2024 Olympic Marathon Trials Preview: Meet the “Big Six” Contenders for Paris

Emily Sisson and Betsy Saina are flying high while there are questions about Aliphine Tuliamuk and Molly Seidel

After four years of waiting, one of the greatest races on planet Earth is almost here: the US Olympic Marathon Trials.

Ask anyone who is a professional runner what question they always get and it’s, “Have you made the Olympics?”

When the answer is, “No,” you feel a little less legit. Will the likes of Sara Hall or Keira D’Amato ever be able to say yes? We’ll find out on Saturday.

(Have you entered our prediction contest? It’s free. Do so now: 2024 LetsRun.com Marathon Trials Prediction Contest Sponsored by Relay)

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The Six Five Women Most Likely to Make the Team

Molly has pulled out with injury.

Let’s get down to it. My task is to preview the women’s race, which begins at 10:20 a.m. ET on Saturday in Orlando (streaming live on Peackock, NBC tape-delayed broadcast at noon ET). While 21 US women have run under 2:29:30 and are eligible to be on the US Olympic team with a top-3 finish, there are six major contenders. If three of the following people run their best, they will be on the US Olympic team.

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Athlete PB Entry Time Notes
Emily Sisson 2:18:29 2:18:29 AR holder. 2:22:09 & top American at ’23 Chicago despite side stitch.
Keira D’Amato 2:19:12 2:19:12 Former AR holder. Ran 13.1 AR (66:39) in 2023.
Betsy Saina 2:21:40 2:21:40 5th in 2016 Olympics in 10,000 for Kenya. 5th ’23 Tokyo, 1st ’23 Sydney.
Sara Hall 2:20:32 2:22:10 Didn’t run fall ’23 marathon and withdrew from ’24 Houston Half but has had largely uninterrupted buildup.
Molly Seidel 2:23:07 2:23:07 Olympic bronze medallist. Resurgent 8th in 2:23:07 pb at ’23 Chicago.
Aliphine Tuliamuk 2:24:37 2:24:37 Defending champ. Hamstring injury caused her to withdraw from Chicago.

How did I pick those women? I’d say they picked themselves. The list consists of the five fastest entrants in the field plus the defending champ, Aliphine Tuliamuk. In a day and age when the women’s marathon world record is 2:11:53, you need to be able to run the equivalent of at least a low-2:20s marathon to make this team. These are the only women who have shown they have the capability of running 2:22 or faster (not that I think third place will be anywhere close to that fast given the weather).

There are two other women entered in the race — women who have never run a marathon — who have the talent to run 2:22 or faster and I present them at the end of this preview as my two wild cards.

Now let me count down, from #6 to 1, how I think the big six will do.

#6 Aliphine Tuliamuk — 34 years old, Hoka ONE ONE NAZ Elite, 2:24:37 pb (2023 Boston), 69:16 half

Coach: Jack Mullaney

Tuliamuk won the 2020 Trials in Atlanta

Let me say it right now: Tuliamuk isn’t making this team. At a surface level, it may seem weird that I’m totally discounting the defending champion who comes into the Trials after running a 2:24:37 pb in her last marathon in Boston.

But we caught up with Tuliamuk and her coach Jack Mullaney earlier this week and it’s clear she’s not 100% healthy. She had to pull out of the 2023 Chicago Marathon with a hamstring injury and that hamstring has been bothering her throughout this buildup.

“I am not 100% healed,” Tuliamuk told LetsRun. “They say hamstrings take a really long time and I am definitely realizing that now. I knew that I was going to have to manage it, and so I’ve been managing it the best I can. I wouldn’t say that I’m completely pain-free.

“…There was only one workout that I had to miss because my hamstring wasn’t very happy with me. But the paces have not been what I’m used to. In fact, it might even be the slowest build I’ve ever had.”

