2024 Men’s Olympic Trials Preview: Conner Mantz, Galen Rupp Among Favorites to Make the Team

If Rupp makes the team, he will tie Abdi Abdirahman as the only male American runners to make 5 Olympics

We are three days out from the 2024 US Olympic Marathon Trials in Orlando, and it’s time to tackle the biggest question.

Who is going to make the US Olympic team?

Currently, 214 men are entered in the Trials. LetsRun has whittled that list down to eight serious contenders, whom we will discuss in this article. These are the guys who will show up to the start line expecting to make the team for Paris and will be seriously disappointed if they do not do it.

We like to think we know a thing or two about distance running her at LetsRun.com, but if your favorite runner is not mentioned in this article, do not panic! Four years ago, we named four men as pre-race favorites ahead of the 2020 Olympic Trials in Atlanta. Only one of those athletes, Galen Rupp, actually made the team. There are roughly a dozen more guys with at least an outside shot at making the team. We’ll discuss them in a separate article later in the week.

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How do you qualify for the Olympics?

Under pressure from the International Olympic Committee, World Athletics has trimmed the field size at the Olympic marathon from 106 in 2020 to 80 this year. As a result, the automatic qualifying standard has dropped precipitously, from 2:11:30 in 2020 to 2:08:10 for 2024. That has had a knock-on effect on the US Trials.

In recent Olympic Trials cycles (2008/2012/2016), the top three finishers at the Trials were essentially guaranteed a spot at the Olympics. That will be the case on the women’s side this year but not necessarily on the men’s side because only two men have run faster than 2:08:10 within the qualifying period: Conner Mantz and Clayton Young. But World Athletics added a new rule for this Olympic cycle — a country can sub out any of their qualified athletes with a replacement as long as that replacement has run 2:11:30 or faster during the qualifying period.

What that means is that, thanks to Mantz and Young, the US has “unlocked” two spots in the Olympic marathon. The top two finishers in the Trials in Orlando are guaranteed an Olympic spot as long as they’ve run 2:11:30 or faster (and yes, running 2:11:30 or faster in the Trials counts).

Mantz and Young unlocked two Olympic spots for the US in Chicago last year (Kevin Morris photo)

This does create a potentially awkward situation, however. Without Mantz and Young, the US would have zero guaranteed spots in the Olympic marathon. Yet if they finish outside of the top two on Sunday, the Olympic spots Mantz and Young unlocked will be used by other people.

“Fair or not fair, it’s what is,” says Ed Eyestone, a two-time Olympic marathoner for the US who coaches Mantz and Young. “Rather than be all stressed about it and pull your hair out over the fact, you just embrace it. It’s certainly a precedent. I don’t think it’s a real positive precedent for them, certainly. Have we ever seen that on the track? No. Is it fair? No. But it is what it is. So we’re gonna do it and hopefully it’s a non-issue.”

Prior to this Olympic cycle, substituting qualified Olympic athletes with an unqualified replacement was not allowed — and it is still not allowed on the track. This new provision preserves much of the drama of the Olympic Trials — the race in Orlando would be far less exciting if we knew Mantz and Young were on the team unless someone else broke 2:08:10. But it still strikes Eyestone as unfair to his athletes.

“I don’t know what the perfect solution is,” Eyestone says. “People are just running so darn fast, we just need to get more [Americans] running fast. But to just give away those fast times that people have earned to other people who do well on the Olympic Trials day in this situation doesn’t seem that fair, does it? When you have the two people who have run those times and recognizing that there’s a chance that somebody else is going to be benefiting from their hard work and their performance. Yet having said that, the Olympic Trials is the great equalizer and you do want to be able to perform on that given day.”

What about the third spot? So far, 64 spots in the Olympic marathon field have been awarded and the US has earned two of them. The US could earn a third but will have to wait until the end of the qualifying period on May 5 to know for sure. The final qualifiers will be based on the Road to Paris list, and right now the third-ranked American Scott Fauble is 69th. Since 80 athletes qualify, 12 men would have to jump Fauble between now and May 5 for the US not to get a third spot (and remember, even if Fauble is the one who unlocks it, any American could use that spot as long as they’ve run 2:11:30 or faster).

There are a number of complicating factors and a few chaos scenarios that have made this a frustrating, confusing process for all involved. The bottom line is that the third placer in Orlando is likely to make the team but their spot is not 100% guaranteed until the qualifying period ends on May 5.

