Olympic Marathon Trials Preview — Women

Three times marathon AR holder Emily Sisson has handily won championship races on the roads of Florida. Will she triumph at the Trials? (KEVIN MORRIS)

PROFESSOR MARATHON’S RUNDOWN on athletes to watch, tactics to look for and top-10 & final time predictions. Enjoy!

(Don’t miss Part 1 of Sean’s 3-Part Preview here)

The Cast Of Characters

Top Tier
Emily Sisson (32 — 2:18:29 AR ’22) An accomplished trackster, the smooth-striding Sisson has fashioned a very formidable record on the roads and as the current U.S. marathon recordholder is worthy of the favorite’s mantle in Orlando. Sisson has also fared well in Florida with breakaway wins in the last three USATF 15K Championships in Jacksonville. Coached by Ray Treacy.

Keira D’Amato (39 — 2:19:12 ’22) Has been on a mission since restarting her running career in 17. After finishing 14th in the ’20 Trials, D’Amato has been on a tear setting (since broken) U.S. records in both the Half and Marathon, and with her aggressive racing style, may well be the athlete setting the pace in Orlando.

Betsy Saina (35 — 2:21:40 ’23) Coming off a PR last March in Tokyo and a warm weather win in Australia, Saina has a fast-closing gear and has won two marathons, and may well be the favorite off a slow pace. Trains in Kenya with Joyciline Jepkosgei, and is coached by Jepkosgei’s husband Nicholas Koech.

Lindsay Flanagan (33 — 2:24:43 ’22) Ran her PR in ’22 and competed well in ’23 finishing 8th in Tokyo and 9th in the warm Budapest WC race.

Sara Hall (40 – 2:20:32 ’20) Competing in her eighth OT and third in the marathon, Hall is the most experienced marathoner among the contenders.

Sara Vaughn (37 — 2:23:24 ’23) Made a successful late-career shift to the marathon, and is training with coaches Alistair and Amy Cragg. Ran a big PR last October in Chicago.

Aliphine Tuliamuk (34 — 2:24:37 ’23) The long shot winner of ’20 Trials can’t be overlooked.

The Half-Marathon Cohort
Jenny Simpson (37 — 70:35 ’22) The Florida native and one of the most accomplished U.S. 1500m racers in U.S. history makes her marathon debut. The Colorado alum is guided by longtime Buff mentors Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs and should be ready for the long run.

Natosha Rogers (32 – 70:57 ’22) Competed over 10,000 in the ’22 and ’23 World Championships, Rogers has a 30:48.69 PR and has taken on marathon training under the direction of the Craggs.

Fiona O’Keeffe (25 – 67:42 ’23) Yet another coached by the Craggs, Fiona is the youngest of the contenders, having blitzed her debut half-marathon in 67:42 in Houston in ’22.

Don’t Forget Me
Lauren Hagans (37 – 2:25:55 ’23)
Gabi Rooker (36 — 2:24:35 ’23)
Dakotah Lindwurm (28 — 2:24:40 ’23)
Sarah Sellers (32 – 2:25:43 ’22)
Molly Huddle (39 – 2:26:33 ’19)
Des Linden (40 – 2:22:38 aided ’11)

Race Tactics

The Women’s Marathon Trials competitions have traditionally been rather cautious races as evidenced by Shalane Flanagans’s 2:25:38 record and only three sub-2:27 clockings — all in the ’12 Houston Trial. With the recent withdrawals of Molly Seidel, Emma Bates and Susanna Sullivan — that is 3 of the top 8 fastest qualifiers — we may not see bold pacing, especially as the women are accustomed to racing with male pacers. While the pace may lag several minutes off the lead trio’s PR pace, it may well take something faster than Flanagan’s record to make the team.

Of the three favorites, D’Amato seems most likely to press the pace. That is simply her preferred tactic and she may well set off at 2:22 pace or something faster. Sisson and Saina most likely go with D’Amato, and maybe a few other such as Hall, Flanagan, Vaughn and maybe the half-marathon qualifiers, O’Keeffe, Rogers and Simpson. While not expected, we could always be surprised by someone making an early break a la Magdalena Lewy Boulet in ’08.

If we see a slower start, a more tactical race may unfold with Sisson, D’Amato and Saina looking to make a break sometime after 15M. Sisson surely has the capability to run away from the field mid-race while Saina may well rely on her strength and wait for the distance to take a toll on her competitors before striking. Sisson, D’Amato and Saina are well aware that with a slower pace, more athletes will be in contention making the tactics less predictable, so look for them to make a move individually, or collectively before 20 miles.

Prediction: 1st Emily Sisson, 2nd Betsy Saina, 3rd Keira D’Amato, 4th Lindsay Flanagan, 5th Fiona O’Keeffe, 6th Sara Hall, 7th Sara Vaughn, 8th Natosha Rogers, 9th Dakotah Lindwurm, 10th Nell Rojas.

Winning Time: 2:23:07 – New Trials Record, 2:24:10 to make the team.