Conner Mantz, Clayton Young go one-two at marathon trials to make first Olympic team
ORLANDO, Florida — For Conner Mantz and Clayton Young, a friendship — mentorship — that first formed six years ago reached a climax in the final 200 meters of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.
Mantz and Young, former BYU teammates and current professional training partners, ran in lockstep toward the finish line after 26 miles together.
The two fastest American marathoners of 2023 were about to cross it in first and second place, clinching the two guaranteed spots on the Olympic team for Paris.
It would be the first Olympics for both. The only thing left to determine was the winner and the runner-up.
Young, the mentor when they were Cougars, turned to the younger Mantz and spoke. Enjoy it. Soak it in, he told him.
Then Young slowed slightly and put his arms out as if providing a runway for Mantz. Mantz won the race in 2 hours, 9 minutes, 5 seconds. Young was 1.19 seconds behind.
“It’s almost as close to a marriage as it can be,” Young, sitting next to Mantz, said of their relationship. “We have our disagreements sometimes. We’re very, very competitive, but not today.
“Conner and I are better when we work together.”
Mantz and Young take their similar stories — each gaining about 30 pounds during separate two-year Mormon missions during which they didn’t train full-time — from Provo to Paris this summer.
Mantz and his wife, Kylie, have babysat Young’s kids. Young’s wife, Ashley, makes the men breakfast after training runs.
“He was one of my first mentors,” said the 27-year-old Mantz, who is three years younger, three inches shorter and was 13 seconds faster at October’s Chicago Marathon to go into the trials as the clear favorite. “Last two miles I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to finish, but Clayton just kept saying, ‘Hey, just run behind me. We got this. Just stay together.’”
Mantz became the new U.S. men’s marathon star when he ran 2:08:16 in his debut at the distance in October 2022, becoming the seventh-fastest American in history.
Young had a more difficult path. His debut came at the Tokyo Olympic Trials, finishing 136th after injuries limited his final build up to three weeks.
In his next marathon in 2021, he collapsed with 300 meters to go, lost three minutes and dropped out of the top 10.
Last February, he underwent knee surgery. A little over seven months later, he lowered his personal best by 3:51 at the Chicago Marathon to become the second-fastest American for the year behind Mantz.
Young wore sunglasses for indoor press conferences on Friday and again after Saturday’s race. He said that people weren’t picking him to make the team.
“That underdog mentality did me well,” he said afterward. “If you had me out of your top three, I’m in it now. I forgive you all.”
Mantz and Young will likely be joined on the Olympic team by Leonard Korir, an Army Staff Sergeant who went from fifth to third in the 26th mile.
Korir passed Zach Panning and Elkanah Kibet as he bid for a second Olympic team. He was 14th in the 10,000m in Rio in 2016, then missed the Tokyo Olympic marathon team by three seconds at those trials.
“When I finished fourth the other time, they (people in the Army) told me, ‘Don’t worry about it, you’re going to make the next one,’” said Korir, who joined the Army in 2015 and has been part of its World Class Athlete Program in Colorado Springs.
Korir must wait to see if the U.S. gets a third Olympic spot. It is likely, but it might not be determined until a May 5 international rankings cutoff.
Two-time Olympic medalist Galen Rupp began dropping back in the 17th mile and ended up 16th. The 37-year-old was bidding for a fifth Olympics and can still race the track trials in June.
“It was a rough one, for sure,” said Rupp, who was the third-fastest American marathoner in 2023 after dealing with injuries the previous two years. “I don’t know what happened. It’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
Scott Fauble, the top American at the last two Boston Marathons, lost touch with the lead pack in the eighth mile and dropped out before the midpoint.
Abdi Abdirahman, 47 years old and a five-time Olympian, dropped out around the same time. Abdirahman’s last completed marathon was the Tokyo Olympics.
Paul Chelimo, a 5000m silver and bronze medalist at the last two Olympics, dropped out in the 18th mile in his marathon debut. Chelimo, 33, said he plans to race the track trials in June and move up to the marathon for good next year.
NBC Sports’ track and field coverage continues Sunday with the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston, featuring world champions Noah Lyles and Fred Kerley meeting in the 60m. NBC, NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app and Peacock air live coverage from 4-6 p.m. ET.
The next major marathon is the Tokyo Marathon on March 3, featuring two-time Olympic gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya and Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan, who ran the second-fastest women’s marathon time in history at October’s Chicago Marathon.
NBC Sports’ Seth Rubinroit contributed to this report.