To make an Olympic team while injured, you have to be miles better than everyone else and that description doesn’t apply to Tuliamuk. It’s a shame she’s hurt as after coming back from maternity leave, she flashed her old talent level a few times. She was the top American at the 2022 NYC Marathon, running 2:26:18 on a warm day and beating Emma Bates and won the US Half Marathon Championships in Fort Worth in February 2023 in 69:37.

#5 Sara Hall — 40 years old, Asics, 2:20:32 pb (2020 Marathon Project), 67:15 half

Coach: Ryan Hall

It would be amazing if Hall made her first Olympic team in her eighth attempt…at the age of 40. This is Hall’s sixth Olympic cycle and eighth Trials race as she’s tried to make the team in every event from the 1500 through the marathon.

Hall was 5th at the 2022 Worlds in Eugene (Kevin Morris photo)

Sara Hall at the US Olympic Trials
2004 – 11th in 5,000
2008 – 9th in 1500
2012 – 8th in steeplechase
2016 – DNF in marathon, 14th in 5,000
2020/1 – DNF marathon, 6th in 10,000

Hall’s career has taken off in her late 30s since she moved up to the marathon.

Heading into the 2020 Trials, she was a top contender after she ran 2:22:16 in Berlin in the fall of 2019 but she’s not a good hill runner and dropped out. She then got 2nd in London in October 2020 before running her 2:20:32 pb in December. In 2022, she ran 2:22 twice as she was 8th in Tokyo and 5th at Worlds and broke the American half marathon record.

When we spoke to Hall last week, she told us she’s been all-in on these Trials like nothing else in her career.

“I want to make this team more than ever before,” Hall said. “I’ve never invested more in this sport than I did the last year and a half with this in mind. In my dreams, it’s how the story ends.”

Hall likes to race a lot but did not run a marathon last fall. She’s been all-in on this one race for five months and her training has been good although she did pull out of the Houston Half as a precaution due to hip tightness a few weeks ago.

So why don’t I think she’ll make the team?

Two reasons.

Reason #1 – It’s a known fact she struggles in warm weather. I’ve always held one mantra about hot weather long-distance running: “For some people, hot weather running is almost like a totally different sport.” And unfortunately that applies to Hall as she totally cratered in her first marathon in a hot LA in 2015 (2:48:02) and dropped out of the 2016 Trials as well.

And while by Florida or Texas standards, it’s not going to be “hot” on Saturday in Orlando, it’s going to be warmer than ideal for a marathon. It looks like it will be about 61 degrees at the start for the women and 69 at the finish — and sunny. When it’s 65 or over in a marathon, that’s warm and it’s going to impact you if you don’t thrive in the heat.

“But she got 5th at Worlds in 2022,” you say. Well, the Eugene World Championship marathon was held early in the morning at 6:15 a.m. There was a reason why Hall was one of the most vocal of all the runners pushing for an earlier start time in Orlando. She was one of the 84 runners who signed a petition asking that the start be moved up to “preferably 6:00 a.m., but no later than 7:00 a.m.”

In Eugene, the weather was 55ish at the start and 65ish at the finish. That should give Hall fans a little bit of hope but those extra 5-6 degrees in temps, plus the sun, are going to make a big difference for Hall. If the race started at 6 a.m. in Orlando like she desired, her odds of making the team would be A LOT higher as it would be in the 48-52 range during the race.

Hall, who grew up in the Bay Area in California and now lives in Flagstaff, has done everything possible to get ready for the heat by training for it. If she makes the team, it’s an all-time great running story.

Reason #2 – Even if the race was run at 6:00 a.m., I don’t think Hall at age 40 is quite as good as my top three runners. In perfect time-trial type conditions, Hall’s pb a 2:20:32. I think my top 3 picks are all capable of breaking 2:20 on their best days.

#4 Molly Seidel— 29 years old, Puma, 2:23:07 pb (2023 Chicago), 68:29 half

Molly has pulled out with injury.

