Olympic Marathon Trials Women — Debutante O’Keeffe Shocks Field

Newbie Fiona O’Keeffe boldly won from a field including Emily Sisson (white visor on left) and Rio 10K Olympian Betsy Saina and past Boston champ Caroline Rotich. (KEVIN MORRIS)

ORLANDO, FLORIDA, February 03 — Fiona O’Keeffe! That’s right, the 25-year-old Stanford grad making her marathon debut was the runaway winner of the Orlando Olympic Trials race in 2:22:10. O’Keeffe surged away from the field at 18 miles to negative split (71:43/70:27) her stunning win, bettering Shalane Flanagan’s 2012 Trials record by 3:28.

American Record-holder Emily Sisson ran her way onto the Olympic team for Paris with a strong 2:22:42 (71:44/70:58) effort. Dakotah Lindwurm was the second-biggest surprise of the day taking 3rd in 2:25:31.

“It is so meaningful,” O’Keeffe beamed. “The past couple of years I’ve been kind of clawing my way through things, and I was not expecting this performance.”

Indeed, few outside her immediate circle believed in the debutante, or for that matter Lindwurm (T&FN had them pegged for 5th and 9th).

While Sisson is very much a well-known athlete, O’Keeffe and Lindwurm took to the high-profile stage of the Olympic Trials to resoundingly introduce themselves.

O’Keeffe was a two-time California cross champ as a prep and went on to a solid collegiate career at Stanford highlighted by the 2019 Pac-10 cross title and a 3rd-place finish in the 2019 NCAA Indoor 5000 (15:37.61).

Her professional career has taken off under the direction of Alistair and Amy Cragg and their Puma Running Elite team based in Raleigh, North Carolina, though O’Keeffe prepped for the Trials in Albuquerque.

Last February O’Keeffe ran a ran a 15:01.34 PR followed by a 30:52.77 10,000 best last May after running 30:57 in March. Her last race heading into the Trials was a cold weather 70:45 effort, finishing 13th at the BAA Half in November.

One thing for sure is that O’Keeffe does very well in her road debuts be it her then-U.S. debut record in her Trials qualifying 67:42 half marathon in Houston in ’22, or her most significant previous road win, a 51:42 10-mile debut later that same year at the USA Champs race in the Twin Cities.

The 28-year-old Lindwurm was a hockey goalie in high school and developed as a runner at Div. II Northern State in Aberdeen, South Dakota. In 2018 Lindwurm joined the Minnesota Distance Elite Team and under the direction of Chris Lundstrom made steady progress through her dozen marathons, bettering 2:30 for the first time in her first of two Grandma’s wins in 2021. She ran a PR 2:24:40 last year in Chicago.

Lindwurm scored No. 9 U.S. Rankings in ’21 and ’22. https://trackandfieldnews.com/womens-u-s-rankings-by-athlete/womens-u-s-marathon-rankings-by-athlete/

No matter the divergent paths O’Keeffe, Sisson and Lindwurm took to the Trials, their spots on the Paris team were well earned in a warm and challenging race in Orlando.

Right from the gun, former AR holder Keira D’Amato (sadly for the 39-year-old, an eventual DNF) was on task setting a brisk pace that quickly trimmed the lead pack to 16 runners at 3 miles (16:08, 2:21:00 pace). D’Amato subsequently eased back to 5:25–5:35 miles sharing the front with 40-year-old ironwoman Sara Hall, O’Keeffe and Lindwurm to pass 10 miles in 54:27 (2:22:46 pace).

As the lead pack of a dozen runners headed out on the second of three 8-mile circuits (which followed a 2-mile prelude) Sisson ran at the back of the pack dealing with some issues.

“I didn’t actually think it was my day at mile 8,” the AR holder said, “and I thought, ‘Be as positive as you can. Just keep hanging on to this group and get as far as you can and just see what can happen.’”

The ever-smiling Lindwurm had a different issue to deal with when she popped into the lead in the 12th mile. She admitted, “I was pretty upset with myself when I took the lead. I told my coach and my family that I wouldn’t do that. Normally I like to be up front but I tried to back out of the lead as soon as possible.”

In stepped O’Keeffe, D’Amato and Hall, who carried the 10-woman lead pack past halfway in 71:43 and 18 miles in 1:43:16 (2:23:08 pace). O’Keeffe had been bobbing off the front for several miles, but at the start of the final 8-mile circuit, tore up the only significant hill on the course and broke the race wide open.

Whether tapping out a rookie mistake or a brimful of confidence, O’Keeffe was wholly committed. “I just really didn’t want any regrets today,” she said. “I wasn’t sure at that stage if it would be a mistake or if it would pay off, but I just wanted to go for it and see what happens. I trust the training and the preparation and that was definitely a big inspiration.”

O’Keeffe almost instantly opened up a 20-meter lead that would reach 10 seconds at 20 miles (1:38:16). The rookie’s lead grew with every mile as the increased tempo of her stride was matched only by the cadence of her free-swinging braids, and in her wake she left downtown Orlando littered with dozens of dashed Olympic dreams.

But not for Sisson and Lindwurm. The move seemed to knock Sisson out of her doldrums and she hit her stride and was the only athlete to keep O’Keeffe in sight.