Will the weather be a factor in the Trials?

Yes, and it has been the subject of intense debate ever since USATF announced in August that the races would start at noon ET in Orlando. Some argued a noon ET start was good for the sport — it would allow the race to be broadcast live on NBC and maximize the TV audience. But a number of Trials competitors, including Emily Sisson and Sara Hall, argued that the potential for hot weather (Orlando reached 80+ degrees at 2 p.m. on February 3 three times from 2012-22) could create unsafe conditions for athletes. USATF and the local organizing committee agreed to move the starts up to 10:10 a.m. ET for the men and 10:20 a.m. ET for the women.

The high in Orlando on Saturday is forecast to be 73 degrees with temperatures in the mid-to-high 60s during the race with humidity between 40% and 60%. The dew point should be manageable, no higher than 52 degrees. That’s definitely warm and could affect some athletes who struggle in the heat, especially if it’s sunny. But it’s not unreasonable to hold an Olympic Trials in those conditions, particularly because the US is picking a team for a summer marathon in Paris. Last year, it was 73 degrees with 61% humidity at 10:00 a.m. on August 10 in Paris, which is the date of the men’s Olympic marathon.

On to the contenders…

Conner Mantz — 27 years old, Nike, 2:07:47 pb (2023 Chicago), 60:55 half

Coach: Ed Eyestone

Kevin Morris photo

Why he’ll make the team: Mantz has been destined for greatness ever since he won the NCAA cross country title for BYU in March 2021, becoming the first American to do so since Galen Rupp 12 years earlier. Then Mantz won a second NCAA XC title in November 2021, making him the first American to repeat in that race since Steve Prefontaine 50 years earlier.

A grinder, Mantz quickly moved to the marathon and debuted in Chicago in October 2022, less than a year after turning pro. His time of 2:08:16 was the second-fastest debut ever by an American. By 2023, he had become America’s best marathoner. At last year’s Boston Marathon, Mantz ran with the leaders for 15 miles but faded late and finished 11th in 2:10:25. More recently, Mantz ran a pb of 2:07:47 to finish 6th at the 2023 Chicago Marathon. That time moved him into a tie with Dathan Ritzenhein for #4 on the all-time US list behind only Khalid Khannouchi, Rupp, and Ryan Hall.

Ahead of the Trials, Mantz has essentially replicated the same buildup he used to run 2:07:47 in Chicago, and the results have been largely terrific, with Mantz logging some incredible workouts (you can check the full build out on Strava — all his workouts are public).

“The buildup has gone extremely well, every bit as well as going into Chicago, if not even a little better,” says Mantz’s coach Ed Eyestone.

When the LetsRun staff had its Olympic Trials fantasy draft last week, Mantz was the first man off the board, and for good reason: he has the best chance of any man to make the team for Paris.

Why he could miss out: There are two concerns about Mantz. The first is that he repeats what he did in Boston last year. In that race, Mantz hit halfway in 62:19 and was on 2:08:18 pace at 24 miles but almost blacked out and faded to 11th in 2:10:25, getting passed by Americans Scott Fauble and Matt McDonald in the final miles. Mantz does like to run aggressively, but a repeat of this scenario is unlikely in Orlando. In Boston, Mantz was trying to hang with the likes Evans Chebet and Eliud Kipchoge. There’s no one close to that good in the Trials which means Mantz probably won’t be running over his head early.

The other concern is the stress reaction in his femur that Mantz developed around Thanksgiving. But after a couple of weeks splitting time running between the AlterG (an anti-gravity treadmill used to reduce pounding on the body) and solid ground, Mantz returned to full volume. In fact, once you add in AlterG miles, Mantz’s peak mileage week (126) was actually higher for this buildup than before Chicago.

Clayton Young — 30 years old, Asics, 2:08:00 pb (2023 Chicago), 61:18 half

Coach: Ed Eyestone

Kevin Morris photo

Why he’ll make the team: Young is one of those athletes whose timing has lined up perfectly with the Olympic cycle. This time last year, Young was a Trials longshot with a 2:11:51 pb preparing to undergo surgery to fix a balky knee. On Saturday, he will enter the Trials as the #2 seed.

Young has always had talent. He was the 2019 NCAA 10,000 champ, beating his BYU teammate Mantz in that race, and won the US 15k title in 2021. With a largely healthy stretch of training over the past 12 months, that talent has blossomed, and his 2:08:00 in Chicago last fall –13 seconds behind Mantz and 48 seconds ahead of Rupp — shows he is ready to make this team.