Coach: Jon Green

Four years ago, Molly Seidel, the former HS and NCAA XC champion, made her marathon debut at the Trials and she made it count. Seidel made the Olympics by finishing second in 2:27:31 and followed that up with a shock bronze medal in Tokyo.

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Given her high school, college, and professional accomplishments, Seidel is clearly one of the greatest talents to ever wear a Team USA vest. However, I don’t think she’s going back to the Olympics.

I don’t doubt her talent. I just doubt her consistency. Since winning her Olympic medal, things have not gone well for Seidel as she’s battled a resurgent eating disorder and injuries. She didn’t record a marathon finish in 2022 and in November of that year, she ran just 76:22 for the half marathon. Last February, she only improved modestly to 73:08 in Ft. Worth.

At that point, it was fair to wonder if the best version of Molly Seidel would ever resurface or if she would disappear like Jordan Hasay. In October in Chicago, Seidel fans received a big confidence boost as despite limited training she ran a 2:23:07 pb. With nearly four months to train, a second straight Olympic team seemed like a real possibility if things went well.

But I have zero reason to believe the last four months have gone well for Seidel. There’s a rumor on the messageboard that she had surgery just four weeks ago, and her Strava activity matches up with that timeline as she has not logged any activities since January 4.

MB: Hot rumour: Source – Molly Seidel had surgery 4 weeks ago

I’d be much less surprised by Seidel pulling out of the Trials between now and Saturday than by her making the team. We’ve put calls in to Seidel’s coach Jon Green and agent Stephen Haas, and she is tentatively scheduled to appear at the pre-race press conference in Orlando on Friday, so hopefully we’ll have an update on her status soon.

So that brings me to the three women who I think will make the Olympics on Saturday.

#3 Keira D’Amato — 39 years old, Nike, 2:19:12 pb (2022 Houston), 66:39 half

Coach: Scott Raczko

If you are looking for a cool story that gets a fairytale ending on Saturday, you should put your eggs in the Keira D’Amato basket. In the mid-2000s at American University, D’Amato was one of the top cross country runners in the nation. Her best finish at the NCAA XC meet came in 2005 when she finished 6th, beating the likes of future Olympians Amy Cragg (nee Hastings, 13th) and Molly Huddle (15th), Jenny Simpson (nee Barringer, 43rd), and Shannon Rowbury (55th).

D’Amato battled through a leg/hip injury to finish 17th at Worlds (Kevin Morris photo)

D’Amato ran on the track post-collegiately for a few years, but a foot injury in 2009 ended her competitive career. She turned into a “hobby jogger,” got married, and had two kids. In 2013, she ran/walked 3:49 in her first marathon. In March 2017, she ran 3:14 but the running bug had bitten and the rest reads like a Disney movie (you can read her full backstory here). After running 2:47 in November 2017, she ran 2:40 in 2018, then 2:34 in 2019 and she was only getting started.

After finishing 15th at the 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials, D’Amato ran 2:22:56 at the Marathon Project in December 2020. In 2022, at age 37, she ran a then-American record of 2:19:12 in Houston. That was one of four marathons she ran that year, including an 8th-place finish at Worlds and a 6th-place finish in Berlin (2:21:48).

In 2023, she wisely reduced her marathon schedule. Her lone marathon this year was a disappointing 17th-place 2:31 performance at Worlds, during which she was hampered by an injury to her right leg/hip. But in the buildup to that, D’Amato ran a 66:39 American record in a half in Australia in July. Since Worlds, she’s only raced once — a 69:12 half in Boston in November. That time isn’t overly impressive but it wasn’t a good day to run fast (super cold and windy) and she was only six seconds behind the world cross country silver medallist Tsigie Gebreselama.

D’Amato politely declined to speak to the media prior to Friday’s pre-race press conference, but her Strava account is public and suggests her buildup has gone well. And two days ago, the 39-year-old posted this on Instagram.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Keira D’Amato (@keiradamato)


If D’Amato is on top of her game on Saturday, I don’t see three other Americans beating her to the finish line although her subpar showing in Budapest (where it was much hotter than it will be in Orlando) has me wondering how she’ll handle the warmish conditions.

