Elite running program credited for producing Utah Olympians competing in 2024 Paris Games


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SOUTH JORDAN — It is pretty common to see runners on the Jordan River Trail.

However, it is not too often one of those runners is among the best in the world.

"I have dreamed about being an Olympian for a long time," said Clayton Young. He is a member of Team USA heading to Paris, and will run in the Olympic marathon on Aug. 10 and he's counting down the days.

He is also looking forward to what will be one of the most unique Opening Ceremony in Olympic history.

"I have watched a lot of Opening Ceremonies, but this one is going to be pretty iconic," Young said. "To go float down the Siene River with all of Team USA and to feel that atmosphere is going to be amazing."

He and his close friend Conner Mantz both qualified for the Olympics after finishing in first and second place at the U.S. Olympic team marathon trials earlier this year. Young and Mantz ran on the Brigham Young University track and field team in college.

Young credits his success to an increased emphasis on the running culture in Utah.

"When I moved to Utah as a high school senior, Utah running really started to take off at the high school level," Young said. "Now, it is really taking off at the collegiate level and now we are starting to see these professional athletes make Olympic teams and that is pretty special."

Run Elite program

A big reason for Utah's success in the running world can be traced, in part, to the Run Elite program.

The program was founded two years ago by Utah native and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympian Jared Ward, who finished sixth in that Olympic marathon.

The program gets roughly $160,000 in taxpayer money every year, approved by the Utah Legislature, to attract high level runners to Utah. It also helps to keep promising local runners in Utah, instead of them leaving for other states, as has been the case in the past.

Along with an Intermountain Health partnership, Run Elite allows local runners access to dietitians, trainers, massage and physical therapists, sports psychologists, specialized gym equipment and other professional medical attention elite-level runners often need.

"We have so many great runners in Utah and the more we can keep them here in Utah to be able to grow and to keep that Olympic culture alive, it means a lot to me," Young said.

The Run Elite program allows Young to stay in Utah — and to train with elite runners, which he feels only makes him better in the long run.

Young was part of a "send-off" event at the Twenty One Run running shop in South Jordan Friday night.

He and many other runners did a six-mile run on the Jordan River Trail.

Others benefit

"(Run Elite) is great for supporting the professional athletes and those who are just trying to just run and improve," said Kenneth Rooks, who attended Friday evening's event. He also went to BYU, is the NCAA and the U.S. steeplechase champion.

Rooks is hoping to qualify for the Olympics during his sport's trials in a couple of weeks and also credits the Run Elite program for his success.

"REP is really new. When I first came to Utah, REP wasn't a thing. I moved here in 2018. Now, I feel like I am on a good trajectory with my training to make the U.S. Olympic team and I am really excited for that opportunity if that is what ends up happening," Rooks said.

Both Young and Rooks are grateful for the support in Utah, where they can continue to train at higher elevations.

"Utah isn't just for winter sports anymore. There are a lot of good things happening here with running and there is a lot of support here for it," Rooks said.

"Utah loves its sports and it is fun to see them rally behind running as much as they have all the sports here in Utah," Young said. "If only we could get the Summer Olympics here in Utah. I think we could do it."

KSL-TV will have coverage of Young, Mantz, hopefully Rooks and all the Utah athletes competing during the Paris Olympics this summer. Opening ceremonies are set for July 26.

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Alex Cabrero
Alex Cabrero is an Emmy award-winning journalist and reporter for KSL-TV since 2004. He covers various topics and events but particularly enjoys sharing stories that show what's good in the world.

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