This weekend, Atlanta will host the largest Olympic Marathon Trials in history with 456 women and 235 men racing for spots on the team that goes to Tokyo this summer. While only the top three finishers will earn an Olympic berth on Saturday, there are plenty of other amazing athletes also racing on the three-loop, hilly course with them.
Over 700 runners qualified, hitting the 2:19 standard for men and the 2:45 standard for women— a goal that can be very emotional for the runners who make it.
Among those competitors will be a few speedy triathletes, including pros Haley Chura and Sarah Bishop, former pro triathlete (and previous Trials qualifier) Ruth Brennan Morrey, and Olympian Greg Billington.
And who knows, maybe one of our triathlon brethren will surprise all those pure runners?
Billington is no stranger to the Olympics, having competed in the 2016 Games in Rio before retiring from triathlon in 2017. Of course, “retirement” means something different for the former Olympian. After running the Pyramids Marathon in Egypt and surprising himself by winning the race, Billington was hooked on the marathon distance. He went on to win the San Francisco Marathon last summer, running a 2:25:25. While fast, that time wasn’t fast enough to qualify for the Olympic trials—so he followed it up with a 2:16 finish at the California International Marathon (CIM) in December. In between a busy job at Visa, Greg trains 1-2 times/week with Back on My Feet, an organization that combats homelessness through running. He credits the organization for making his running experience about more than just running. “Back on My Feet represents what I love about sport—developing community and instilling good habits. When you’re down and out, you need to build constructive habits. There’s a lot more meaning in my running when I get to represent people I care about,” he said.
A former All-American in the 800m while at Auburn University, Bishop put her running on hold after college in order to balance a busy career and raising four young children. But in 2014, stressed and burned out, she started running again just for fun. Improvement quickly followed: after placing fourth at the Marine Corps Marathon in 2016, she won the race the next year—only to miss the Olympic Trials qualifying time by just seven seconds. Not one to be deterred, she went on to run a qualifying time at CIM later that year. When an injury kept her from running, Bishop turned to triathlon and excelled at that. After winning her age group at USAT Nationals and taking second in the 35-39 at 70.3 Worlds, she turned pro at the end of 2019 (and notched herself a few fifth places right away). This year will be her rookie season as both a pro triathlete and elite runner, but it hasn’t slowed her down. Just last month, she ran a crazy fast 2:39:59 to win the Mesa Marathon as a tune-up (!!) for the Olympic Trials.
This former swimmer might have the most range of any athlete on course this weekend. A champion pro triathlete, Chura originally swam in the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Trials—and not in a distance event, in the 200m backstroke! (And she got 9th in 2004.) Although she lives and trains in winter-y Bozeman, Montana, Chura attended the University of Georgia on a swimming scholarship and got her start in triathlon through the Dynamo Swim Club in Atlanta, while working as an accountant. Returning to her home turf for the Olympic Marathon Trials was part of what inspired her to chase a seemingly stretch goal. Although Chura has won her share of 70.3 and Ironman titles, she hadn’t run a marathon anywhere close to the qualifying time of 2:45—but the challenge intrigued her. After the 70.3 World Championships in Nice, France, Chura put her triathlon training on hold and worked with her coach to create a plan that got her across the line at CIM in December in 2:43.
Ruth Brennan Morrey
Funny enough, right behind Chura across the line at CIM was another (former) pro triathlete, Ruth Brennan Morrey. For Morrey, returning to the Olympic Marathon Trials has been 20 years in the making. In 2000, at the age of 24, she ran in her first Olympic Marathon Trials. One Ph.D. and three kids later, Ruth started to compete in triathlon and eventually turned pro in 2012. She “retired” from the sport after an injury in 2017, but still wanted a goal to chase. Enter returning to the marathon trials at the age of 44—20 years later. She fell short in her first qualification attempt at Grandma’s Marathon last June, but hit the standard in CIM right behind Chura. In the last two decades, Morrey said she’s seen the explosive growth of women’s running in the U.S. “First, there has been a widespread contagion effect in women’s running that has made women of all ages curious about their *true* potential and has made many of us dismissive of previous ‘expiration dates’ of performance—age 40, for example,” she said. “Second, women now have outstanding female role models in the sport, who demonstrate family balance, a good head, and great ambition.”
How to Watch the Olympic Marathon Trials
If you’re looking to watch the action from afar, the men’s race will begin at 12:08 p.m. ET and the women’s race follows at 12:20 p.m. ET. Both will air on NBC. (Here’s more details on how to watch.)
If you’re in Atlanta, you can join the estimated 100,000 spectators who will line the hilly three-loop route before ending at Centennial Olympic Park. You can also sign up for the Publix Half- (or full) Marathon on March 1 to run part of the course.
Looking for more stories of the people racing this weekend? Check out the series of profiles our sister site, Women’s Running has done. Just cheer extra loud for all the triathletes out there.