#2 Betsy Saina — 35 years old, Asics, 2:21:40 pb (2023 Tokyo), 67:49 half

Coach: Nicholas Koech

Saina, 35, is looking to make her first US Olympic team on Saturday and there are a lot of reasons to think the former Iowa State star will do it.

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Saina has the best track credentials of any runner in the field. The three-time NCAA champ (twice on the track, once in XC) ran 14:39.49 and 30:07.78 on the oval, with the latter time good enough to place her 5th in the historic 2016 Olympic 10,000 final, which she ran for her native Kenya. Oh, and those times were pre-super spikes, too.

Saina’s switched allegiance to the US in April 2021 but she was pregnant at the time and once she gave birth in December 2021, I predicted it was only a matter of time until she was a major factor on the US scene. In October 2022, Saina dipped her toes into post-pregnancy competition with a 71:13 half in Tokyo and she’s been training pretty much 100% since then. By March 2023, she ran a 2:21:40 pb to place 5th in Tokyo. In May, she beat Keira D’Amato by seven seconds to claim the US 25k title and then in September, in warm conditions (roughy 63 at start, 73 at finish), Saina captured the Sydney Marathon — a World Athletics Platinum Label race — in 2:26:47. 2:26:47 may not impress you at first glance, but remember it was warm. The woman she beat by six seconds in that race, Ethiopia’s Rahma Tusa, just won Houston 2.5 weeks ago in 2:19:33.

And since Sydney, Saina’s training has gone very well. Honestly, my only fear is she may have overdone it as she’s been running up to 130 mpw while training with marathon star Joyciline Jepkosgei (2019 NYC/2021 London champ).

MB: Hand her a 2024 US Olympic spot now? Sounds like Betsy Saina is READY to go. Up to 130 mpw

Saina is talented enough to make the team by just playing it safe. But she’s tried to reach a new level for this race and we’ll find out if she has on Saturday. When we spoke to her earlier this week, she sounded extremely confident. She said there’s “been a really huge improvement” in her training for this race compared to Tokyo last year and that “everything has been getting better and better.”

“To be honest, it’s one of the best buildups I’ve ever had because, you know, when you get the privilege as an athlete to be able to train through the program without having any injuries, it’s always one of the best things,” said Saina.

Given the fact that she has the highest past pedigree of all my major contenders, given that she’s healthy, I may end up picking Saina FTW as I attempt to win the 2024 LetsRun.com Marathon Trials Prediction Contest Sponsored by Relay, but from a betting odds perspective, she shouldn’t be our #1 pick given she’s never broken 2:21 in a marathon.

#1 Emily Sisson — 32 years old. New Balance, 2:18:29 pb (2022 Chicago), 66:52 half

Coach: Ray Treacy

There is little to not like about Emily Sisson’s chances on Saturday.

Of my six major contenders, the 32-year-old Sisson has something going for her that none of the other women can claim — she’s the only woman in her prime that we know is healthy. All of the other women are in their mid to late 30s (or even 40 in the case of Hall) and/or are injured/uncertain. If you asked me to put one name down I’m most confident will make the team, it’s Sisson.

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We’ve been hyping Sisson’s AR potential on these pages since 2015 when her college coach at Providence, Ray Treacy, told us she was made for the marathon. At the time, we wrote, “So there you have it. When [Des] Linden and [Shalane] Flanagan and [Kara] Goucher are too old to contend at a major, America can put its hopes on Sisson.”

And she’s largely lived up to that hype since moving to the marathon in 2019, when she ran the second-fastest US debut ever (2:23:08 for 6th in Lodon). The 2020 Trials were a disappointment (Sisson, who doesn’t like hilly courses, dropped out) but she put that behind her and made her first Olympic team on the track the following summer by dominating the 10,000 at the US Track Trials. She won that race by 12.7 seconds in 31:03.82 on a hot day where the temperatures reached 86 degrees during the race. That bodes well for her if the heat is a factor on Saturday.

