Here’s Why World Athletics Added Leonard Korir to 2024 Olympic Marathon Field

WA said it offered extra spots in marathon field after finding out that some athletes plan on doubling in Paris

Last week, Leonard Korir‘s 2024 Olympic marathon qualifying odyssey finally reached a resolution when World Athletics updated its Road to Paris list with the news that the United States had been awarded a third spot in Paris this summer. Initially, it was unclear why the US and three other countries were granted world ranking spots in the field given that their additions would push the field size about the maximum of 80 athletes set in World Athletics’ Olympic qualification criteria. But on Saturday, a World Athletics spokesperson explained its rationale for expanding the field to, writing:

World Athletics has always aimed to have the top 80 marathon runners from around the world competing at the Olympic Games.

At the end of the qualification period, the IOC added the universality places, which initially replaced some of the athletes hoping to qualify via the World Rankings.​

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Following a thorough analysis of athletes intending to participate in more than one event — it was determined that the quota would allow for some additional athletes to participate in the marathon.

Subsequently, five additional athletes were offered places; however, one member federation / NOC declined the opportunity, therefore four appear on the Road to Paris.

World Athletics’ decision to expand the field followed lobbying from some high-profile federations, including USATF. Here is that backstory:

The backstory 

Kevin Morris photo

As soon as World Athletics added 11 universality spots (now only 10 after two federations declined and one was added) to the men’s Olympic marathon field on May 8, some of the affected federations, including USATF and Athletics Australia, reached out to World Athletics to see if there was a way for their athletes to still be included in the field. According to USATF Associate Director of Long Distance Running Programs Amy Begley, USATF made a full-court press for Korir’s inclusion, with efforts from its High Performance and International Teams divisions, CEO Max Siegel, and COO Renee Washington. USATF also reached out to Americans at World Athletics, including competition commission board member David Katz and World Athletics Council Member Willie Banks.

According to Begley, Korir’s coach Scott Simmons was making his own push through USOPC. And Korir, a member of the US Army, told Australia’s Wide World of Sports that he and Simmons were considering getting a US Army lawyer involved in the case (Simmons did not respond to an interview request for this story).

Korir was one of four athletes added to the 2024 Olympic marathon field by world ranking. The other three were Chile’s Hugo Catrileo, South Africa’s Elroy Gelant, and Australia’s Liam Adams.

Why were only five athletes added by ranking (four accepted) when 10 athletes were granted universality places?

Unlike the World Championship marathon, which they control, World Athletics can’t just expand the Olympic marathon field willy-nilly. The IOC imposes a cap on each sport at the Olympics. For track & field in Paris, that number is 1,810 athletes, down from 1,900 at Tokyo 2020. Still, that’s easily the largest of any sport — according to Olympmedia, the next-closest sport in Tokyo was swimming with 875 athletes.

In response, World Athletics set field limits on each event. For the marathon, it was 80 athletes. To expand the field beyond that number, they had to “find” some spots, which they said they did by realizing some athletes in other events would be doubling up in Paris and thus double-counting towards the 1,810-athlete cap. It’s still not totally clear why five is the number WA settled on, but it’s also worth noting that the women’s field (88 auto qualifiers and 7 universality places) is 15 women over the target size of 80 so perhaps WA did not feel it could afford to add any more than 20 athletes across both marathons.

It is notable that the five athletes offered ranking spots include the American Korir and Australian Adams, two athletes from prominent federations whose exclusion drew the most media coverage. In case you’re wondering, the next four men out by world ranking are Bahrain’s Abdi Ali Gelelchu (born in Ethiopia), Turkey’s İlham Tanui Özbilen (born in Kenya), the Athlete Refugee Team’s Tachlowini Gabriyesos (refugee from Eritrea now based in Israel), and Bahrain’s Abraham Cheroben (born in Kenya).

Why does the Road to Paris list still list CJ Albertson instead of Korir?

World Athletics awards spots in the Olympic marathon field to federations, not individual athletes. Since Albertson is ranked higher than Korir, Albertson is actually the one who earned the spot for the USA. But USATF has said it will be sending the top three finishers from the Olympic Trials to the Olympics if they are eligible, and Korir (3rd) beat Albertson (5th) at the Trials. A new rule allows USATF to give Albertson’s spot to Korir, so that is what they are doing — though USATF told the Road to Paris list won’t be updated to include Korir’s name until at least July 7.

Anything else to know?

World Athletics also added one last universality athlete to the field last week: 42-year-old Ser-Od Bat-Ochir of Mongolia. Why is that important? Per his agent Brett Larner, Bat-Ochir will become the first runner to compete in six Olympic marathons. Not only that, but Bat-Ochir has also competed in every World Championship marathon since 2003 (also in Paris, appropriately), meaning he will have run in 17 straight global championships when he lines up in Paris on August 10.

Previous: May 8: Bad News for Leonard Korir: World Athletics Adds 11 Universality Places in 2024 Olympic Marathon

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