The road to the Olympics is never easy…

Clovis Community College cross country head coach CJ Albertson set a world record in the men’s indoor marathon with the time of 2:17:59.4 at The Armory’s New Balance Track & Field Center on April 13, 2019 PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ARMORY

By Jess Gonzalez;

February 12, 2024 – The road to the Olympics is never easy and it’s not always straight. Yet, as long as it remains open, hope burns eternal for athletes determined to work hard and willing to pay the price to push themselves new heights.

Such is the situation that Clovis super distance runner C.J. Albertson finds himself in. CJ, who won three straight marathons in a period of one month toward the end of 2023, traveled to Orlando, Florida, to participate in the U.S. Olympics Marathon Trials on February 3rd.

While he didn’t place in one of the top three places to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team, his dream of Olympic glory is still alive. The Olympics will be held this summer in Paris.

The ex-Buchanan High School distance runner finished fifth in 2:10:07. The winner was Connor Mantz from Utah who crossed the line first in 2:09.05. His teammate and workout partner, Clayton Young finished second in 2:09:06.

Since both had previously run the Olympic qualifying standard of 2:08:10, both made the U.S. Olympic team after placing in the top two spots.

Third place went to Leonard Korir with a time of 2:09:57. Elkanah Kibet, a 40-year-old runner, ran 2:10:02 for fourth place just ahead of the fast-closing CJ.

However, under a new team selection process, since third place finisher Korir has not run the Olympic qualifying standard, he is not guaranteed a spot on the Olympic team. He needs to run under the standard and be the fastest American to possibly make the team.

That means that if another runner, such as CJ, runs the qualifying mark, and runs a faster time than Korir, he would be in the running to make the team as the third American along with Mantz and Young.

The trials in Orlando started at 10 AM under 61 degrees with humidity at 59 percent. From the start, a group of runners, led by Zack Panning, set a fast pace, and took the lead.

Panning was determined not only to place in the top three, but also to achieve the Olympic qualifying standard.

But, while Panning was running very rapidly, Mantz and Young managed to stay with him. At the 22-mile mark, Panning finally started feeling the fatigue caused by his fast pace. It was at that point that he was overtaken by Young and Mantz.

For his part, CJ was not in the lead group. However, as the race moved on to its final stages, CJ started to drive forward at a quickened pace. One by one, he overtook the people ahead of him.

Over 200 runners started the race, but only 150 were able to finish due to the heat and humidity. The lead group included several world class marathoners who were not able to finish the race.

Sam Chelanga, a six-time U.S. National Champion, did not finish. Neither did Abidi Abdriahman, a five-time Olympian. Galen Rupp, once America’s top distance runner and an Olympic bronze medalist, had problems and finished out of the running.

At this point it is unknown what CJ will do—if he continues to pursue his Olympic dream or if he decides to let it go for now. Yet, the fact that he finished in the top five qualifies him as one of our country’s top marathoners.