Laura Thweatt was two spots away from making the Olympics in 2016. She vowed to get back to work and make another run at the Summer Games in 2020. Saturday, she will get her second chance.
Thweatt, a 2007 graduate of Durango High School, made a full transition to marathon running after she placed fifth at the USA Track & Field Olympic Team Trials in the 10,000-meter run in the summer of 2016. Earlier that year, she had a breakout marathon performance when she was seventh overall and the top-American woman at the New York City Marathon. That performance showed Thweatt she could push for another chance at the Olympics in 2020 in the 26.2-mile distance.
After four years of training, competing through injury and a coaching change, Thweatt will line up Saturday in Atlanta for the marathon Olympic Trials. As was the case four years ago in Oregon, she will have to finish in the top three in a stacked field to be named to the Olympic team for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.
“I’m ready and am in position to fight for a spot on the team,” Thweatt said in a phone interview with The Durango Herald. “In 2016, I was happy to make the Olympic Trials. Whatever came out of it was a bonus. This time around, I’ve made it and definitely feel like I am in a position to give my best shot and get a top-three spot. It’s exciting because I have never been in that position before.”
Long road to 2020Thweatt is fresh off a personal record at the Houston Half Marathon with a time of 1 hour, 10 minutes, 12 seconds. She wanted to break 70 minutes, but she shaved five seconds off her previous best half at the Gold Coast Half Marathon in 2018 in Australia, showing she was in strong race form.
That result came after she ran to eighth place at a record-setting Chicago Marathon last year and finished in 2:29:06. A year earlier, Thweatt had to drop out of the Chicago Marathon because of an injury. The 2018 Chicago Marathon was Thweatt’s first marathon attempt since her personal record of 2:25:38 when she finished sixth overall at the London Marathon in 2017. Going into that race, Thweatt had been battling a osteitis pubius, an injury that caused swelling in the bones in her pelvis. That year, she would be forced to withdraw from the world championships because of the injury.
She would take nearly a year off before running a 10-kilometer race in New York. Then came the injury at the Chicago Marathon. After, Thweatt made a coaching change after years with Lee Troop, who stepped away from elite team coaching in 2018. She began training with Joe Bosshard, husband of Crested Butte star Emma Coburn, who won Olympic bronze in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 2016 and the world championship in the event in 2017. Coburn and Thweatt were teammates at the University of Colorado.
“It’s crazy. I remember in 2016 being disappointed that I had fallen short of making the team,” Thweatt said. “It was like, ‘Wow, there are four more years until I get another shot to give it everything.’ At that moment, it seemed like it was never going to get here, and I didn’t know if I could do another four years. I feel like I blinked and my life has fast-forwarded from 2016 in Eugene to now staring down the marathon trials. It’s crazy how fast it goes, and it definitely hasn’t been the easiest four years with the ups and downs of injuries, a coaching change and settling into a new training program.”
Along with the coaching change in late 2018, Thweatt also had surgery. She only had seven weeks to prepare for the 2019 Chicago Marathon and still was able to run faster than the A-standard qualifying time of 2:30:00 for the Olympic Trials. Runners may also qualify for the Olympic Trials with a B-standard time of 2:45:00.
Now, Thweatt is primed for Atlanta. As is usually the case, her parents, Jean and Steve Thweatt, will make the trip from Durango to cheer her on toward the finish line.
“We still get anxious and nervous watching her race, just like when she raced in high school. It just lasts longer watching a marathon,” Jean said. “The last four years have had incredible highs and lows for Laura, but she seems to have found the balance to take both in stride. Her resiliency, work ethic, perseverance and absolute love for the marathon fuel her motivation to be the best she can be. Now, she gets her chance to toe the line in Atlanta with a shot to make an Olympic team, healthy and in the best shape of her running career. That’s the victory we’re celebrating as her parents, regardless of the results. We couldn’t be prouder.”
The TrialsDuring the last four years, the American women have put together stunning results in the marathon. The surge hasn’t only been seen at the front of elite races around the world but also in the next tier of runners, as 511 women qualified for the Olympic Trials.
Thweatt, who is sponsored by Saucony, will face stiff competition at the top of the field in the form of Amy Cragg, Sara Hall, Jordan Hasay, Molly Huddle, Desiree Linden and Emily Sisson, along with Emma Bates, Sally Kipyego and Kellyn Taylor.
“It’s an incredible time for American women’s distance running across every event, but really in marathon,” Thweatt said. “Shalane Flanagan winning New York in 2017, Linden winning Boston in 2018, Cragg getting bronze at the world championships. It’s really cool to see what the American women have been capable of.
“When you see how many women are breaking 2:30, it’s incredible to see how far the standard has been pushed the last few years. Not just the top 20, but the entire field of 511 women who have been able to qualify for the Olympic Trials is pretty insane. It’s a great time to be part of the movement and hopefully be at the forefront of it.”
After Houston, Huddle said the American women were so deep that the U.S. could send two full teams to Tokyo and compete for medals. Thweatt agreed.
“In reality, we could send six women that could probably all be really far up in the race in the Olympics,” she said. “When you look at it that way, it’s a great time to be in this sport. It fuels me knowing there’s still a lot I can go after the next couple of years with these women pushing the boundaries. I can push the limit of what I thought was possible.”
The Olympic Trials course in Atlanta is full of hills, with 1,389 feet of climbing, 465 more than at Boston. The Atlanta Track Club is the host of the event and has generously offered to pay for the travel of all qualified athletes.
Thweatt, who won the 2015 cross-country national championship at 8,000 meters and was second in 2017 at the 10,000-meter distance, believes she can use her strong cross-country background from her days running trails in Colorado and channel it into a strong road marathon in Atlanta.
“I always prided myself in being more of a strength runner,” Thweatt said. “My marathon debut in New York, that was a similar layout to Atlanta. I ran really well there. It’s the marathon, so it could be anyone’s day. Looking at the women’s field with some of the best in the world toeing the line, it’s really deep. Looking at that, I do feel confident with how the course is laid out. I’m a strength runner when it comes down to it, and I prefer a course like New York or Atlanta over something flatter. My edge and advantage get to come into play.”
The men’s race will begin at 10:03 a.m. Saturday followed by the women at 10:13 a.m. NBC will have three hours of live coverage beginning at 11 a.m.
Feet on the groundThweatt was never alone on the long road to Atlanta. She credited her sports doctor Marcus Allen-Hille, strength coach Christopher Lee and her chiropractor Richard Hansen. She also expressed her thanks to her coach, parents and her boyfriend, Alex Monroe, for being there every step toward the start line.
“I’m the healthiest I have ever been for the longest time going into a marathon,” she said. “I’m really in the right place going into the big dance. I definitely feel like I have got my feet back under me. Every year since 2016 has prepared me for the moment that is here. I can’t believe it’s here, but I’m ready for it.”