How Atlanta Became A 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials Host

Atlanta will host the 2020 U.S. Olympic marathon trials on Feb. 29, a day before the highly-anticipated Publix Marathon, Half Marathon & 5K.
Atlanta will host the 2020 U.S. Olympic marathon trials on Feb. 29, a day before the highly-anticipated Publix Marathon, Half Marathon & 5K.
Credit Photo by Stage 7 Photography on Unsplash
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As the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics approach in July, the Atlanta Track Club is gearing up and getting set to host the U.S. Olympic marathon team trials.

Atlanta’s streets will be turned into an expansive course for more than 700 qualifying runners to embark on February 29. Only six of them will make the team for the upcoming Olympics.

Spectators can watch the action in person along the trail or live on NBC from noon to 3 p.m.

“We expect it to be the largest Olympic trials marathon ever held. And we look forward to all of Atlanta embracing the city’s Olympic legacy,” Rich Kenah, executive director of the Atlanta Track Club, said.

Since 2016, marathon trial qualifiers have increased by nearly 400, and women runners account for the majority of this year’s competitors, with over 500 qualifiers, according to the New York Times. In 2016, only 198 women qualified  — an increase of 107% in four years.

The runners will see sites from the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics while hitting the pavement from the Centennial Olympic Park area up to Midtown, then past the Rings and Torch statue on Capitol Avenue and then back.

The Olympic rings stand minutes away from Georgia State Stadium and the Capitol. (Photo credit: David Goldman/Associated Press)

Atlanta’s Olympic history is one of the reasons why the track club decided to place its bid for the trials more than two years ago, Kenah said.

He said the city beat contenders Orlando, Austin, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the opportunity.

Atlanta’s robust running scene and high number of walking and running events were some of the reasons why the Atlanta Track Club declared that the metro area is “Running City USA” in 2018, Kenah said.

“We … came to the conclusion that we could credibly stake the claim to being ‘Running City USA,’ because we have the world’s largest 10K [the Peachtree Road Race]. Because we have the second largest running organization in the country [the Atlanta Track Club],” Kenah said. 

AJC Peachtree Road Race
The AJC Peachtree Road Race takes place annually on July 4. The race has come a long way in the last 50 years. (Courtesy of AJC Peachtree Road Race)

Also, he said Atlanta’s topography, complete with rolling hills in some areas, made the city ideal since it’s similar to how it will be for the runners in Tokyo. 

The course’s elevation profile totals add up to more than 1,300 feet uphill and about 1,300 feet downhill, according to the trial’s website.

“This is a sort of a perfect proving ground for what the Olympic athletes will experience at the 2020 Olympics in Japan,” he said.

Atlanta locals Laurie Knowles, Matt McDonald, Maegan Krifchin, and Wilkerson Givens will be a few of the runners hitting the course to vie for a spot on the marathon team.

“The athletes that are used to training on hills and are used to climate challenges and thrive in that ‘one-on-one, reach deep down, I’m going to run you into the ground’ type [of] mentality versus that ‘I just want to race against the clock’ mentality, those athletes are the ones that are going to excel here,” Kenah said.

Out of Atlanta’s environment have sprung Olympic-level runners, such as Atlanta native Christian Coleman, Olympic sprinter and the current fastest man in the world, and Kenah, who ran in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

Rich Kenah, 800 meters bronze medalist, right, poses on the podium with Wilson Kipketer of Denmark, center, and silver medallist Mahjoub Haida of Morocco at the World Indoors Track and Field Championships in Paris Sunday, March 9, 1997. (Michel Euler/Associated Press)

I would say the joy is in the journey … Even if I did not make the team, the impact that running has had on my life has been significant … So, I would encourage anyone who has an Olympic dream to chase that dream.

– Rich Kenah

Even if you have zero experience with running, Kenah said the hardest part is getting off the couch and that “the running community is welcoming to everyone.”

“Whether you are standing at the starting line, looking to set a record, or whether you are participating in your first 5K hoping to walk it without stopping, you are equally embraced and appreciated and should never feel intimidated,” he said.

In this spirit of comradery, the athletes who make the Olympic marathon team will be cheering on amateur runners the next day at the Publix Atlanta Marathon, Half Marathon & 5K in Centennial Olympic Park. 

“We believe these Olympic-level athletes are inspirational,” Kenah said. “We look forward to reversing roles the next day and having as many of those Olympic hopeful athletes coming out and supporting those everyday runners.”

If you want to join in on this historic day, registration for the Publix run is still open for the event and ranges from $35 to $120.

“So, at the end of the day, on Sunday, Atlanta has executed, the most inclusive running weekend ever put together.”

Correction: Maegan Krifchin’s name has been updated, along with Austin being one of the contenders for hosting the U.S. Olympic marathon trials.