2024 US Olympic Trials Marathon

Zachery Panning Made A Big And Brash Move, Then Accepted The Result

Zachery Panning Made A Big And Brash Move, Then Accepted The Result

The Hanson-Brooks Distance Project runner decided that he would go for an Olympic marathon standard almost immediately. He came so close.

Feb 4, 2024 by David Monti

By David Monti - Race Results Weekly

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Zach Panning, the top American from the World Athletics Championships marathon last year, was the first athlete to make a serious move in Saturday's U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.  

Panning, 28, who trains with the Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project, surged to the lead in the middle of the sixth mile, recording a 4:49 mile split. Sixteen men stayed with him, but that would soon change.

"When I saw Zach hit the front at five and a half miles I looked at Clayton," said Conner Mantz, 27, who represents Nike.  "I just looked at him. I didn't even nod. He looked at me and I was like, 'We're going for it.'"

Wearing a bright yellow cap and sunglasses, Panning ran a blistering series of miles -- 4:49, 4:48, 4:47, 4:51, 4:49, 4:48, and 4:52 -- through the 13-mile mark. He hit the halfway point in 1:04:07, which put the Paris Olympics qualifying standard of 2:08:10 within his grasp. 

Only seven other men were able to hold that pace: Mantz, Clayton Young, Leonard Korir, Teshome Mekonen, Galen Rupp, Elkanah Kibet, Andrew Colley, Shadrack Kipchirchir and Nathan Martin.

Panning felt confident. He had trained in Florida all winter and knew what the warm and sunny conditions would mean later in the race. 

Still a young marathoner, he felt free to experiment.

"This was my first Trials and, I would say, inexperience was showing a little bit," he said later. "I'm really proud of how I raced."

Panning kept up the hot tempo through 16 miles, then pushed even harder in the 17th mile where he ran 4:44, the fastest of the race. That brought the pack down to five: Panning, Mantz, Korir, Colley and Kibet. 

Rupp was five seconds back, and would continue to fade in the final miles of the race to finish 16th in 2:14:07. His quest for a fifth Olympic team was over. Colley would also drop out.

"I did the best I could to get across the line," a weary Rupp told reporters. "It just wasn't my day today. It's obviously really disappointing. I had hoped to do better. It's just the way it goes sometimes."

After hitting the 20-mile mark in 1:37:22, Panning's energy started to wane. His next three miles were 4:59, 5:08 and 5:06. The 2:08:10 finish time, which seemed so doable 10 miles before, was now impossible.

"I executed the race plan, but maybe got a little antsy a little early," Panning lamented. "Just maybe a pinch too excited. It's hindsight 20-20. I'm really proud of how I raced and I think I did everything I could."

By the 24-mile mark, Mantz and Young were alone. Panning was 18 seconds back, and Kibet was coming for him.  

Panning only managed a 6:03 for his 26th mile and would finish sixth in 2:09:33.

But the battle for third wasn't over. 

Korir found new strength after mentally giving up earlier in the race. He realized that he could catch Kibet and passed him with about 800m to go to take third in 2:09:57. Korir had been fourth at the 2020 Trials and didn't want that to happen again.

"When I saw those guys coming back to me and I was seeing it was like 800 meters to go, and I was like, 'Don't finish fourth again,'" Korir told Race Results Weekly. "Try, whatever you've got to do."

Kibet got fourth in 2:10:02 -- a new USA masters record by one second) -- and C.J. Albertson -- who was only in ninth place at halfway -- took fifth in 2:10:07.