RunBlogRun interviews Atlanta Track Club's Rich Kenah on bid for 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

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USA Track & Field will be making a decision soon on the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon site. On January 12, 2018, four cities: Atlanta, Georgia, Chatanooga, Tennessee, Austin, Texas and Orlando, Florida have submitted bids. The completed bids were due on March 19, 2018. The USATF Board of Directors will assess the bids and make a decision, in collaboration with the U.S.O.C. This decision should be coming very soon.

Atlanta Track Club - Photo by Paul Ward (1).jpgAtlanta Track Club, photo by Paul Ward

In that light, we spoke with the Atlanta Track Club (and would welcome time to speak with the other three bidders) on their bid and why they would want to bid for the Olympic Trials Marathon. Money must be raised by local organizing committees and the USOC strictly enforces their sponsors rights. In the end, the marathon race is one of the few possible headaches with hosting such an event.

2018 Olympic Trials Site Selection-53.jpgMeb Keflezighi, 2004 Olympic silver medalist, is supporting Atlanta bid, photo from Atlanta Track Club

We spoke to Rich Kenah, CEO of the Atlanta Track Club for the past four years, and Jay Holder on the desires of the ATC to sponsor the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.

2018 Olympic Trials Site Selection-79.jpg2018 Olympic Trials Site Selection, photo by Atlanta Track Club

We hope that you enjoy the interview!

Centennial Olympic Park - Photo by Joaquin Lara (1).jpgCentennial Olympic Park, Atlanta, photo by Joaquin Lara

RunBlogRun, 1. Why is hosting the Olympic marathon Trials so important for ATC?

Rich Kenah: We're plenty busy at Atlanta Track Club, so this bid process has not been a win at all costs approach. But we've carefully looked at the event and believe that showcasing America's top endurance athletes as they chase their Olympic dreams fits squarely within our mission. We humbly believe that we are in a position to deliver an unforgettable experience for the athletes as they chase their Olympic dreams. Separately, we believe Atlanta's Olympic legacy creates a backdrop no other city can provide. Olympic fever never subsided in Atlanta and because of that, we are clamoring to welcome the Olympic future to our streets.

I would add that from where I have sat over these last four years, I've noticed more and more that the elite side of sport lives in a bubble. And it is up to organizations like Atlanta Track Club to make it relevant. One of the pillars of Atlanta Track Club's bid is to showcase these Olympic hopefuls to all runners in our community in a way that is exciting, engaging and fun. The competing athletes will be inspired by the support of Atlanta and, in turn, thousands of grass roots runners here will aspire to be like the athletes they are cheering for.

RunBlogRun, 2. What type of support are you getting from the city of Atlanta?

Rich Kenah: The city of Atlanta has supported marathoning and road racing for decades through permitting, access, security and traffic control. Atlanta Track Club has long-established relationships with city and state government as well as with local law enforcement as a result of our AJC Peachtree Road Race and the more than 30 other events we operate each year. I am a member of the Atlanta Sports Council, which is responsible for bringing events like the College Football Playoff Championship, Final Four and Super Bowl to Atlanta. When I brought the idea of bringing the Trials to Atlanta to the President of the Council - Dan Corso, he didn't hesitate to jump on board. While the Trials don't have the scale of a Super Bowl or CFP Championship, they do offer the opportunity for the city to embrace its Olympic legacy and they fit with the theme of Atlanta being the place where Champions are crowned.

I would add that the feedback we have received from the people of Atlanta has been overwhelmingly positive. It's not just coming from runners, but people who will welcome the race to their neighborhoods. They are excited and ready to bring that excitement to race day.

In terms of financial support, Atlanta Track Club will be covering the cost of the event, not the city of Atlanta.

RunBlogRun, 3. What do you want to tell the running community about your bid?

Rich Kenah: Atlanta and Atlanta Track Club have long been pioneers in the sport. From the Club's annual commitment to honor local prep track and field stars dating back to 1964, to its role in the birth of the Avon's Women's Running Series, to the Peachtree growing into the world's largest 10k and America's largest race of any distance, Atlanta is a special running community. This bid looks to build on this city's running and Olympic legacy with unique, first-of-its-kind commitments like revenue sharing with the athletes and grants to local youth track clubs who support the athletes of the Trials. We believe we have put forth a bid that proposes an athlete experience that hasn't been seen at this event to date. But for the runners to truly have a great experience, the fans need to be energized in a way that permeates the entire race course. We believe our 28,000 members, the 125,000 participants who finish our events each year, the corporate community and the city's more than 5 million residents will embrace these Trials much like the city embraced the 1996 Olympic Games.

