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For most of the race, it looked like it could have been Desiree Linden’s day. The two-time Olympian and 2018 Boston Marathon champion was looking to make history at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials on Saturday in Atlanta—with a top three finish, Linden would become the first American woman to make three Olympic teams in the marathon.
After an honest, hard-fought race, Aliphine Tuliamuk (2:27:23), Molly Seidel (2:27:31), and Sally Kipyego (2:28:52) were the first three to cross the line, earning their place on Team USA and a chance to compete in August at the Tokyo Games. Linden, 11 seconds behind Kipyego, finished fourth with a time of 2:29:03.
“It was just a tough day,” Linden told Women’s Running minutes after crossing the finish line. “Everyone was aggressive for the most part. I was sort of wondering if I was going to have to go in there and make it honest, and that was never a problem. It was a lot of racing all day long.”
Linden took an unsurprising position at the front of the pack from the very beginning of the race, leading in miles four and five. The experienced and patient marathoner maintained a top 10 position throughout the middle miles, tucking into the leaders to shield from the unrelenting wind. By the halfway point, there were an unprecedented 14 women still in the lead pack, a fact that didn’t take Linden by surprise: “I figured there’d be a really good size group till [mile] 20, to be honest. I think that’s where the depth is at.”
Athletes knew the course—which featured 1,389 feet of climbing and 1,382 feet of downhill running—was going to be tough. But it wasn’t until the final miles where it made its mark. At mile 21, Tuliamuk and Seidel broke away from the rest of the field, with Kipyego chasing a few seconds behind. With just two miles remaining, Kipyego faded to 38 seconds behind the leaders, with Laura Thweatt in fourth, 53 seconds behind Tuliamuk and Seidel. Linden, in fifth, never gave up. In the last half mile, with Kipyego in sight, she made a final push past Thweatt, but it wasn’t enough.
Tried real hard today. Love that I get to do this for a living. Thank you @brooksrunning for all the support. Thank you fans for all the cheers. Thank you competitors for pushing me to be my best. #Atlanta2020 pic.twitter.com/9rbgCeKIV7
— des_linden (@des_linden) February 29, 2020
“The last 10K was challenging, that was when things were starting to fall apart, and then just knowing that those last three miles was just a real grind—it was daunting,” Linden said. “But I fought all day long. I gave it everything out there.”
And while many wouldn’t have predicted the women’s top three finishers, Linden wasn’t totally surprised. “Aliphine’s been around for awhile and it was just a matter of time before she had that breakthrough,” she said. As for 25-year old Molly Seidel, who was making her marathon debut? “Stepping into the event is so different now. Before it was like if you broke 2:30 people were like ‘Ooh, this is a name to remember,’ and now these guys are doing just incredible things right off the bat,” Linden continued. “I thought Molly Seidel looked great at the San Antonio Half and I sort of called it awhile back, I said I think she’s going to have a great debut.”
At 36 years old, and in the final stages of her professional running career, it’s hard to ignore the emotions surrounding the results. In December, Linden surprised everyone by announcing she would race both the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials and the Boston Marathon, just seven weeks apart. She wasn’t just planning for two marathons in 2020, but three.
“I’m trying not to think about emotions at all, because I feel like I’ll pour out of my eyes in a second,” Linden said, tearing up. “But I know I have big plans really soon with Boston so I’m really excited about that. I’m obviously fit, and strong, and now it’s going to be about recovery. I’m actually very happy I have something on the schedule to just move on.”