New York City Marathon Has Olympic And Paralympic Implications For All Of Team USA Athletes
by Lynn Rutherford
When many of Team USA’s top distance runners and wheelchair racers take the starting line at the New York City Marathon on Sunday, qualifying for the Olympic & Paralympic Games Paris 2024 will be paramount in their thoughts.
In the wheelchair division, the top two finishers in the women’s and men’s events will qualify for the 2024 Paris Games, provided they also have a minimum qualifying time and are ranked in the top 10 in the world for the women and top 20 for the men.
While that mark is most important to defending women’s wheelchair division champion Susannah Scaroni, she told reporters she felt ready and confident to challenge for her second New York City crown.
“My goal is to just get out there and do the best I can do that day, and I definitely did that last year,” Scaroni, 32, said on Thursday. “I’m hoping to get off quickly, on the first bridge (the Verrazano Narrows) and then see what happens after that.”
Scaroni set a course record of 1:42:43 in New York last year. In April, she won her first Boston Marathon – despite having to pull over early in the race to tighten a loose axle with an Allen wrench.
Tatyana McFadden, a 20-time Paralympic medalist and five-time NYC champion, is the most likely to qualify alongside Scaroni. However, there are five other Americans in the women’s division vying for a spot, including Hannah Dederick, Jenna Fesemyer, Eva Houston and Yen Hoang, who all made their Paralympic debuts at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 two years ago.
On the men’s side, two-time New York champion Daniel Romanchuk is coming off a second-place finish in last year’s marathon and looks poised to qualify for his third straight Paralympics.
There are 11 other Americans in the men’s division, including three-time Summer Paralympians Aaron Pike and Brian Siemann, who will be competing for a chance to qualify for Paris before the turn of the year.
For Team USA runners, Sunday’s 26.2-mile race marks the last major marathon before the 2024 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for the marathon, set to be held Feb. 3 in Orlando, Florida. In order to enter, female athletes need to have posted a minimum qualifying time of 2:37:00 or better. Then to qualify for the Olympic Games Paris 2024, a time of 2:26:50 is or better is required.
In 2016, two-time Olympian Molly Huddle raced in her first New York City Marathon and finished third. Two years later, she ran it a second time and placed fourth, missing the podium by just 22 seconds.
This third time around the city’s five boroughs, she has more than the podium in mind.
“I kind of know I’ll be doing a race within a race,” the 39-year-old from Elmira, New York, said during a media event on Thursday. “I’m not going to be racing world record holders or anything in the front. I definitely have goals, I want to get under the (time) I’ll need for the trials, and just have a good experience.”
Huddle finished in 2:28:13 in 2016 and improved that to 2:26:44 in 2018.
Huddle called her fitness level a “question mark,” admitting she had not done as much build-up as she would have liked. In March, she suffered a grade three femoral stress fracture to her upper thigh that put her on crutches and cancelled plans to run a marathon in May.
“I just didn’t have time to do the normal progress,” she said. “I wanted to make sure I did it safely and didn’t reinjure it, so I did what I could do.”
In 2016, her most successful racing year, Huddle won both the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races at the Olympic Team Trials and went on to place sixth in the 10,000 at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, setting an American record that stood for more than six years.
In the years since, she has had more success on the track than on the road. While Huddle now says she is focused on road races, on Thursday, she told reporters her race on Sunday was all about hitting that qualifying time.
“I think I’m just trying to have my best possible race on the day; I know what I can do and where I need to stay, pace-wise,” Huddle said. “I’m just going to focus on (that time).”
Four other Team USA women, including two-time Olympic trials qualifier Sydney Devore, will join Huddle on Sunday. They will race with many of the world’s top marathoners, including defending champion Sharon Lokedi of Kenya and her countrywoman, four-time world champion Hellen Obiri, who won the Boston Marathon in April.
Like Huddle, Team USA’s Elkanah Kibet has had his greatest marathon moments in New York, as he finished fourth here in 2021.
Kenyan born, Kibet relocated to the U.S. and attended Auburn University on a running scholarship. He became a citizen in 2013 and then enrolled in the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program.
“I’ve been in the Army for 11 years,” Kibet, who serves as a financial controller, said on Thursday. “You really should do 20 years, and then retire. That is the usual goal, but who knows what will happen.”
Last August, Kibet was preparing for the New York City Marathon when he received notice that his unit was heading overseas to Poland. While serving there, he would often run 10 or 12 miles in the early mornings, then begin work at 7 a.m.
“You have to do, what you have to do, to survive,” the 40-year-old, who resides in Colorado Springs, Colorado, said. “(In Poland) I at least ran once a day, and then went to work …. I would go biking, do ellipticals. That is what I did to sustain (my fitness).”
Kibet’s unit returned to the U.S. this summer after a 10-month deployment.
“Since then, my training has been going really well,” he said. “My goal (in New York) is to be in the top five (U.S. runners), to qualify for the Olympic trials.”
It is a goal 12 other Team USA runners, including two-time Olympics trials qualifier Nathan Martin, share. Tamirat Tola of Ethiopia, who won the marathon at the 2022 world championships, along his compatriot Shura Kitata, runner-up in last year’s New York City Marathon, are among the favorites for the podium.