MARCH 1, 2020 - ATLANTA - A day after Atlanta hosted the finest marathoners in the country at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Marathon, runners filled the streets of this city once again as more than 13,000 participated in the Publix Atlanta Marathon, Half Marathon & 5K. Wrapping up a celebration billed as America's Marathon Weekend, the race attracted runners from across the country on a running tour of Atlanta on a picture-perfect day.
Five of the six men and women who finished on the Trials podium - the first six runners on Team USA - acted as official starters for the race on Sunday morning, with women's champion Aliphine Tuliamuk, Molly Seidel, Sally Kipyego, Abdi Abdirahman, and Jake Riley shouting words of encouragement to the runners on Marietta Street as the sun rose over Atlanta.
From there, the races wound through Atlanta, with participants ultimately crossing the same finish line that saw Olympians crowned just one day before.
Benjamin Kopecky, of St. Louis, Missouri, won the men's marathon in a time of 2:29:49. Kopecky opened up a sizable gap and won the race by nearly five minutes on the course that traveled through Edgewood, Martin Luther King National Historic Park, Piedmont Park, Grant Park, the Atlanta University Center, and underneath the Olympic Rings and Cauldron structure from the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.
"It's a notoriously difficult course and I love running hills," Kopecky said. "I'm actually trying to complete marathons in 50 states and so today was state number 33. It was a fantastic weekend overall, and I don't think we could have asked for anything better."
In the women's race, Abigail Cember from Philadelphia, PA, ran 3:00 on the dot to take the victory. She led from start to finish, hanging on over the hills at the end of the course to keep the win in hand.
"The atmosphere was awesome," Cember, in town to support her Philadelphia Runner Track Club teammates in the Trials, said after her race. "Atlanta has had so many friendly vibes. I was leading for most of the race so I heard a lot of people screaming out 'girl power!'"
In keeping with the Olympic theme of the weekend, 2016 Zimbabwean Olympian Pardon Ndhlovu won the half marathon in a blistering time of 1:07:17 - more than five minutes faster than last year's winning time on the same course.
On the women's side, Nina Zarina of Arlington, Virginia and originally from Moscow, blazed her own speedy time, running a 1:16:14 to take the victory.
"I was worried that Atlanta would be very hilly," Zarina said. "But it was like a running party here. It was wonderful because I had inspiration from before from watching the Trials and then I had a chance to run in the same city and put into action your inspiration."
The half marathon featured three other notable Olympic legends crossing the finish line as well. Four-time Olympian Meb Keflezighi was the first of those, as he spent the morning pacing the 1:40 half marathon group to a time of 1:39:37. The former Olympic marathoner noted that in previous years he would have found himself running the tangents at the Trials the day before, but this year was excited to "give high fives and keep them going to their goal."
The next Olympian across the line was three-time Olympic gold medalist Gail Devers, who raced her first-ever half marathon and ran a 1:53:54. Known previously for her sprinting and hurdling prowess, Devers trained with the Club's In-Training program and pushed herself to an 8:41 average mile this morning. She had company from another 1996 Olympian - shot putter John Godina, who finished in 2:02:03. The two-time Olympic medalist ran his first half marathon in his return to the city that saw him win silver in 1996.
The first race of the morning was won by Craig Lutz, a two-time NCAA All-American in the 10K for the University of Texas who was in Atlanta to watch the Trials. The 27-year-old blazed a 15:09 to take the win over Nicholas Turco from Boulder, CO. On the women's side, Ellyn Atkinson ran a 17:52 to take the victory in a tight race over Jacquelyn Abanses, who was six seconds behind.
As the day came to a close, so too did America's Marathon Weekend, which began on Thursday with the America's Marathon Weekend Experience, saw more than 600 children cross the Trials finish line at the Publix Atlanta Kids Marathon, crowned six Olympians, and then celebrated distance running in all of Atlanta. The weekend, which allowed Atlanta Track Club to intertwine elite racing and citizen distance running, brought tens of thousands to downtown Atlanta over the course of three days.
"America's Marathon Weekend was created to bring together every member of the running community in a way that has never been done before, said Atlanta Track Club Executive Director Rich Kenah. "As the final finisher of the Publix Atlanta Marathon crosses the finish line, we're excited to see the impact of this weekend on Running City USA and on this city's Olympic future."
Registration is already open for next year's Publix Atlanta Marathon Weekend, which will take place on February 27 and 28, 2021.