Of racing solo in the role of lead chaser, Sisson said, “I tried to keep my eyes on her and I thought if I just kept running my pace, I could catch it up the last few miles. I wanted the win, but she looked great and with 3 miles to go it became really important to be top 3, and I thought I’d be OK if I keep running my pace.”

Up front, O’Keeffe kept pouring it on even hitting a 5:09 slightly downhill 25th mile. She said, “I started believing I could win at about 20 miles, I had to pinch myself, stay calm and don’t freak out. I just tried to focus on the running and go back to the feeling of workouts on the bike path.”

After completing the first two 8-mile loops in 43:38 and 43:49, O’Keeffe scorched the final lap in 42:46 (2:20:10 pace) to close out a most improbable debut.

After taking the Molly Seidel-style half-marathon on-ramp to the Olympic Team O’Keefe admitted, “It wasn’t the plan all along for this to be my debut. My first half was only 2 years ago. I’m still young and this was when it made sense in the progression of my training. Not knowing what I was getting myself into was a bit of a good thing.”

“I’ve been told since high school that marathon would eventually make sense for me and I just was telling myself, ‘I can be just as good as these women and I can make these moves and be confident doing it.’”

O’Keeffe and Sisson’s ability to pick up the pace on the final lap was most remarkable amid the rising temperature and humidity that overtook just about everyone in both races.

For Sisson there was more than a bit of relief after coping with the tag of favorite and an unexpected race scenario: “I’m just over the moon! I think this is one of my marathons I’m proudest of. There was definitely some pressure going into the race I think I handled that well along with some things that popped up early in the race.”

Lindwurm had a more complicated finishing lap being immediately dropped to 7th by O’Keefe’s break. After working her way up to 4th at 22 miles, for a couple miles she ran with Caroline Rotich — the 39-year-old erstwhile Kenyan who won Boston in 2015 and became eligible to represent the USA last October. Lindwurm nailed down the third Olympic spot in the final 2 miles.

“It felt like the team was running away from me at 19 miles,” Lindwurm said. “I’ve done so many marathons I just reminded myself it wasn’t over, there’s a lot of race left.”

“It feels so good to make the team, if I’ve dreamed of this once I’ve dreamed of it a thousand times. I just showed up every day working really hard, and I just had this undeniable belief in myself — and here we are.”


(4-loop course of 2M plus 3 x 8M with 385y finish)

1. Fiona O’Keeffe (Puma) 2:22:10 (10, x A) (debut)


2. Emily Sisson (NBal) 2:22:42


3. Dakotah Lindwurm (PumaMnE) 2:25:31


4. Jessica McClain (unat) 2:25:46 PR


5. Sara Hall (Asics) 2:26:06


6. Caroline Rotich (Asics) 2:26:10


7. Makenna Myler (Asics) 2:26:14 PR; 8. Lindsay Flanagan (Asics) 2:26:25; 9. Emily Durgin (unat) 2:27:56; 10. Anne Frisbie (PumaMnE) 2:27:56;

11. Des Linden (Brooks) 2:28:04; 12. Savannah Berry (unat) 2:29:17; 13. Molly Grabill (Rise) 2:30:16; 14. Sarah Sellers (Asics) 2:30:17; 15. Kellyn Taylor (HokaNAZ) 2:30:28; 16. Anne-Marie Blaney (HansB) 2:30:43 PR; 17. Tristin Van Ord (ZapE) 2:30:46; 18. Jessa Hanson (PumaVerde) 2:31:02 PR; 19. Gabriella Rooker (NikeMill) 2:31:25; 20. Maya Weigel (PenDC) 2:32:16 PR;

21. Amy Davis 2:33:09 PR; 22. Margaretha Montoya 2:33:12 PR; 23. Marybeth Chelanga 2:33:33 PR; 24. Roberta Groner 2:33:33; 25. Jacqueline Gaughan 2:34:12; 26. Katja Goldring 2:34:24; 27. Andrea Pomaranski 2:34:35; 28. Natosha Rogers 2:34:51 PR; 29. Brittney Feivor 2:34:53; 30. Amber Zimmerman 2:34:58;

31. English Tomlinson 2:35:13 PR; 32. Parley Hannan 2:35:13; 33. Regan Rome 2:35:31; 34. Veronica Eder 2:35:46 PR; 35. Jane Bareikis 2:35:53; 36. Bria Wetsch 2:36:00; 37. Katie Kellner 2:36:07; 38. Grace Moore 2:36:23 PR; 39. Tori Parkinson 2:36:43; 40. Kim Horner 2:36:47;

41. Peyton Thomas 2:36:56; 42. Allie Schaich 2:37:14 PR; 43. Abby McNulty 2:37:19; 44. Sakiko Minagawa 2:37:25; 45. Amanda Phillips 2:37:33; 46. Sydney Devore 2:37:59; 47. Peighton Meske 2:38:05; 48. Rachel Hyland 2:38:12; 49. Bridget Belyeu 2:38:16; 50. Katy Fluehr 2:38:20 PR; … dnf—Keira D’Amato (Nike), Betsy Saina (Asics), Jenny Simpson (Puma), Laura Thweatt (Saucony), Aliphine Tuliamuk (HokaNAZ).

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