Cancel the Trials: Here Are the U.S. Women’s Distance Runners Who Will Be Going to the 2020 Olympics

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By Robert Johnson & Jonathan Gault
August 1, 2018

With the track & field portion of the 2020 Olympics less than two years away (it begins on July 31, 2018), we’re breaking out the crystal ball and making our picks for the 2020 U.S. Olympic team. Yesterday, we told you which male distance runners would be on the team. Today, it’s the women’s turn.

In case you need a refresher on how we did this: for each event, 800 through marathon, LRC co-founder Robert Johnson and LRC staff writer Jonathan Gault came up with a lock plus our predictions of the other women who will make it in that event. Obviously a lot can change between now and 2020, and all of these athletes have to make it to the Trials healthy. But this is our best stab at who will be suiting up in the red, white, and blue in Tokyo. Feel free to come back and mock us two years from now.

Men’s picks: LRC Two Years to Tokyo: We Tell You Which U.S. Men’s Distance Runners Will Be on the 2020 Olympic Team

Women’s 800
Lock: Ajee Wilson
JG’s other picks: Raevyn Rogers, Sammy Watson
RJ’s other picks: Raevyn Rogers, Ce’Aira Brown

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RJ: I came up with the idea of writing this column when I was working on my weekly column, the Week That Was, and talking about how great of a season Ce’Aira Brown is having. I thought to myself, “1:58.01, she’s a lock for the 2020 Olympic team.”

Then I started doing my research and wasn’t so sure. At 1:58.01, Brown is just outside the top 10 all-time for the US but the problem for her is there are three current US pros already in the top 10 all-time. Ajee Wilson is #1 at 1:55.61, Charlene Lipsey is #7 at 1:57.39, and Raevyn Rogers is #9 at 1:57.69. Making matters worse is all three of those women are coached by Derek Thompson, so they will be training together once Rogers is done with her Oregon degree.

Under Thompson’s full-time care, I think Rogers definitely progresses even more and am VERY confident she is the #2 person on the team. #3 is a toss-up for me.There are very few people who are more credentialed than Sammy Watson. World Youth champ in 2015, World Junior champ in 2016, and now NCAA champ as a true frosh in 2018. That being said, she didn’t make the final this summer at World Juniors and she didn’t PR this year (2:00.65 is her pb, 2:01.46 was her seasonal best). And do we even know who is coaching her? Alleyne Francique was doing a masterful job with the 800 crew at A&M but he left mid-year. I’m tempted to pick her like you did but then again she’s got to improve by 2.6 seconds to be in the mix. I’m less sure of that than I am that Brown will be in the hunt so I’m going with Brown.

JG: Brown is having a great season, but are we sure she’s still going to be at this level in 2020? Remember how good Lipsey was last year? She’s still been running well in 2018, but she’s come back to earth from where she was in 2017, and I think that could be the case for Brown as well. This is a career year, but I don’t know if she can sustain it.

Watson, meanwhile, is following the same progression as Wilson and Rogers as all three were age-group phenoms. Like Wilson, Watson won World Youths and World Juniors in successive years, and like Rogers, Watson just won NCAAs as a true frosh. When looking at the future, I like to go with the person I think is most talented, and I think Watson’s talent (and thus her ceiling) is higher than Brown’s.

Women’s 1500
Lock: Shelby Houlihan
JG’s other picks: Jenny Simpson, Dani Jones
RJ’s other picks: Jenny Simpson, Kate Grace

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RJ: The locks for this event are easy — Mary Cain, Alexa Efraimson, and Katelyn Tuohy. Oh wait, it’s not opposite day. I was thinking Jenny Simpson should be a LOCK as well. She’s only 31 but then again Shannon Rowbury didn’t make the team last year at 32. I think Simpson is still as close to as a lock as you can get. I went with Kate Grace for my third pick as I think she’s gradually adapting to the 1500 and really will benefit training with Houlihan day-in and day-out.

Not many people realize that Grace just ran the mile of her life in London. While she only finished 8th, her 4:20.70 converts to a 4:01.34 1500. That’s way better than anyone else in the US and she was already more than a second better than 4th place at USAs this year.

JG: The only reason I didn’t make Simpson a lock is because of her age — she’ll be 33 by the time of the 2020 Trials. She has shown no signs of slowing down, but once a runner hits their mid-30s, you never quite know when they will lose it. Rowbury was 4th at the Olympics and set the AR in the 5k in 2016 but was not the same runner in 2017.

I agree that Grace — who will be 31 in 2020 — will be in the mix, but I’m really high on Colorado’s Dani Jones. Just as Grace benefits from Houlihan, I think Jones will benefit from being around Simpson and picking her brain on what it takes to become the best in the world. And while I don’t ever expect Jones to become a world champ like Simpson, she’s already shown signs of brilliance as she ran 4:07 and finished 5th at USAs this year as a 21-year-old and pulled off the 3k/DMR double at NCAA indoors last year.