Why he could miss out: Young’s three marathons before last year’s breakout in Chicago ranged from awful to merely okay. Though his trajectory is pointing up — from 2:29 and 136th place in his debut at the 2020 Trials to 2:16 at 2021 Chicago to 2:11 at 2022 Chicago to 2:08 at 2023 Chicago — Young does not have the marathon track record of some of his competitors.

Galen Rupp — 37 years old, Nike, 2:06:07 pb (2018 Prague), 59:47 half

Coach: Mike Smith

Embed from Getty Images

Why he’ll make the team: He’s Galen Rupp. The 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, 2017 Chicago Marathon winner, and two-time Olympic Trials champion, Rupp is one of the greatest US marathoners of all time. His focus and will to win are the stuff of legend, and he often saves his best for the biggest races. He’s also an excellent heat runner, dominating the sunny 2016 Trials in LA and earning Olympic bronze in steamy Rio de Janeiro eight years ago.

Rupp was plagued by a back injury throughout 2022 and early 2023 but appears to have put that behind him and ran 2:08:48 last fall in Chicago after a pain-free buildup. If he has stayed healthy since then, he could be even better in Orlando.

Rupp also has a massive experience advantage. Rupp is the only contender who has made an Olympic marathon team before, and he’s made two of them. If he makes the team on Saturday, Rupp would qualify for his fifth Olympics overall — tied with Abdi Abdirahman for the most by a male US runner.

Why he could miss out: This is 2024 Rupp, not the 2016 or 2020 version. Prime Rupp could be counted on to finish strong, but he faded in the final miles in Chicago — he was on 2:07:17 pace at 35k but faded to 2:08:48 and missed the Olympic auto standard by 38 seconds. In his tuneup at the Houston Half on January 14, Rupp again struggled late and ran 62:37. Rupp knows what it takes to make teams, but will his body allow him to do it?

Scott Fauble — 32 years old, Nike, 2:08:52 pb (2022 Boston), 61:11 half

Coach: Joe Bosshard

Embed from Getty Images

Why he’ll make the team: Fauble has developed a reputation for running smart and getting the best out of himself, and Fauble’s best is usually very good. It was enough to make him the top American in Boston in 2019, 2022, and 2023, running under 2:10 each time and beating Mantz in the latter race. Fauble has a strong record in championship-style marathons like Boston and New York and there’s a good chance his pb would be in the 2:07s if he had focused on races like London or Chicago the last two years.

Why he could miss out: Fauble’s last marathon did not go well. He went to Berlin in September to hit the Olympic standard, and though he was on 2:07 pace at halfway, he hit stomach problems at 30k and had to drop out.

When Fauble finished as the top American at 2022/2023 Boston and 2022 New York, he did it by staying conservative and running down men who tried to keep up with the top Africans early and paid for it late. With a less aggressive pace expected in Orlando, Fauble may not be able to capitalize on someone like Mantz fading down the stretch as he did in Boston last year. Fauble could still run his way onto the team — he was the top American at 2019 Boston after running with the leaders throughout — but it may require a different approach than the one he has applied in recent marathons.

Sam Chelanga — 38 years old, US Army WCAP, 2:08:50 pb (2023 Chicago), 60:37 half

Coach: Scott Simmons/Ed Eyestone

Why he’ll make the team: Chelanga is a perfect example of one of LetsRun.com’s favorite maxims: talent doesn’t go away. Chelanga did not like running growing up in Kenya but was convinced to take up the sport by former marathon world record holder Paul Tergat, who helped him get a college scholarship in the US. Chelanga became a two-time NCAA cross country champion at Liberty (he is still the Terre Haute course record holder) and ran professionally for Nike before retiring to join the US Army in 2018. But the running bug had bitten and by 2020, Chelanga was back in the sport. Last year, he was the top American at World XC in 21st place before running a 6+ minute pb of 2:08:50 in Chicago in October.

Kevin Morris photo

Chelanga was based in Colorado Springs last year training with coach Scott Simmons‘ American Distance Project. But when ADP’s other marathoners Paul ChelimoShadrack Kipchirchir, and Leonard Korir decided to go to Kenya for their Trials buildups, Chelanga asked Ed Eyestone if he could join his marathon group consisting of Conner Mantz, Clayton Young, and Jared Ward. It is unusual for a rival athlete to join a group that close to the Trials, but Eyestone says Mantz, Young, and Ward were on board with the decision.

