World Athletics Was Hoping To Have 160 Athletes in The Olympic Marathon, 183 Have Already Qualified as A Result of The Super Shoes

By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2021 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

(07-Apr) — With the Olympic Marathons exactly four months away, the number of men’s and women’s qualifiers are already over the World Athletics stated goal of 80 athletes per gender (equal for men and women) after taking into account the limit of three athletes per gender for each National Olympic Committee (NOC).

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On the men’s side, 101 starting positions have already been earned by men from 44 countries who ran a qualifying time of 2:11:30 or better beginning January 1, 2019.  For women, 82 starting places are spoken for from 42 countries, 77 by time (2:29:30 or better) and five through finish position at designated “qualifying competitions,” like finishing in the top-10 at an Abbott World Marathon Majors race or at the 2019 World Athletics Championships Marathon.

The number of total qualifiers is much higher, of course, when the three athletes per country maximum is ignored.  For men, 523 in total ran 2:11:30 or better, while 295 women ran 2:29:30 or better.  Kenya recorded the largest number of male qualifiers based on time with 137, and Ethiopia had the highest number of women with 107.

More athletes are expected to qualify in the coming weeks because the qualifying window remains open until May 31.  Special marathon qualifying races are coming up in Enschede, Netherlands; Santa Rosa, Argentina; Sydney, Australia; Tuscany, Italy; and Xuzhou, China, over the next three weekends.

Because so many athletes have hit the qualifying standard, it is unlikely that any athletes will qualify via the World Athletics Ranking System which is to be used to fill out fields if event quotas have not been met.

Molly Seidel will be in Tokyo (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)v

The World Athletics Olympic Games qualification system was first released on March 11, 2019, but had to be revised because of the pandemic.  On June 4, 2020, World Athletics modified the qualification system to change the time period for marathon qualification from January 1, 2019, through April 5, 2020, then from December 1, 2020, through May 31, 2021.  The second qualification period was changed again to accommodate the Virgin Money London Marathon taking place on October 4, 2020, effectively re-opening the window two months earlier.

The 2016 Olympic Marathons had record participation with 155 men and 156 women starting their respective races, but the qualifying standards of 2:19:00 for men and 2:45:00 for women were much easier.  The tougher 2020 qualifying standards were designed to cut the fields by about 50%, but the introduction of the current crop of “super shoes,” which use carbon plates and highly reactive foams, helped more athletes to get under the qualification standards than expected.  Those shoes came into wide use in 2018, and were the dominant shoe design used in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

It’s important to remember that achieving the relevant qualifying standard is only the first part of getting a starting place in the Olympic Marathon.  Athletes must also be chosen by their NOC’s and National Governing Bodies (NGB’s) through the qualifying process in place in their countries.  Those processes vary widely.  The American, British and Japanese teams were selected –at least in part– through trials races, while other nations allow federation officials to select athletes.  Key countries with marathon medal hopes, like Ethiopia, have not yet chosen their teams.  In contrast, the United States team was determined over a year ago at the USA Olympic Team Trials Marathon on February 29, 2020, in Atlanta.

The Olympic Games Marathon for women will take place on Saturday, August 7, in Sapporo, Japan, at 7:00 a.m., and the men’s race will happen 24 hours later, also in Sapporo, the final day of the Games.

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