U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials women's race preview

Shalane Flanagan, Desi Linden and Kara Goucher look to repeat as the 2016 U.S. Olympic team but after a fourth place finish in 2012 Amy Cragg wants to make the team for Rio.
Publish date:

The U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials will be held in Los Angeles on Feb. 13. There, the top three men and women across the finish line will qualify to represent the United States at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Unlike on the men’s side, where at least two new faces will punch tickets to Rio, there is a likelihood that the U.S. may field the same women’s squad as in 2012. Shalane Flanagan was the trials champion that time, with Desi Linden and Kara Goucher grabbing the two spots behind her. All three are strong contenders this year.

However, fellow Olympian Amy Cragg may have a shot at shaking up the Olympic team picture.

Here’s a look at how the field stacks up:

The favorites

Shalane Flanagan — Personal Best: 2:21:14 (2014 Berlin Marathon)

Flanagan looks to defend her title as the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials champion after winning the 2012 trials in 2:25:38, in what was just her second career marathon. In the four years since, Flanagan has asserted herself as the strongest female American marathoner, having produced fast times in 2014 with a 2:22:02 at the Boston Marathon (the fastest ever run on the course by an American woman) and 2:21:14 at the Berlin Marathon (the second-fastest time ever by an American woman).

At the same time, Flanagan has also fared well on the track. She won the 10,000 meters at the 2013 U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Des Moines, and finished eighth at the world championships in Moscow later that summer. She also made the 2015 world championship team with a runner-up finish at nationals before finishing sixth in the world.

Her last crack at the marathon distance was a 2:27:47 finish for ninth place at the Boston Marathon, which she told SI was a disappointing result.

Flanagan has spent time in Portland, Ore., and Flagstaff, Ariz., preparing to make her second Olympic team. In the build-up for Los Angeles, Flanagan told Runner’s World that she experienced “a lot of hiccups” with back and Achilles pain while training for the trials.

The former North Carolina Tar Heel has remained so far ahead of the rest of the American women’s field that, despite her hiccups, she should manage to hold her own for a top-three spot.


Desiree Linden (née​ Davila) — Personal best: 2:22:38 (2011 Boston Marathon)

Linden has made a strong comeback from a femoral stress fracture that knocked her out of the Olympic marathon in London before three miles. Her first marathon back from injury was an encouraging fifth-place showing in 2:29:15 at the 2013 Berlin Marathon. She returned to the Boston Marathon in 2014, where just three years before she had fallen short of the victory by just two seconds, and placed ninth in 2:23:54. Only Flanagan ran faster among Americans on that day.

Linden was the top American in a cold and windy 2014 New York City Marathon, when she placed fifth overall in 2:28:11. The momentum carried to 2015, where her 2:25:39 and fifth-place finish in Boston was the fastest by a U.S. woman on the year.

Four years ago, Linden battled all the way until the final two miles in Houston, at which point Flanagan pulled away to eventually win by 17 seconds. Without any setbacks in Linden’s training a second U.S. Olympic team is well within in reach.

Desi Linden Q&A ahead of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

The Contenders


Kara Goucher — Personal best: 2:24:52 (2011 Boston Marathon)

The marathon has not been as kind of late to Goucher as it was before the 2012 Olympics, but the 37-year-old mother may be rounding into shape at the perfect time to make a third U.S. Olympic team. After a third-place finish in Houston four years ago, Goucher placed 10th in London (now ninth thanks to doping sanctions), just one spot behind Flanagan.

Goucher took sixth at the 2013 Boston Marathon in 2:28:11 and then wilted in the Des Moines heat to miss a spot on the 10,000-meter squad for the world championships. Injuries, a move and a coaching switch made 2014 a transition period, as her only major result of the year was a sub-par 2:37:03 run for 14th place at the New York City Marathon.

