Tokyo tickets up for grabs at USA Marathon trials in Atlanta

Runners can expect a hilly, grinding course Saturday as they aim to book a spot on the U.S. Team for the Olympic Games

The three men and three women who will run the Olympic marathon for Team USA at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will be decided Saturday, Feb. 29, in Atlanta, Georgia.

The massive marathon will include 771 runners, with 260 men and 511 women set for the 42.2km road race.

U.S. track and field athletics stars Des Linden and Galen Rupp are among the favorites to earn their tickets to Tokyo in Atlanta.

The women aiming for a spot in the USA team for the Marathon at Tokyo 2020

Linden, a two-time Olympian, would be the first American woman to make three Olympic teams in the marathon. She finished an impressive seventh place at the Rio Olympics in 2016, but is perhaps best known for her 2018 Boston Marathon victory.

That win came among challenging conditions, to say the least, as rain poured throughout the race. That proved Linden's incredible grit and determination, something sure to be on display Saturday.

"I’m not going out there to have a bunch of fun and experience the Trials," she said, according to Runner's World. "I’m going out there to make the team.”

Linden comes into the trials having finished as the fastest American at November's New York City marathon. Her time of 2:26:46 is her fastest pace in more than two years, setting her up well in Atlanta.

Another woman to watch is Jordan Hasay. The 28-year-old has the highest personal best of the field at the U.S. trials, and finished third at last year's Boston Marathon.

But she comes to Atlanta with some uncertainty around her.

Hasay suffered an injury to her hamstring during October's Chicago Marathon and pulled out of the race just three miles into it.

"Whatever happens, it's been a fun journey," she posted on her Instagram account Sunday. "I'm ready to give it my best."

2016 trials champ Amy Cragg returns to the event in 2020, looking to become the first back-to-back trials champion in U.S. history.

Cragg got a look at some of what she'll be facing Saturday during an 8-mile race last March in Atlanta. She's hoping that experience will pay off.

“I wasn’t sure exactly where to push. But I think if I did it again I could run a lot faster. I’m really glad I did it for next year," she said afterward.

The men going for a golden ticket to represent Team USA in the Marathon at Tokyo 2020

The best on the men's side could be Rupp, the 2016 marathon bronze medalist. He also owns a 2012 silver medal in the men's 10,000m.

Like Hasay, Rupp withdrew midway through the Chicago Marathon in October, finishing 37km of the 42.2km distance before pulling out with a calf strain.

“I really wanted to run Chicago, and I wasn’t honest with myself about how bad [my injury] was,” he said during a January interview with Runner's World.

Healthy again, Rupp is optimistic about his chances for return trip to the Games: "I’m in a good spot right now,” he said. “I’m not going to make any guarantees. The Olympic Trials, it’s such a great race, that’s part of the excitement of it, you never know what could happen there."

Other contenders in the men's field include Leonard Korir, Scott Fauble and Jared Ward.

The course, the schedule, and the record

Race day is Saturday, February 29, with the men's run starting at 12:03 p.m. Eastern time (17:03 GMT/UTC), followed by the women's race 10 minutes later at 12:13 p.m.

The course starts and finishes in Centennial Olympic Park, where much of the Atlanta 1996 Games took place. It also features an 8-mile loop around the city.

If runners want to set a record en route to Tokyo, they'll be looking to best Ryan Hall's time of 2:09:02 set in 2007 on the men's side and women's record holder Julie Brown (2:26:26), who earned that pace in 1983.

But runners are in for a grind around the rolling course, according to 2017 marathon World Championships silver medallist Lindsay Flannagan.

"It's really tough," she said in November. "It's not a rhythm course, where it's like a Berlin, Chicago, you go and you just click off splits. This is going to be a grind the whole time."

Molly Huddle, who owns the U.S. women's half marathon record, agreed: "My first impression is that it's a grinding course, it's rolling. There's a lot of turns, there's a couple of 180s. Your legs are going to have to be ready for that. You're going to have to be tough on race day."

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