Women’s steeple
Locks: Emma Coburn, Courtney Frerichs
Other pick: Colleen Quigley

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RJ: Shouldn’t we just make all three of them locks? Coburn and Frerichs, the former and current American record holders and the current world champ and runner-up, are clearly locks. The only thing stopping Quigley from making the team would be injury. At 9:20.99, Quigley is 11.69 seconds faster than the 4th-fastest American this year (Mel Lawrence 9:32.68).

Two-time NCAA champ Allie Ostrander is someone I’m a big fan of but I just think the steeple is too short of an event for her. There are plenty of runners who would be superstars in the steeple if it was a 10k but in reality the steeple is a short race — just 3k. Ostrander’s not really fast enough to truly excel at it at the elite level in my opinion. Her 1500 pb is just 4:15. Quigley has run 4:03.

JG: I considered making Quigley a lock, and I’m about 80% sure that she’ll be on the 2020 Olympic team. But I could see someone — whether it’s Ostrander or a collegian that we don’t yet know — getting close to her level, especially if Quigley continues to struggle with the injuries that have bothered her in recent years.

Women’s 5,000
Lock: Shelby Houlihan
JG’s other picks: Karissa Schweizer, Emily Infeld
RJ’s other picks: Karissa Schweizer, Shannon Rowbury, Vanessa Fraser (those three go to Olympics)

JG: I’m assuming Houlihan will double up here, if the Olympic schedule allows it. The 1500 should be her focus, as that’s her best bet to medal, but with her close and her 14:34 pb, she could be a medal threat in a tactical 5,000 as well. If the 1500 is first, there’s no reason not to double.

16-11-18 NCAA XC 0525 (2)Same thing goes with Infeld. She made both the 5k and 10k teams in 2016 and chose not to double, but at 30 years old, the 2020 Olympics could be her final one on the track. Why not double if the 10k is first? She has a 14:56 pb, and apart from Houlihan, the only women ahead of her on the all-time U.S. list are retired or getting old whereas I still think Infeld will be a factor on the track in two years’ time.

Schweizer was a stud in college (six NCAA titles) and is in the best possible hands with Jerry Schumacher as her coach. By 2020, I think she’ll be able to run in the 14:40s, and 14:4x women don’t miss the team.

One other woman I should mention here is Shannon Rowbury — after all, she was the American record holder until a couple weeks ago. But she also missed all of this year due to pregnancy and will be 35 in 2020. Rowbury was already showing some signs of slippage in 2017, and while I wouldn’t be surprised to see her bounce back and make some more teams — she has the talent and the work ethic — it’s hard to make a 5k team as a 35-year-old. That said, if Houlihan and/or Infeld decide against doubling up in Tokyo, I think Rowbury is the logical next choice for a spot on the team.

RJ: I think Infeld will be top 3 if she runs it, but I’m not convinced she’ll run it in Tokyo. I think we could have an Abbey D’Agostino-type situation in 2020. At the 2016 US Trials, D’Agostino was just 5th but ended up as an Olympian as Infeld and Trials 5k champ Molly Huddle both didn’t run the 5000 at the Olympics (both did the 10k only). Jon, you asked why Infeld wouldn’t run it in Tokyo? Because she’s not competitive globally in the event. That would open up a spot for someone like Rachel Schneider or Vanessa Fraser. I think it’s a disgrace if we type up this article without mentioning Schneider. While I don’t think she’ll be an Olympian, the former Georgetown runner gets little love after finishing 4th in the 1500 and 2nd in the 5000 at USAs.

Actually, I’m talking myself into Fraser as an Olympian. Initially I had Rowbury finishing 3rd and Fraser 4th but I was very tempted to pick a Bowerman Track Club 1-2-3 sweep just like you, just with different names. Fraser made a bold move for the title in the 5000 this year at NCAAs but ended up 4th. I bet few people realize that her 5000 pb (15:09) as she gets ready to enter her first year as a pro is faster than the pb of seven-time NCAA champ Abbey D’Agostino (15:11) when D’Agostino was about to start her first full year as a pro after her NCAA career ended in 2014. And she just joined the Bowerman Track Club so she’s going to be training with the likes of Houlihan, Frerichs, Infeld, etc. Since Fraser is now a teammate of Houlihan, even if Fraser finishes fourth behind Rowbury, maybe Houlihan won’t double so Fraser can go to the Olympics after finishing 4th at the Trials.

Women’s 10,000
Lock: Emily Infeld
Other picks: Emily Sisson, Marielle Hall

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JG: Infeld is incredibly injury-prone, but that hasn’t stopped her from making the last three U.S. teams in the 10k. And while we think of Molly Huddle as this unstoppable force, let me remind you that Infeld actually beat her at the last two World Championships. If Infeld is on the start line at the 2020 Trials, she’s on the team.

