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Gold Rush: U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials Take Center Stage in Midtown Feb. 29

Nearly 750 fleet-footed Olympic hopefuls will compete, but only the top three men and women will make the team.

Published: 02/06/20

Midtown has been host to numerous running events, including the Peachtree Road Race (pictured), but this will be the first time Atlanta has hosted the Olympic Marathon Trials.
Midtown is host to numerous running events, including the Peachtree Road Race (pictured), but this will be the first time Atlanta has hosted the US Olympic Marathon Trials.

Nearly 750 of the nation’s top marathon runners will race through Midtown on Feb. 29 in the hopes of qualifying for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team. The race will be televised nationally on NBC.

In honor of the event, which is the first of its kind in Atlanta, we’ve compiled some facts about the course and how you can enjoy it as a spectator, plus we spoke with a recent Grady High School grad who will be participating.

About the Course

The race begins at 12 p.m. in front the crown jewel of the 1996 Atlanta Games, Centennial Olympic Park, where runners will go from Marietta Street to Peachtree Street. After running north for three miles, runners will turn around at the intersection of Peachtree and West Peachtree in Midtown, heading back the other direction and looping through the Old Fourth Ward before returning downtown. 

After completing this loop three times, the runners will complete their race with a 2.2 mile loop that runs under the Rings and Torch structure from the 1996 Games before finishing back at Centennial Olympic Park. 

Much like the Peachtree Road Race, it will be a hilly course with 1,389 feet of climbing and 1,382 feet of downhills. 

In order to compete in the marathon trials, participants had to complete a race within the USA Track and Field qualifying standard time — for women, this is 2:45, for men it was 2 hours,19 minutes. The standards had to be met on a USATF certified course before January 19, 2020.

The top three men and top three women in the race will punch their tickets to the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Gracie Griffith, a 2016 Grady High graduate whose parents live in Virginia Highlands, stepped up her training regimen over the past year to qualify for the trials with a time of 2:44:52.

A Hometown Hopeful

Many runners will travel across the country to participate in this race, but some marathoners were born and raised here in Atlanta. 

Gracie Griffith, a 2016 Grady High graduate whose parents live in Virginia Highlands, stepped up her training regimen over the past year to qualify for the trials with a time of 2:44:52. Running — and Atlanta’s notoriously hilly landscape — is nothing new for Griffith, who has run in every Peachtree Road Race with the exception of one since she was 10 years old. 

“Even when I wasn’t officially allowed to run it, I would jump in halfway through,” Griffith said of the Peachtree. “I really I had a strong talent for running, and not only was I one of the fastest when I played team sports, but I also had endurance.” 

Currently, Griffith is a senior at Clemson University, but she returns often to participate in races in Atlanta, and won the 2019 Publix Atlanta Marathon with a time of 3:00:52. 

“Three years ago, I hadn’t even run a marathon,” Griffith said. “It wasn’t something on my radar until recently.”

But after winning last year’s Publix Marathon in her age group without too much difficulty, she followed it up by shaving more than nine minutes off her time in the Boston Marathon. She eventually qualified for the Olympic Trials during the Chicago Marathon after overcoming a stress fracture that kept her off the roads for nearly two months.

“People told me it wasn’t a good idea [after my injury], but I felt like I could qualify, like it was fate,” she said. “My goal isn’t to qualify for the Olympics, because that’s not feasible at the moment. For me, this is my Olympics. I’ll just be out there trying to run a fast time and enjoying it. I have everything to gain, a great experience.” 

A Spectator’s Guide to the Trials

Spectators in Midtown will have the opportunity to see the runners race by six times on Peachtree Street, so scope out a spot early to cheer on your favorite athletes. Local running store Phidippides is hosting an Olympic Trials Cheer Zone at the 10th Street Temporary Park at the corner of 10th and Peachtree that will include food, drinks, noisemakers and more. Phidippides is also hosting an Olympic Trials Fantasy League during the race. Read more about the cheering section here.

Another cheering section will be hosted by the Georgia Chapter of the Arizona State Alumni Association at the corner of Peachtree Street and North Avenue. 

Some Midtown restaurants will also be offering specials to celebrate the marathon. Olive Bistro will have $20 bottomless mimosas, sangrias and Bellinis, as well as $5 meze and house drinks. City Tap will also offer drinks and food specials. City Tap will offer free parking before the road closures take effect, a Sign-Making Station, $2.62 Michelob Ultra on draft and 10 percent off brunch for people who "show their gold." 

Road closures will be in effect before and during the race, so we recommend taking MARTA, using ride share or walking to the event if possible. 

The Olympic trials are part of Atlanta Track Club's "America’s Marathon Weekend," which also includes the Publix Atlanta Marathon, Half Marathon and 5K the following day. 

Read more about the Olympic Trials, including profiles of the competitors, here.

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