“I left it to the boys,” Eyestone says. “This is our group, do you want to let somebody else in? I mean there are a finite number of spots available, right? So if you feel confident in your abilities that you’d welcome somebody else in, the more the merrier, as far as I’m concerned.”

While Simmons still keeps an eye on him, Chelanga has been in Provo for the bulk of the buildup. Eyestone told Chelanga that he was welcome to show up to as many workouts as he wanted with Mantz and Young. Aside from Mantz and Young’s trip to Orlando to preview the course and the week of the Houston Half (which Chelanga raced and Mantz/Young did not), they have trained together for the last 12 weeks.

Why he could miss out: It’s debatable whether Chelanga even belongs on this list of contenders. Before his breakout in Chicago last fall, he had failed to break 2:15 in any of his four career marathon finishes. He also only ran 63:43 in his tuneup race at the Houston Half on January 14, though he was sick for that one.

Leonard Korir — 37 years old, US Army WCAP, 2:07:56 pb (2019 Amsterdam), 59:52 half

Kevin Morris photo

Coach: Scott Simmons

Why he’ll make the team: Korir has the fastest debut ever by an American marathoner (2:07:57 from 2019) and finished 4th at the 2020 Trials in Atlanta. He has a strong pedigree on the track, making two Worlds teams and the 2016 Olympic team at 10,000 meters, and ran a solid 2:09:31 for 7th at the Paris Marathon in April. Korir keeps a low profile — even Simmons is not sure about all of the details of his buildup. But as we talked about at the start of this week’s Track Talk podcast, a LetsRun source with boots on the ground in Kenya says Korir has been taking it to 2:04 guys in practice and is very fit right now.

Why he could miss out: Korir was in a much better position to make the team four years ago and missed out. Korir won US titles in the 20k and half marathon in 2019 and ran a 2:07 marathon that fall in Amsterdam. If he could not make it in 2020, why would a Korir that is four years older make it in 2024?

Zach Panning — 28 years old, Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, 2:09:29 pb (2022 Chicago), 63:27 half

Coach: Kevin Hanson

Why he’ll make the team: Sixteen years ago, a small-school star named Brian Sell put the Hansons-Brooks team on the map by making the 2008 Olympic marathon team. Panning, a three-time Division II champion at Grand Valley State, is the spiritual successor to Sell, though Panning ran way faster in college (13:37 and 28:30 for 5k and 10k).

© 2022 Bank of America Chicago Marathon/Kevin Morris

Panning ran 2:09:28 at 2022 Chicago and showed he could handle the heat by running 2:11:21 for 13th on a sweltering day at the 2023 World Championships in Budapest. He’s also been crushing workouts recently. Panning averaged 4:47 pace for the Hansons’ famous 16-mile marathon simulator workout on January 15, which spawned a lengthy LetsRun debate about whether Panning is actually in 2:05 shape or if he had run the workout too hard.

Panning evidently caught wind of the discussion. Six days later, he ran another Hansons staple, 2 x 6 miles, averaging 4:42 and 4:41, and added the following sarcastic caption to his Strava entry: “Was in WAY over my head today. Probably left my race in the simulator…”

Saturday is what matters, but Panning appears to be in excellent shape.

Why he could miss out: Mantz beat Panning by more than a minute at 2022 Chicago, and while 2:11:21 in tough conditions in Budapest is undoubtedly impressive, it’s hard to say exactly how that stacks up against the 2:07s and 2:08s put up by Mantz/Young/Rupp/Chelanga in Chicago. If all of the big dogs run to their potential in Orlando, is Panning’s best race enough to put him on the team?

Paul Chelimo — 33 years old, Kiprun, debut, 62:19 half

Coach: Scott Simmons

Why he’ll make the team: I won’t say much about Chelimo here since I covered his debut at length already: LRC Previewing the Olympic Marathon Trials Debutants: Paul Chelimo’s Coach Says They’re Targeting Sub-2:08:10. The main argument is that Chelimo is a two-time Olympic medalist at 5,000 meters, and someone that talented is usually capable of running a fast marathon.

Why he could miss out: Chelimo has taken a step back on the track over the last two years, and given his pedigree, his 62:22 at the Berlin Half last year was not that impressive. He has a high ceiling but plenty of things can go wrong in a marathon debut.

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