Sisson is a classic grinder and while her best event may one day be the marathon, the marathon is too loaded right now for her to try to make the 2020 team. If she sticks in the 10k, however, she should nab a spot as it’s not a particularly deep event domestically.

I was thinking about Notre Dame’s Anna Rohrer (15:29/31:58 pbs) for the third spot as I think she’s another true distance runner in the Sisson mold. But Rohrer has had trouble staying healthy and was only 6th at NCAAs this year. Why would I pick her over Marielle Hall (15:06/31:37 pbs), who made the 2016 Olympic team in the 10k and was 2nd at USAs behind Huddle this year?

Speaking of Huddle, if she misses the marathon team, I’d expect her to run the 10k at the Trials and I’d expect her to make the team in the 10k. I think she’ll make the team in the marathon, but that event is very strong and way more things can go wrong in a marathon than in a track race. Amy Cragg, the 2012 Trials champ in the 10k, is another one who might be able to bounce back and make the 10k team should she fail in the marathon (remember, she ran 31:17 on the track last year). I don’t think Des Linden or Jordan Hasay could make it in the 10k though — it’s marathon or bust for them.

RJ: I’m with you, Jon: Infeld is a lock. If Huddle or Cragg doesn’t make the marathon team, they make the 10,000 team. I even think Hasay could potentially do it as well. I like Hall as a 2nd pick and if all of the marathoners make the marathon team, then I’m torn for #3. Could Allie Ostrander possibly move up? I think the steeple is too short for her.

Women’s marathon
Locks: None
Other picks: Molly Huddle, Jordan Hasay, Amy Cragg

Molly Huddle Breaks the American RecordRJ: What a field!!

If USATF needs to save money, I think this is one event where we can really help them out. Let only the following five people into the Trials: Shalane Flanagan (NYC champ, 2:21:14 pb), Des Linden (Boston champ), Amy Cragg (World Championship bronze, 2:21:42 pb), Jordan Hasay (2:20.57 pb), and Molly Huddle (2016 3rd placer in NY, 2:28:13 pb, American 13.1 and 10,000 record holder). I don’t actually believe that USATF should do that and crush every underdog’s dream, but three of those five women will make the team.

Despite her Boston win, I would put Linden as the least likely of the five to make it except for the fact that I’m not 100% convinced that Flanagan will be at the Trials. Flanagan is 37 now and it wouldn’t surprise me to see her defend her NYC crown, maybe take one last crack at Boston, and then retire. Linden is very consistent and a grinder but I just don’t think her ceiling is as high as the others. Yes, I know she won Boston, but that was a 2:39 race.

The good news for any Americans not mentioned already who are dreaming of Tokyo is the age of four of the Big 5. At the 2020 Trials, Flanagan will be 38 years old, Linden and Cragg 36, Huddle 35, and Hasay 28.

JG: I’m not even considering Flanagan for this team as I’m convinced she’ll be retired by 2020. She was talking about retiring before NYC last year, and I just don’t see her sticking it out for two more years, especially since she already has her Olympic medal.

I agree with you about Linden being the least likely of the other four to make it. The fact that the Trials is a championship-style race helps her, and Linden will absolutely get the most out of her body in Atlanta. But I don’t think that’s good enough to beat Cragg, Huddle, and Hasay at their best.

Of those three, I think Cragg has the lowest ceiling in the marathon, but in her last two marathons she has beaten a bunch of studs to medal at Worlds and run 2:21 in Tokyo, which is still super impressive stuff.

From all accounts, Huddle was in MONSTER shape before Boston last year but the weather killed any hopes of a big-time performance. But everything is pointing toward Huddle being a stud marathoner, and she should be in her marathon prime in 2020.

Hasay has run 2:23 on Boston and 2:20 in Chicago in her two career marathons, and I heard she was running some ridiculous workouts before Boston this year until she was felled by a stress reaction in her heel. If she’s healthy, she’s a marathon stud; Deena Kastor is the only American woman to have run a faster marathon than Hasay.

Assuming Flanagan retires, we will be in a similar situation to 2016. That year, it seemed clear that three of four women (Cragg, Linden, Flanagan, Kara Goucher) would make the team, and, lo and behold, those women went 1-2-3-4. So odds are that your 2020 team is some combination of Linden/Cragg/Huddle/Hasay.

That said, I’m excited to what someone like Laura Thweatt (2:25, 6th in London last year) or Kellyn Taylor (2:24 CR at Grandma’s this year) can do. Many years, they’d be good enough to make the team but the 2020 squad may be the hardest to make in the history of U.S. women’s marathoning.

RJ: Yes, it’s disrespectful to not consider a Thweatt or a Taylor for the team, but good luck. The drama of this race is going to be amazing. There was big drama in 2016 with stud Kara Goucher finishing 4th and almost certainly will be big drama again in 2020.

More: Talk about the 2020 US Olympic team on our world famous messageboard / fan forum: MB: The 2020 Olympics start 2 years today -Who will make the US team 800 through 10,000? These are our picks.


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