Whittni Morgan, the gifted distance runner from tiny Panguitch, Utah, and BYU, has persevered through some eight years of nearly constant injuries that put her on the sideline or in the pool.

On Saturday, just months after suffering yet another serious injury and surgery, her patience and persistence paid off in a big way: She was informed that she will compete in this summer’s Paris Olympic Games.

Morgan placed fifth in the 5,000-meter at the Olympic trials two weeks ago. Normally, that would have been the end to her Olympic aspirations since only the top three finishers qualify.

But then Elle St. Pierre, who had qualified for the Olympics in both the 1,500 and the 5,000 at the trials, announced that she will focus on the 1,500 and won’t run the 5,000.

That meant Parker Valby, the fourth-place finisher in the 5,000-meter trials race, would replace St. Pierre on the Olympic team, but then Valby, the second-place finisher in the 10,000, elected to focus on the 10,000 and dropped out of the 5,000.

That gave the Olympic berth to Morgan. Diljeet Taylor, the BYU coach who has continued to train Morgan as a professional, informed Morgan during a phone call Saturday, which was posted on Instagram.

Taylor: “How was your workout?”

Morgan: “It was good. It was actually kind of hard.”

Taylor: “How’s your French?”

Morgan: “What?”

Taylor: “How’s your French?”

Morgan: “My French?”

Taylor: “Uh-huh.”

Morgan: “Oh (pause). Are you serious? Shut up! Omigosh! Wooo! Isn’t that crazy?!”

Taylor: “You’re going to Paris! You’re an Olympian!”

Morgan: “Oh (pause). Omigosh, are you serious?”

Knowing St. Pierre and Valby would likely drop out of the 5,000, Taylor told Morgan before her race in trials that fifth place might be enough to make the Olympic team.

For that reason, Taylor urged Morgan to run the final laps hard even if she had no hope of a top-three finish.

“When someone sees the group pull away, it’s easy to shut down,” Taylor said.

With about two laps to go in the 12 ½-lap race, Morgan, running fifth, began to lose contact with the lead group, but she ran the final laps fast enough to hold her position behind St. Pierre, Elise Cranny, Karissa Schweizer and Valby.

“She fought to keep that spot,” Taylor said. “I think in the back of her mind she realized there could still be a chance.”

Everything had to fall into place for Morgan to reach Paris, but after all that has happened to her over the years, maybe fate decided she was owed this.

Taylor estimates that Morgan has had nine injuries during the eight years she has coached her as a collegian and as a professional. Most of the injuries have been stress reactions and stress fractures, forcing her to do much of her training in the pool or on an arc trainer.

“Some of the injuries were early on (at BYU),” Taylor said. “Bone development in women sometimes comes later. She was a three-sport athlete in high school, and (collegiate training) wasn’t something her body was used to.”

The injuries forced Morgan to cross train frequently and to race prudently. She won 10 All-American awards and rewrote the BYU record board from 1,500 meters through 5,000 meters, but injuries cost her training time and probably NCAA championships.

She finally broke through in the final race of her collegiate career, winning the 2021 NCAA cross-country championships in only her third race of the year.

She suffered another injury last fall and underwent surgery in late November to repair the patellar tendon. The surgery was performed by former Olympic champion speedskater Eric Heiden.

“I told him the date we needed (to resume training in time for the Olympic trials),” Taylor said. “She trended two-three weeks ahead of schedule. She healed really well.”

Taking inventory of how Utah ties fared during the track and field trials

It wasn’t ideal preparation for the Olympic trials, but for Morgan it was nothing new. She resumed her old, established routine of workouts in the pool and on the arc trainer.

“That woman worked harder than anyone I know,” Taylor said. “She was very committed to her cross training, and she had great support from doctors and the (physical therapists) around her. It was definitely a group effort.”

Morgan did her first ground workout on Feb. 6 — which lasted a mere 10 minutes — and Taylor began to slowly add to her workload.

Morgan was able to do light track workouts in February and more intense workouts in March.

“After the surgery, our mindset was getting to the Olympic trails in the best shape we possibly could,” Taylor said. “It was just a 16-week build. With anyone else I might have been hesitant, but we had done this quite a few times in college.”

Morgan had only the 12th-fastest time entering the Olympic trials 5,000-meter race.

After Morgan’s fifth-place finish, she and her coach anxiously watched from the finals of the 10,000-meter run in which Valby would compete.

It was clear by then that Valby would be handed St. Pierre’s berth in the 5,000, but if Valby placed in the top three of the 10,000 then she likely would drop the 5,000 and focus on the 10,000.

Valby placed second in the 10,000 and dropped the 5,000, handing the berth to Morgan.

“It was very stressful,” Taylor said. “We were just holding our breaths (that Valby would podium in the 10,000).”

The promotion of Morgan gives BYU seven qualifiers for the Olympic track and field competition. That puts the Cougars in a four-way tie for most Olympic qualifiers by the school (along with the output in 1984, 1988 and 1992).

Six qualified for the highly competitive U.S. team, easily the most in school history. The BYU athletes break down this way: three in the marathon (one for Team Canada), three in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and Morgan in the 5,000-meter run.


Taylor made a point of noting that two of the seven qualifiers are women — Courtney Wayment and Morgan, who were teammates at BYU.

They are only the fourth and fifth women from BYU ever to qualify for the U.S. track and field team, joining Julie Jenkins in the 800-meter run, Amy Palmer in the hammer throw and Tiffany Hogan in the heptathlon.

“It’s a big deal that we have two women from BYU — two LDS women — in there,” Taylor said. “Culturally, they’re a good example for women who taste dreams, and these dreams are big.

“They didn’t have this path paved by women before them. They are trailblazers in this community.”

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.