bates Javelin 253-2 BYU, Spanish Fork
List of athletes with Utah ties who have qualified for the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, which will be held June 18-27 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. * indicates scratched from race

Conner Mantz has qualified for both the 5,000- and 10,000-meter runs. His best shot is at the latter distance. He won the NCAA Cross-Country Championships (a 10,000-meter distance) in March and placed second in the 10,000 at the NCAA track and field championships last week. Mantz, who has the speed to run 3:37.96 for 1,500 meters, nevertheless was outkicked in the homestretch of the NCAA meet.

He owns the fastest collegiate time in the nation at 27:41.16, but that time ranks only 10th against professional runners, headed by William Kincaid’s 27:12.78 and Benjamin True’s 27:14.95. Mantz’s best shot at an Olympic berth would probably have been the marathon, but the marathon trials were held last year and so he is left to compete in the 10K and 5K on the track.

Courtney Wayment has been a dominant collegiate runner this season, becoming the fastest collegiate steeplechase of all time and the ninth fastest at 5,000 meters. She was a heavy favorite to win the steeplechase in the recent NCAA championships, but wound up placing fourth in a fast race.

It will be difficult for anyone to crack the Big Three to make the team: Emma Coburn, Courtney Frerichs and Colleen Quigley have dominated the steeplechase scene in America and two of them have won medals at the World Championships and/or Olympics. They own the three fastest times ever by an American, ranging from 9 flat to 9:10. Wayment did not look particularly sharp at the NCAA meet, but she is someone to watch in the future. She has the ninth fastest time in the U.S. this year.

Whittni Orton is perhaps the most talented female distance runner ever to come out of BYU. She has set six indoor and outdoor school records in the past year or so. Despite an injury that left her unable to run until March, she ran the seventh fastest 5,000-meter race ever by a collegian this season and set school records in the 1,500 and 5,000. The sky would seem to be the limit for her, and yet her talent and her potential is undermined by her poor racing tactics.

During the NCAA cross-country championships she raced to the front, even though her training had been limited by injury and her own coach had cautioned patience. Result: she faded from first to 17th in the last 1,000 meters. During the semifinals of the 1,500 at last week’s NCAA track championships, she allowed a slow, tactical race to unfold, throwing the race wide open to the entire field and turning it into a 100-meter sprint. She did not advance to the finals.

Two days later, she toed the line for the 5,000-meter run as a heavy favorite and not only sprinted to the front but opened a 20-meter lead through several laps. Running from the front is difficult enough — allowing the competition to draft off her — but running 20 meters ahead was simply nonsensical and foolish and the result was predictable. She finished 16th, 53 seconds slower than her best time this season.

The talented Orton remains an enigma.

The two athletes with the highest-ranked marks are BYU javelin throwers Ashton Riner and Cameron Bates, who have the sixth longest throws in the women’s and men’s fields, respectively. On its face, that would seem to give them a good opportunity to make the team, but Riner threw poorly at the NCAA West Region meet and didn’t qualify for the NCAA championships and Bates placed no better than seventh in those championships. According to head coach Ed Eyestone, Riner, who underwent Tommy John surgery two years ago, was hampered by an injury late in the season.

For whatever reason, the Utah crowd seems to have an affinity for the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Six Utahns have qualified for that event in the trials — Wayment, Grayson Murphy and Summer Allen in the women’s race, and Jordan Cross, Garrett Marsing and Matt Owens qualified in the men’s race (according to U.S. Track and Field, Owens has scratched from the race).

Anna Camp, the newly crowned NCAA 1,500-meter champion, qualified for the Olympic Trials. She is an excellent tactician and a proven kicker, but she would have to lop another 5-8 seconds off her best time to crack the top three and that’s almost unheard of. Then again, no one thought she’d win the NCAA championships, either.