Sam Chelanga (left) and Carol (Jefferson) Smith (right) will both race in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Marathon, Saturday in Los Angeles. NBC will broadcast the races live, beginning at 1 p.m.
The 2016 Summer Olympics do not begin for nearly six months, but six Americans will punch their tickets to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on the streets of Los Angeles at Saturday's U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon. Liberty alumni Sam Chelanga (Class of 2011) and Carol (Jefferson) Smith (Class of 2008) will both compete for an Olympic berth live on NBC, beginning at 1 p.m.
The men's marathon will begin at 1:06 p.m. Eastern, followed by the women's marathon at 1:22. The first three finishers in each race will represent the United States in Rio this summer, while the top 10 finishers will earn prize money, including $80,000 for the winner of each race.
Chelanga, a four-time NCAA Division I national champion for the Flames, just became a U.S. citizen during August 2015. Sponsored by Nike, Chelanga won a pair of USATF national titles during the fall, including the 10 mile title in October and the 12K crown in November.
Chelanga, who will turn 31 later this month, will be making his marathon debut on Saturday after experiencing considerable success at shorter distances. Only two Americans (Galen Rupp and Chris Solinsky) have ever run a faster 10K than Chelanga's collegiate-record time of 27:08.39 from 2010. Chelanga's fastest half-marathon clocking, 1:01:04, was achieved in Boston in 2013.
Based upon those credentials, Josh Cox's Liberty alumni marathon record time of 2:13:50, achieved at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in Houston, could be in serious jeopardy on Saturday. Cox also recorded the highest finish by a Liberty graduate at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon, placing seventh in 2004, his second of four Trials appearances.
The top men's contenders will include Olympic veterans Meb Keflezighi and Dathan Ritzenhein, along with a pair of Chelanga's collegiate rivals, Luke Puskedra and Galen Rupp, both of whom competed at Oregon.
Smith, who won six Big South titles during her time at Liberty, will compete in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon for the second time. She placed 113th in the women's race in 2012 in Houston.
The 30-year old Smith, part of the Boulder Track Club in Boulder, Colo., lowered her marathon personal best to 2:39:45 at the 2014 California International Marathon in Sacramento. That also marks the Liberty women's marathon alumni record.
The top three women from the 2012 Olympic Trials marathon (Shalane Flanagan, Desiree Linden and Kara Goucher) will all be in the mix again on Saturday, along with Amy Cragg and 2004 Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kastor, who is now 42 years of age.
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