RunBlogRun, 4. Why would Atlanta be the best host for 2020?

Rich Kenah: Candidly, we don't know what the other bid cities are proposing. But we feel very confident that what we are offering is not only the best option for the athletes, but a plan we can execute at a high level. As an organization, we have more than 50 years of producing world-class running events and an as a city, Atlanta has a reputation for hosting memorable, well-executed championship sporting events.

RunBlogRun, 5. With the 20 plus races that ATC puts on, do you see that as a positive?

Rich Kenah: We do. We put on more than 40 events and programs annually. It's what we do and our team of experienced staff does it better than anyone in the world. While these events are not the Olympic Team Trials - Marathon, we are preparing week in and week out to deliver unique experiences for the participants of each event. There are more than 400 road races a year in the Atlanta area so people have choices. We recognize that we must deliver something special at each and every event and program we operate as if we want to live up to the high standard that the Club has set for decades.

RunBlogRun, 6. One of the keys is making the 2:18 guys and 2:42 women feel special, that has not always been the case in past Trials, how would ATC approach that?

Rich Kenah: That is a huge part of our bid. One of our themes is "A + B = Championship." Everyone in this race is competing for a spot on the team in Tokyo. Whether they ran 2:25 or 2:43 to get there, they are competitors in the race. For it to be a true championship event there needs to be parity in how the athletes are treated by our organization. We will cover cost of travel, accommodations and meals for all athletes, regardless of qualifying time. Our proposed host hotel and adjacent overflow hotels can fit all qualifiers within walking distance of the start/finish line. This is important for two reasons.

One: Investing in all the athletes is beneficial to the long term health of the sport. Today's 2:19 marathoner could be 2024's 2:08 marathoner. Unless we create opportunities for those athletes to develop, that progression won't happen.

Two: For all but six runners in this race, this IS their Olympics. We can't overstate how big of an accomplishment it is to qualify for an Olympic Trials. This is the story these athletes will tell their grandchildren and we want to make sure that when they do, it is as special as they hoped it would be.

RunBlogRun, 7. The limitations with the USOC are tremendous, much of this means that the financial burdens fall on LOC hands, how will you approach that?

We have the good fortune of having relationships with USOC partners who are based right here in Atlanta. We hope to build on those relationships as we approach the 2020 Olympic Team Trials - Marathon. For us, this is not an expense as much as it is an investment. It's an investment in the sport of road racing. It's an investment in the athletes who will help the sport grow. It's an investment in the fans that will follow the sport for years to come and it's an investment in Atlanta as a running destination. We are Running City USA and we look forward to showing the elite running community why this community is special.

Here is the video we produced with Meb on his endorsement. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Si9AjzGrRSs&t=1s

We have also been honored to receive the endorsement of other qualifying athletes:

Here is a link to Allie Kieffer's endorsement: https://www.instagram.com/p/Bg1YEa9BsQ_/?hl=en&taken-by=kiefferallie

Here is Jared Ward's: https://www.instagram.com/p/BgjHzeLHNT1/?hl=en&taken-by=jwardy21

Deena Kastor:

Yes, Atlanta. It's been a pleasure to take part in the past four Olympic Marathon Trials. To see how great organizations build a platform for Olympians to emerge while hosting their extended families, and giving fans a fun and entertaining event is a heroic undertaking. It seems so fitting that the Atlanta track club, with a history of hospitality and great racing, host the next Olympic Marathon Trials. It just may be the lure to take part in one more!

Tyler Pennel:

I feel that the Atlanta Track Club would be a fantastic host for the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials. I have run their premier race, the Peachtree Road Race, numerous times, and every experience has always been first class. They are always excited and accommodating for the elite athletes in town and willing to bring the best experience for us. ATC provides some of the best support especially with promotion of the event. Every 4th of July, the ATC seems to bring the city of Atlanta out to cheer on the participants of that historic road race, and the support for the Trials would be no less enthusiastic among the residents of Atlanta.

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