Fiona O’Keeffe wins U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in marathon debut

ORLANDO, Florida — An Olympic Trials with the fastest collection of American women in history was won by a runner who had never before raced a marathon.

Fiona O’Keeffe became the first woman to win the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in her debut at the distance on Saturday.

O’Keeffe, 25, pulled away from the lead pack of five in the 19th mile and ended up clocking 2 hours, 22 minutes, 10 seconds, an Olympic Trials record.

She broke 1984 Olympic gold medalist Joan Benoit’s record as the youngest woman to win an Olympic Trials marathon.

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She’s joined on the Olympic team by American record holder Emily Sisson (32 seconds behind) and Dakotah Lindwurm (3:20 behind), a former walk-on at Division II Northern State University in South Dakota.

In the final stretch, spectators were more confident in O’Keeffe’s victory than the Stanford Earth systems graduate was.

“I started to hear people saying, ‘You’re going to Paris! You’re going to Paris!’” she said. “But I knew there were so many strong women behind me, and I was running scared a little bit.”

Those strong women included three of the four fastest Americans in history.

O’Keeffe was sixth in the 5000m at the 2022 USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, then missed the 2023 USATF Outdoors due to an ankle infection that ultimately required surgery.

She qualified for trials via a half marathon time. Her marathon debut has been in the cards.

She’s been told since high school that the distance was ripe for her. Amy Cragg, the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials winner, has been one of her coaches for the last two-plus years.

Sisson, the fastest American marathoner in history (2:18:29 from Chicago 2022), grabbed redemption from 2020.

The 32-year-old was arguably the favorite at the Tokyo Olympic Trials but dropped out of that race, saying her legs were “destroyed” on the hilly Atlanta course.

On Saturday, Sisson was hurting earlier than expected. She took motivation from seeing 2004 Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kastor in a lead vehicle. Sisson has read Kastor’s book, “Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory,” and remembered that Kastor wrote about thinking positive thoughts during races.

Lindwurm, a 28-year-old paralegal, entered trials as the 11th seed by best time in the two-year qualifying window.

Yet she emerged in the final miles from a group that included Betsy Saina, the fastest American in 2023, Sara Hall, the fourth-fastest American in history, and 2015 Boston Marathon winner Caroline Rotich.

“If I’ve dreamed of this once, I’ve dreamed of it a thousand times,” Lindwurm said. “It almost doesn’t feel real.”

Hall, 40, placed fifth in a bid to make her first Olympic team in her eighth career Olympic Trials race dating to 2004 (track and marathon).

“It’s not what I dreamed of, but I don’t think I could have done any more than that,” she said. “A lot of cramping in the last lap.”

Keira D’Amato, the second-fastest American in history, dropped back from the lead pack in the 16th mile.

Aliphine Tuliamuk, the Tokyo Olympic Trials winner, lost contact with the leaders in the seventh mile and dropped out before the 11th. Tuliamuk said Friday that she was at about 75 to 80 percent working her way back from a partial hamstring tear that kept her out of October’s Chicago Marathon.

Two contenders withdrew in the lead up to the race.

Molly Seidel, the Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist, announced her withdrawal on Thursday, citing a knee injury. Four years ago, Seidel was second at the trials to become the first woman to make a U.S. Olympic marathon team in her marathon debut.

Emma Bates, the third-fastest U.S. female marathoner of 2023, bowed out Jan. 7, saying then, “There’s just not enough time to be where I need to be.”

NBC Sports’ track and field coverage continues Sunday with the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston, featuring world champions Noah Lyles and Fred Kerley meeting in the 60m. NBC, NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app and Peacock air live coverage from 4-6 p.m. ET.

The next major marathon is the Tokyo Marathon on March 3, featuring two-time Olympic gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya and Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan, who ran the second-fastest women’s marathon time in history at October’s Chicago Marathon.

First appeared on www.nbcsports.com

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