There was no lack of drama in 2015. Goucher and her husband came forward as whistle-blowers in a joint BBC and ProPublica report alleging that Nike Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar pushed the boundaries on doping rules to gain a competitive advantage by encouraging the use of prescription medication and therapeutic use exemptions. Salazar remains under investigation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Goucher was visibly drained at the U.S. championships in Eugene, Ore., last summer, where she answered questions on Salazar and finished a distant 18th in the 5,000.

In November and December, Goucher showed signs of life again as she won the Big Sur Half-Marathon in 1:11:13 and the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio Half-Marathon in 1:11:10. Both performances were her fastest since 2012.

Amy Cragg (née Hastings) — Personal best: 2:27:03 (2011 Houston Marathon and 2014 Chicago Marathon)

Cragg made the decision to move to Portland, Ore. to train with Flanagan for the trials and Saturday will determine whether that move paid off. She fell just one place short of making the team in 2012, finishing fourth behind Goucher in what was just the second marathon of Cragg’s career.

Cragg went on to qualify for the Olympics in the 10,000 meters and placed 11th in London.

In her return to the marathon, she struggled and faded back to 20th place with a 2:42:50 performance at the 2013 New York City Marathon. She also failed to finish the 2015 Boston Marathon, dropping out after 22 miles. It was after Boston that she talked to Flanagan and made the decision to team up.

Cragg will be looking to produce a performance much like the one she delivered in the 2014 Chicago Marathon, where she tied her personal best of 2:27:03 in fourth place and was the top American on the day.

Where are they now? The 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon team, four years later

Deena Kastor — Personal best: 2:19:36 (2006 London Marathon)

Being the American record holder, Kastor holds the fastest personal best in the field, but that mark will be 10 years old in April. Kastor was slated to run in Saturday's race until she announced her withdrawal due to a glute strain on Wednesday morning.

Kastor is the last American woman to medal in the marathon at the Olympics, having taken bronze at the 2004 Games in Athens.If she would have ran and finished in the top three, she would have become the oldest U.S. Olympic distance runner in history.

The Newcomers


Kellyn Taylor — Personal best: 2:28:40 (2015 Houston Marathon)

Taylor, 29, recorded the seventh-fastest marathon debut by an American woman when she surprised many with a 2:28:40 run at the 2015 Houston Marathon. Taylor’s debut matched that of Flanagan’s, and in Flanagan’s second marathon, she won the Olympic Trials in Houston. In addition to Taylor’s impressive marathon debut, she also set personal bests in the 10,000 meters (32:29.88) and half marathon (1:11:01) in 2015.

Did you know? Taylor is currently studying to become a fire fighter.

Misiker Demissie — Personal best: 2:25:45 (2013 Ottowa Marathon)

Demissie is new to the U.S. scene after being sworn in as a U.S. citizen in October. In the last two years, Demissie has not run faster than 2:29:03. She won a low-key marathon in Mexico in 2:37:28 last March, but her most recent performance was a 2:41:54 at altitude in Mexico. Demissie may not be a threat to make the team given her lack of fitness displayed with a 1:13:38 half marathon in Phoenix last month.

Annie Bergasel — Personal best: 2:28:18 (2015 Dusseldorf Marathon)

Bergasel has been a quietly consistent marathoner over the last three years. She won the 2013 Twin Cities Marathon in 2:30:53 before lowering her personal best with victories at the last two Dusseldorf Marathons in 2:28:59 (2014) and 2:28:29 (2015). Her 2:33:02 performance at the 2014 New York City Marathon was second among Americans, behind only Linden.

Bergasel suffered bad luck at the 2012 marathon trials, when she fell in the first mile and pulled her hamstring, which forced her to withdraw from the race. Most recently, she underwent knee surgery last June.

On the bubble

Serena Burla (2:28:01), Janet Bawcom (2:29:45), Becky Wade (2:30:41), Esther Atkins (2:33:15), Sara Hall (2:31:14), Adriana Nelson (2:31:15)

The race will be broadcast live on NBC from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. ET. I will be on-site providing live updates from @ChrisChavezSI on Twitter.