When Sisson returned to the marathon in 2022, she shattered  Keira D’Amato’s 2:19:12 American record by running 2:18:29 to finish second in Chicago. She opened up 2023 by becoming the first American to break 67:00 in the half by running a then-AR of 66:52 in Houston. Sisson wasn’t as good in Chicago last fall as she was in 2022 as she struggled with a side stitch over the final eight miles and faded to 2:22:09. But that’s still a solid time and one I’m not certain anyone outside of the top six contenders can run.

Treacy said Sisson drank a little bit too much during the race in Chicago and that’s something they will need to manage carefully in Orlando. But things do not always go perfectly in a marathon and in a Trials race, sometimes you have to get the job done even without your “A game.” Treacy said the fact that Sisson still held on to run 2:22 bodes well should she find herself in a similar situation in the future.

I think she got a lot more probably out of it than the one that went really well because she learned how to cope with some adversity in a race,” Treacy.

In terms of training, we know that things have gone well for Sisson. According to Treacy, she recently did a 30:52 10k time trial on the roads with her husband Shane Quinn beside her on the bike, and when we spoke to Sisson earlier this week, she said she was ready to go.

“I feel fit and I feel healthy,” Sisson said. “With a marathon, that’s not everything, but those are two big parts of it. So I am happy with that. I’m happy with how training went and yeah, I’m healthy. That’s huge to stand on the starting line of a marathon, healthy. I couldn’t have asked for a better build in that respect.”

Given her success in warm conditions and flat marathons and given the fact that she’s in her prime, Emily Sisson deserves to be considered the 2024 LetsRun.com Olympic Marathon Trials favorite.

The Two Wild Cards

Later in the week, I’m going to give you 11 more women whom I consider to be outside contenders for the US Olympic Marathon Team. But if four or more of my big six are way off their games on Saturday, the two people most likely to make the team are Fiona O’Keeffe and Natosha Rogers of the Puma Elite Running Team that is based in North Carolina and coached by Alistair and Amy Cragg.

Both Rogers and Cragg are making their marathon debuts in Orlando and our Jonathan Gault has already written an excellent story on the chances of the main men’s and women’s debutants: LRC Previewing the Olympic Marathon Trials Debutants: Paul Chelimo’s Coach Says They’re Targeting Sub-2:08:10.

In that article, Alistair Cragg raved about O’Keeffe and said the 25-year-old was born to run the marathon. His talk about O’Keeffe reminds me of how Ray Treacy talked about Sisson way back in 2015. The difference is O’Keeffe isn’t as talented of a runner as Sisson. O’Keeffe, who competed collegiately for Stanford, never finished top 10 at NCAA cross and never won an NCAA title on the track — two things Sisson did accomplish. That being said, their track pbs aren’t that far off (O’Keeffe has run 15:01 and 30:52 while Sisson has run 14:53/30:49).

But I consider O’Keeffe to be a legit contender. She, like myself, has a half marathon pb in the 67s (67:42) and if that’s your half marathon pb you are certainly expecting a low-2:20s in the marathon in good conditions and to break 2:20 if all goes perfectly.

As for Rogers, she’s run 14:52 and 30:48 and is a former NCAA champion on the track. Also she’s tough as nails and fearless. I’ll never forget her beating Shalane Flanagan to finish 2nd in the 10,000 at the 2012 US Olympic Trials when Rogers was still in college (she didn’t get to go to the Olympics as she didn’t have the standard).

But Alistair Cragg said Rogers struggled a little initially to adapt to marathon training. If she was made for the marathon, would she really have waited until she was 32 to debut? I guess it’s possible as Sara Hall was one month shy of her 32nd birthday when she debuted.

I don’t think O’Keeffe or Rogers will make the team but I do think they have the talent to run 2:22 or better if they end up being good marathoners, so I’m not ruling it out.

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