After an unthinkably difficult season, could Jordan Hasay win the 2020 Olympic marathon trials?

When Jordan Hasay is overcome with doubt, she remembers the 6-mile loop she and her late mother, Teresa, used to run together. “Just keep smiling!” her mother would say when they reached a steep 100-meter hill. Teresa was Hasay’s earliest training partner, and the one that helped Hasay to fall in love with the sport.

There have been plenty of doubts in the past five months. In October, Hasay parted ways with her longtime coach Alberto Salazar, after he was banned for four years on doping charges. Then, less than two weeks later, she tore two tendons in her hamstring at the 5-kilometer mark of the Chicago Marathon. Either could have derailed her season.

Today, though, she is cool and collected, and ready to make her first Olympic team.

“It’s nice to feel alive again,” she said a week before Saturday’s U.S. marathon Olympic trials in Atlanta, where the top three finishers — in a field of over 500 women — will qualify for the Tokyo Games.

Born in California, the 28-year-old has known for a while that marathons would be for her. “I’ve always been a high-mileage person,” she said.

Hasay also knew she didn’t have a great kick. So, after success in high school and at the University of Oregon, she started training with the Nike Oregon Project (NOP) in 2013 and ran her first marathon in 2017 in Boston, coming in third and breaking the record for an American debut with a 2:23:00. She placed third in Chicago later that year and third in Boston in 2019.

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With a record like that, nobody doubts that Hasay could win the trials and punch her ticket to Tokyo. Rather, it’s a matter of whether things will go her way after a string of bad luck. In 2018, she withdrew from the rainy Boston Marathon race with a stress fracture in her heel. “I really don’t think I would’ve won that race anyways,” she said. But she later withdrew from the Chicago Marathon that same year as well, for the same reason.

Her pattern of setbacks has been coupled with a recent string of controversies. Salazar was banned on doping charges at the end of September; he has denied the allegations. A month later, former Nike athlete Mary Cain published an op-ed in The New York Times alleging that the NOP’s abusive culture, directed by Salazar, led her to self-harm. Salazar also has denied those accusations and Nike announced that it was launching an investigation.

The scandal left Hasay without a coach and working under a sponsor that had taken a significant hit in public opinion. Not helping was the controversy surrounding Nike’s latest in running shoe technology, the Vaporflys, which are said to improve performance by up to 5%, according to The New York Times. The shoes have raised the question of what constitutes an unfair advantage when it comes to equipment, prompting World Athletics to respond with stricter limits on what runners wear. Hasay will wear the next iteration of the shoe, the Alphafly, at Saturday’s race.

“It’s been a little bit overblown,” Hasay said of the controversy surrounding the shoe. “I haven’t tried any of the other companies’ shoes, but I think that everyone is wearing prototypes of this certain cushioning, so I don’t feel like I had an unfair advantage by wearing them.”

She also seemed to bounce back quickly after the loss of her coach. Hasay announced in November that road-running legend Paula Radcliffe would be helping her create a training plan for the trials.

“It’s been hard just because Alberto was such a father figure to me, and it’s hard when you talk to someone every day or even twice a day and then suddenly it’s just — bam! — you can’t talk to them at all,” Hasay said. “But Paula’s been just so great.”

Radcliffe had struggled with the same hamstring injury, so Hasay credits her for helping in the quick recovery, as well as putting a new spin on her training regime. And it feels like a good omen in another way. “[My mom] used to call me Paula, after Radcliffe,” said Hasay. “She used to say, ‘Run well, Paula.'”

While the coaching situation may have worked out for her, it hasn’t stopped the questions about how she feels about Salazar, and about Cain’s accusations. There, Hasay knows she’s in a difficult position. “It’s hard because I try to stay pretty neutral,” she said. “All I can say is what I know and how it was for me, and so it’s actually easy for me to answer questions because I’m not trying to hide anything; I’m just being honest … everything for me was very positive.”

If the issues with being a Nike athlete have affected Hasay, she doesn’t show it — she says she continues to block it all out. Instead she is working on meditating, getting extra massages and resting up in hopes that she’ll feel fresh on race day. She pinned her bib from the 2018 Boston Marathon to the ceiling above her bed to remind herself to not push her body too hard before a race.

Part of her prerace strategy also has been to look at her major competitors’ previous races. As a relatively young racer, she’ll be up against people she’s long admired, and that includes Sara Hall, whom she raced at the Olympic trials in the 1,500 meters in 2008. She later wrote in her running journal that the best part of the experience was shaking Hall’s hand. She calls three-time Olympian Desiree Linden “one of my favorite athletes.”

Hasay said she’ll approach the race the same way she approaches life: with acceptance. “It’s like life, and there’s gonna be ups and downs,” she said. “There’s no way that for 2½ hours everything’s gonna feel good.”

She usually feels “awful” around Mile 2 and she felt “done” at the 10K mark for her debut marathon in Boston. “You doubt yourself, and then you see that you really do have it if you just keep believing and keep trusting.”

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