USA Track & Field announced Monday that it has awarded the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials to the city of Atlanta.
The race will be held on February 29, 2020, and the top three male and female finishers who meet the Olympic A standard will represent the United States at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The fourth-place runners in each race will be named alternates.
The Atlanta Track Club is the local organizing committee for the event. Its winning bid draws on the city’s legacy as an Olympic host city (the Games were held there in 1996), a vibrant local running community that organizers hope will turn out in force to cheer on athletes, moderate February temperatures with an average high of 60 degrees, and numerous perks for athletes.
“We’ve got 50-plus years of history of putting on running events,” said Rich Kenah, executive director of the Atlanta Track Club. “We were involved in the Olympic marathon in 1996 and the U.S. indoor championships when they were here for almost a decade from the ’90s to the early 2000s. We’ve hosted the 10K championships as part of the Peachtree Road Race quite a few times. We feel we’ve got the right mix of history and understanding what it takes to put on an event such as this.”
Austin, Texas; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Orlando, Florida; also bid to host the Marathon Trials.
The quadrennial men’s and women’s Olympic Marathon Trials are two of running’s most compelling races. The selection process to represent Team USA is ruthless: It comes down to one marathon on one day. If a top-ranked athlete is injured or sick on trials day? Too bad.
Additionally, the championship-style event is open to any woman who has run a marathon faster than 2:45 or a half marathon faster than 1:13. Men who have run faster than 2:19 and 1:04 are eligible to compete. At the 2016 trials, in Los Angeles, 246 women and 211 men, many with full-time jobs outside of running, were qualified to compete, giving sub-elite runners a day in the sun.
The proposed Atlanta trials course, which includes three seven-mile loops and a fourth loop that is five miles, is described by organizers as having a similar elevation profile to Central Park, which runners regard as hilly. Spectators in some spots will be able to see competitors go by six times without moving.
Atlanta’s plan focuses on walkability for athletes and spectators, with the start/finish line 100 meters from the host hotel. It also draws on the popularity of running in Atlanta, even if it’s not widely known as a hotbed outside the city.
“One big piece of our bid is making sure that the entire running community embraces the trials in this running weekend that we propose,” Kenah said. “That will include us engaging youth running clubs, youth track and field clubs, high schools, and colleges in the area.” He points out that the Atlanta Track Club is the second-largest running organization in the country, behind only New York Road Runners.
The Atlanta Track Club has proposed a three-way revenue-sharing agreement with USATF and the athletes. And it has promised to pay for the travel and accommodation expenses of all qualifiers. In the past, qualifiers were separated into “A” and “B” qualifiers, with female “A” qualifiers having run faster than 2:37 and male “A” qualifiers faster than 2:15. Only “A” qualifiers had their expenses paid.
“It is important for us to make sure that everyone who qualifies for the event has that equal opportunity to secure that spot on the team for the Games,” Kenah said. “We don’t believe you have that equal opportunity if you are treating A-qualified athletes differently than B-qualified athletes.
“In all Olympic sports, we have seen the middle-class athlete disappear. You have the haves, and the have-nots,” he continued. “We want to celebrate the storyline of the haves, but we don’t want everyone to forget about the B-qualified athletes, the have-nots. Because every Olympic cycle, there seems to be one of those stories, where someone put in the work quietly, and carefully, with little to no support from any partner or sponsor. They find themselves in the mix with a realistic chance to make the Olympic team.”
It’s “critically important,” Kenah said, to ensure that developing athletes stay in the sport long enough for them to develop their full potential.
Many athletes criticized the 2016 marathon trials in Los Angeles for inadequate water on the course and slow medical response for runners who struggled in the heat. They also found the event lacked the sense of excitement and crowd support of past trial races. A few “B” qualifiers turned to crowdfunding to help pay for their travel expenses.
From the Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles, Amy Cragg, Desiree Linden, and Shalane Flanagan made Team USA bound for Rio; on the men’s side, Galen Rupp, Meb Keflezighi, and Jared Ward were the marathoners.
Cragg, Linden, Rupp, and Ward are expected to return to race the 2020 trials.
The Atlanta Marathon, a growing community marathon, half marathon, and 5K that in past years was known as the Georgia Marathon and this year had 8,000 finishers between the three races, will be held the day after the trials.