USATF has issued Requests for Proposals to hold the U.S. Olympic Team Marathon Trials
. So far one city has made its intentions clear: Atlanta, host of the 2020 Trials, will not make a bid. The Atlanta Track Club's Director of Marketing and Communications Jay Holder, while praising "an incredible experience for this organization and Running City USA," said that it was someone else's turn to host the event. He added that "the city of Orlando is that place in 2024."
The Olympic Marathon Trials have long been crippled by restrictive sponsorship policies placed on the event by the USOPC and USATF which basically prohibit the Local Organizing Committee from raising sponsorship income to cover a portion of the costs. At least the last four cities to host the trials, Atlanta in 2020, Los Angeles in 2016, Houston in 2012 and New York and Boston in 2007 lost money on the event, in some reported instances over $1 million. After the 2020 trials, Atlanta TC Executive Director Rich Kenah told Road Race Management, “We won't be bidding on future Trials unless there is a significant change in the bid requirements. With due respect to our friends at USATF, it is my belief that they need to put more skin in the game and not rely exclusively on the LOC [Local Organizing Committee] and NBC to carry 100% of the expenses for the event. I believe there is a better model to be built that will incentivize excellence for all involved.” By all indications, that has not happened.
The 2024 bid form makes this clear with the following statement: “The USOPC owns all revenue sources, as well as all media and licensing rights, associated with the Olympic Team Trials - Marathon. No sponsor or partner that is not a USOPC sponsor may receive any recognition associated with the Olympic Team Trials - Marathon and no sponsor or partner may receive any benefits in association with the Olympic Trials without the express written consent of USATF and the USOPC. Furthermore, USATF and USOPC sponsors and suppliers shall have a right of first refusal with respect to business opportunities related to the 2024 U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Marathon.” [Italics added by editor]
Will the Olympic Trials Even Be Used to Select the U.S. Team?
The longstanding sponsorship issues were compounded in 2020 by new IAAF (now World Athletics) policies regarding the selection of the Olympic Marathon Team. After the new rules --which mandated athletes bettering Olympic qualifying standards of 2:11:30 for men and 2:29:30 for women in a World Athletic Gold Label event -- were announced by World Athletics, Kenah faced the possibility that his top three men’s and women’s finishers would not be on the U.S. team. In the end, the World Athletics had to be prevailed upon by USATF to declare the U.S. Marathon Trials a "Gold Label" event on a one time basis, so that the top three men and women from the Trials would qualify to go to Tokyo even if they did not meet the ostensible Olympic qualifying times.
The tension that existed at the time between the preference of World Athletics that national teams be selected on the basis of its world rankings as opposed to a one-day trials format preferred by the U.S., continues to this day. Unresolved is the question of whether World Athletics will insist upon selection based on world rankings for 2024, or will allow countries to select their teams via in-country trials.
Furthermore, as pointed out by Race Results Weekly publisher David Monti, "when the pandemic hit, World Athletics dismantled their Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze race labeling system, so the entire concept of getting an Olympic Games qualifying mark based on a top-5 finish (in an in-country trials) was discontinued." This could rule out the means by which Atlanta got the 2020 U.S. Trials approved--a one-time assignment of Gold Label status to the race. Says Monti, "We don't know if that [labeling] system will be restored for Paris 2024." (In the end, the 2020 Atlanta qualifiers did run the Olympic Games qualifying times, but that was not a foregone conclusion.)
To date, World Athletics has not revealed their 2024 Olympic Games qualifying process.
In principle, the U.S. Trials could fail to meet the standards for selecting athletes to represent their country in the Olympics--defaulting to the world rankings method for selection.
The squeeze was been put on Olympic qualifying times due to World Athletics' target of 80 male and 80 female athletes for the Tokyo Olympics Marathon. Setting tight qualifying times was meant to take care of meeting those maximums, but along came super shoes and 88 women and 106 men started in Tokyo.
On the World Athletics as-yet-undetermined plan for 2024, Monti says, "it's safe to say that WA will be absolutely determined to get to that 80-athlete per gender quota."
USATF seems to be hedging its bets as the application form states “The U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon is USATF’s premier road racing event and may be used to select the US. Team of six athletes (three men, three women) for the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad in Paris, France, to be held July 26 - August 11, 2024. Note particularly the word "may" not "will." [Editor’s note: Bold italics added for emphasis.]
In addition, a section of the bid form addresses the uncertainty of the trials being the selection race in the following paragraph buried on page 21 of the application form:
“USATF shall make good faith efforts to use the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon as
the selection event to select the U.S. Team of six marathon athletes (three men, three
women) for the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad in Paris, France, to be held July 26 –
August 11, 2024 (“Games”); however, USATF must abide by all rules and regulations of
the international athletics federation (World Athletics), including its selection procedures
for the Games which may preclude the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon from serving
as the sole selection event for the Games.” [Italics added for emphasis.]
In an article on the new Olympic Trials standards for U.S. runners published in Runners World in December
(a paywalled publication), journalist Sarah Lorge Butler observed that the USATF process of requesting proposals was "well behind its typical cycle" for the 2024 selection.
Reached by Road Race Management on March 29, an official from USATF's Long Distance Running Division said "no formal agreement has been reached about the status of the Trials."
The current timetable calls for bidders to declare their intention to bid by April 15, 2022, applications due by May 20 (along with a $25,000 deposit on a $100,000 rights fee) and a final decision by July 14, 2022. (“Subject to change,” the form notes.)