The road to Tokyo just got a little clearer for U.S. marathoners.
The 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials have been granted gold label status by the International Association of Athletics Federation, which means the top three men and women finishers in Atlanta on Feb. 29 will be nominated for the Olympic team heading to Tokyo.
"The announcement of the Tokyo 2020 Qualification System in March presented challenges to USATF and its partners as planning for marathon trials had begun well before the changes to the qualification system were announced," USATF said in a statement on Monday. "USATF has been proactive in attempts to find a solution and is pleased with the resolution. In the communique to the federation, the IAAF noted that athlete preparation, pre-existing commercial commitments and TV broadcast arrangements were key factors in the decision."
In March, the IAAF tightened up its standards from 2:19:00 to 2:11:30 for the men and 2:45:00 to 2:29:30 for the women. The IAAF was hoping to use its World Rankings system to take the place of the descending order list that previously helped in filling field numbers for the Olympics and World Championships. It is expected that the marathon field for Tokyo will be reduced to 80 runners. Each nation is allowed three athletes in an event at the Olympics.
Another way of qualifying for the Olympics included achieving a top 10 finish in the marathon at the 2019 World Championships, top five at an IAAF Gold Label marathon or top 10 at an Abbott World Marathon Major (Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York). Gold label races are determined by the number of Gold Label athletes (marathoners who have finished in the top 200 of the previous year's world rankings). According to LetsRun.com, 11 American women achieved Gold Label status for 2019 but the men's side featured just one runner with the accomplishment.
The qualification period for the marathon opened on Jan. 1, 2019 and is open until May 31, 2020. This left many elite distance runners without the standard heading into 2019 and some scrambling this fall to hit the standard. With the trials set for February, most athletes would usually skip a fall marathon to train before such high stakes race with Olympic implications.
Scott Fauble (2:09:09, 2019 Boston Marathon 7th place) and Jared Ward (2:09:25, 2019 Boston Marathon 8th place) are the only two American men who have achieved the Olympic standard in 2019. Six women have run under 2:29:31 in 2019.
In March, LetsRun reported that USATF's stance for the selection process amid the confusion was that the three highest-placing finishers at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, who also met the 2020 Olympic Games qualifying standard, would be selected for the U.S. team to Tokyo. That approach was criticized by several coaches and athletes. Monday's announcement alleviates several of the concerns by many U.S. male marathoners without the standard and preserves the trials as one of the most intriguing races of 2020 with the top three finishers being assured places in Tokyo.
"We applaud the decision by the IAAF and the efforts of USATF to preserve the Olympic Dream for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Marathon," Atlanta Track Club (the local organizing committee) executive director Rich Kenah said. "We truly believe this designation ensures the United States will send the strongest possible team of marathoners to Tokyo and we are excited for the thrilling race that will unfold on the streets of Atlanta on February 29."