Reigning Olympic triathlon gold medalist Gwen Jorgensen announced a couple weeks back that she will be aiming for the top of the podium again—this time in the marathon—at the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
Wait, what? That seems like a bold statement to make, especially for an Olympic-distance triathlete with limited marathon experience—Jorgensen has run exactly one in her career—and a 2:41:01 personal best for the distance, set in her debut last year at New York. But this full-time transition to the marathon isn’t happening on a whim; she’s been thinking about it since before she won it all in Rio.
“For me it’s just something I’ve wanted to try since I had the first thoughts about doing it a few years ago,” Jorgensen told triathlete.com. “I know I’m going to have to take some big risks, but I really believe I’m capable of doing it. With that being said, I know how difficult it can be to perform for a one-day event when you have years to prepare. A lot can go wrong on that one day and a lot can go wrong in a marathon. I have a huge mountain to climb in front of me, but I also know that I have a great team around me to help me get to the top of that mountain.”
So does she actually have a shot? The short answer is no. That said, I do believe it’d be a mistake to write her off as a wanna-be—this woman can flat out run whether or not she’s swam and biked beforehand, and her impact on the U.S. marathon scene will be immediate. I think Jorgensen will get down to the mid-2:20s in relatively short order and be a serious contender at the 2020 Trials, but winning gold in Tokyo is going to require a level of fitness and marathon racing experience that I just don’t think she’ll reach in less than three years time.
At a minimum, Jorgensen—or any other woman, for that matter—will need 2:20-ish fitness, the experience to adapt to crazy race antics and less-than-ideal conditions, and more than a little luck on the day just to have a shot at contending for a medal in Tokyo, much less winning gold. Heck, just earning a spot on the U.S. team in 2020 is going to be a tall task for the now 31-year-old, who was an All-American in both cross country and track at the University of Wisconsin back in her collegiate days.
Reigning Olympic Trials champion and world championship bronze medalist Amy Cragg will surely return to defend her title and recently crowned New York City Marathon champion Shalane Flanagan, provided she doesn’t decide to hang up her racing flats, seems primed to qualify for a fifth Olympic team. Lucky for Jorgensen, it appears she’ll soon be training alongside those two women and the rest of the Bowerman Track Club, as a few signs seem to suggest. If nothing else, she’ll know exactly how she stacks up alongside two of the top marathoners in the world, and coach Jerry Schumacher has an unmatched knack for getting his athletes to show up primed when there’s a lot riding on the line. But the “Bowerman Babes” (their nomenclature, not mine, for those of you scoring at home), aren’t the only ones contending for those three coveted spots, though it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them sweep the podium. Let’s not forget about two-time Olympian Des Linden, who is working her way out of a slump but always comes ready to play when it counts the most. Or Molly Huddle, who was third in her marathon debut at New York in 2016, and has proven herself as one of the most well-rounded and dangerous racers in the world. And then there’s Jordan Hasay, Laura Thweatt, Kellyn Taylor, and Sara Hall, to name just a few more.
In short: Jorgensen will have her hands full. But if nothing else, her presence at the 2020 Trials will make the race that much more competitive up front, not to mention interesting and exciting for those of us following it from the sidelines—and that alone is worth its weight in gold.
A version of this post first appeared in the morning shakeout, my weekly email newsletter covering running, writing, media and other topics that interest me. Sign up here to get it sent to your inbox first thing every Tuesday morning.