The 2024 US Olympic Marathon Trials Still Don’t Have a Host. Why?
By Jonathan Gault
September 1, 2022
According to USATF’s Request for Proposal and Bidding Handbook, the 2024 US Olympic Marathon Trials will be held sometime between January and March 2024 — between 16 and 18 months from now. As of today, that race — the best and most important marathon in America — still does not have a host.
This host selection process is taking significantly longer than previous years. For the last Trials, held in February 2020, Atlanta was announced as host in April 2018 — 22 months before race day. The 2016 Trials were awarded to LA in January 29 — 25 months before the race. And Houston got the 2012 Trials in March 2010 — 22 months before the race.
USATF, in its Bidding Handbook, said the 2024 Trials would be awarded by July 14, 2022 (though that date was noted as subject to change). We’re now seven weeks past that date. So what’s going on?
At the World Championships in Eugene, LetsRun.com asked USATF CEO Max Siegel for an update on the Trials. Siegel directed questions to USATF Chief Content Officer Adam Schmenk. LetsRun.com reached out for an interview with Schmenk, who responded with the following statement via email on August 15:
The delay has happened in part because of a busy Athletics season in the United States culminating with a record-breaking World Championship in Eugene and also due to the late June announcement by World Athletics regarding the Marathon Qualification System as it relates to the 2024 Olympic Games.
We’ve known that there were going to be drastic changes to the qualification system and were hopeful to hear back before the proposed deadline. But, as the deadline came and passed we did not feel comfortable moving forward without more clarity on the Qualification System.
Once World Athletics announced what those changes would be, we then quickly began discussing how they would affect the current U.S. Olympic Trials team selection system.
Over the past year and a half, USATF has worked closely with World Athletics and the Men’s and Women’s LDR Committees to discuss preserving the sanctity of the U.S. Olympic Trials – Marathon as a sole selection event for the 2024 USA Marathon team.
We are confident that as we are receiving final information, we will be moving forward in the next few weeks on finalizing bids from host cities and selecting and announcing a location for the 2024 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon.
A few thoughts on Schmenk’s statement and a look at the next steps.
USATF’s explanation makes some sense
For American marathon fans, the key paragraph in Schmenk’s statement is the fourth one. USATF wants to “preserve the sanctity” of the Trials and keep it as the “sole selection event” for the 2024 Olympics. That’s great news. And it does help explain the delay.
We still don’t know what the Olympic standards are, but USATF has known for a long time that they’re going to be significantly faster than the 2:11:30/2:29:30 standards for 2020. The standards for the 2023 Worlds were just released last month and are 2:09:40/2:28:00. The Olympic standards could be even faster than that.
The beauty of the Olympic Trials is their simplicity. In the last three editions, it’s been virtually assured that the top three finishers would be guaranteed a spot on the team, either because the standard was a lot slower or, in the case of 2020, the US Olympic Trials were granted Gold Label status by World Athletics.
But if the top three finishers are no longer guaranteed, the Trials as a product becomes more complicated to market — and that could affect interest from bidders. Would cities want to bid for an Olympic Trials where the 2nd, 6th, and 7th finishers are the ones who make the team?
There are other problems with the current USATF Trials model that might have made cities hesitant to bid for 2024. But if interested cities wanted to wait until they had more clarity on the Olympic qualification system, you can understand why USATF chose to delay awarding the bid.
That said, the bid needs to be awarded soon
16 to 18 months may seem like a long time, but a ton of work goes into an Olympic Marathon Trials, particularly when it comes to promoting the event and securing sponsorships. If the 2024 Trials are going to be successful, the local organizing committee needs to be able to start soon.
USATF has been working with World Athletics to try to maintain the top-three-finishers-go-to-the-Olympics model, but World Athletics was not interested in granting the US trials an exception as it did in 2024. It did make one carve-out for the US, however by introducing something called “quota reallocation places.”
What that means in practice is that as long as the US has three athletes qualified for the Olympics either by standard or world ranking, it can sub out any or all of those three should the replacement hit a minimum time standard — 2:11:30 for the men, 2:29:30 for the women.
That doesn’t guarantee the top three at the Trials will be on the team. While three American women should be able to hit the Olympic standard in this cycle, it’s not a certainty that the men do it. Between 2021 and 2022, just two American men have broken 2:09 (Galen Rupp and Scott Fauble). And it’s possible that the third placer may not have the softer time standard if it’s a hot day — at the sunny 2016 Trials in Los Angeles, Jared Ward finished 3rd in 2:13:00. His pb at the time was just 2:12:56.
But overall, it greatly increases the odds that the top three finishers at the Trials will comprise the Olympic team.
A degree of uncertainty remains, but with the quota reallocation system in place, USATF and the interested cities mostly know what to expect at this point. It’s time to pick a time and a place.
Where will the 2024 Trials be?
So far USATF has not confirmed any cities have officially bid for the Trials (this is a changeup from 2020, when USATF announced Chattanooga, Austin, Orlando, and Atlanta as the four finalists three months before awarding the bid). Organizers from both Chattanooga and Orlando told Runner’s World in July that they were interested in hosting the 2024 Trials, but at that point (mid-July), site visits had still yet to take place.
Neither of those organizers responded to interview requests for this story. But given that they are the only two cities to have expressed any form of interest, it seems likely the 2024 Trials will be held in one of those two locations.