New Olympians send Publix Atlanta Marathon, Half Marathon & 5K runners off in style
By Barbara Huebner
As the soft colors of dawn brushed the eastern sky on Sunday morning, five new members of Team USA gathered on the start platform of the Publix Atlanta Marathon, Half Marathon & 5K.
“Runners set!” they commanded in unison, and 10,000 participants in the half and full marathons, followed by 3,000 in the 5K, took off on their journey through the streets of Running City USA.
For those runners, it was the morning of. For the five freshly crowned Olympians, it was the morning after. But whether an Atlanta marathon participant or a top-three finisher in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon, a race is a race, and everyone is in it together.
“You guys were out there yesterday,” said Trials champion Aliphine Tuliamuk. “Thank you for cheering so loud and so hard. When you feel the pain, just remember how hard you’ve worked to get here.”
Asked by start-line announcer Carrie Tollefson if he was excited to make his fifth Olympic team, Abdi Abdirahman replied, gesturing toward the crowd of runners: “I’m fired up, but I’m fired up for them. Are you guys ready?”
At 43, Abdirahman is the oldest runner ever to make a U.S. Olympic team. The man who previously held that honor, Meb Keflezighi, was among the runners huddled in the early morning chill, as he prepared to lead a 1:40 pace group after telling the participants, “If you’re planning to run with me, let’s have some fun.”
First-time marathoners received some well-timed advice from surprise team member Molly Seidel, who on Saturday became the first U.S. woman to make a marathon team in her debut at the distance (thanks for a half marathon qualifying time). “Tuck in, go with the pack and just don’t count yourself short for what you can do.”
During her recovery from a stress fracture last year, Tuliakmuk taught herself to crochet by watching YouTube videos, and a beanie business was born. More than a few women wearing the colorful hats dashed up to her at the start, thrilled to finally meet the woman who created them.
“We were crying when you won,” said Kim Skaff, of Zion, Illinois, as she and Charlyn Chapal of Chicago – both wearing Publix Half Marathon bibs – paused on their way to their start wave. “I told my husband, ‘An Olympian touched all these hats!’”
Tuliakmuk took time between a flood of selfie requests to express amazement that a slate of events was happening the morning after the Trials.
“Atlanta Track Club people mustn’t have slept for a month,” said the 2017 AJC Peachtree Road Race champion. “But it’s the coolest thing.”
Sally Kipyego agreed. “Definitely it’s great to come out and support these other runners doing the same thing we did. The crowds yesterday were fantastic. I’m still buzzing, it was that loud. At Mile 1, you were kicking to finish the race; I thought, ‘there are 25 miles to go, you’d better calm down a bit!”
Kiona Byrd, who volunteered at the last Trials fluid station for the UAO chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, asked runner-up Jake Riley whether he heard them cheering for him, and recalled that he didn’t stop at their table.
Riley thanked them with a big smile, explaining: “I still had some work to do. There were guys ahead of me.”
One of those guys at the time was Abdirahman, who must have been delighted when he learned that Running City USA would host the 2020 Trials.
“I always run well in Atlanta,” the man who has run the AJC Peachtree Road Race at least eight times and set his 10K personal best here told the gathered runners. “It’s a great running city. I love you guys!”