From Panguitch to Paris, Utahn Whittni Morgan caps remarkable path to 1st Olympics

Well over 100 family, friends, community members and fans greeted Whittni Orton Morgan, center, in Springville after she learned she would be part of the Team USA delegation for the Summer Olympics in Paris next month. (Sean Walker, KSL.com)


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SPRINGVILLE — Success often takes a village, but in the case of Whittni Orton Morgan, success on the track has taken the support of several communities.

From the tight-knit Panguitch community where she grew up to the wide-ranging BYU community she joined in college to the Utah distance running community that has embraced her during a pro career with adidas, those communities came together on her new community of Springville as she returned with her husband from Fourth of July weekend activities in Circleville.

Those communities, which include her current coach Diljeet Taylor and fellow BYU alum Courtney Wayment will be pushing her to her next challenge, one that nine months ago she didn't think would be possible: the Summer Olympics in Paris, just 19 days away.

"The support here is kind of insane," a shell-shocked Morgan told KSL.com after a celebration of well over 100 community members that included a fire and police escort greeted her on Main Street in Springville. "We have all of BYU, which is an incredible support system. I had never witnessed anything like it, coming from Panguitch. But running is just really big in Utah, and it's really cool to see how much people care about running here. It's really cool to be a part of it.

"Everyone can run, but it's cool to impact a lot of different people."

Less than a year after patellar tendon surgery, Morgan becomes the eighth distance athlete from Utah that will run in the Olympics next month, a group that includes Wayment, the BYU steeplechase duo of Kenneth Rooks and James Corrigan, marathoners Conner Mantz, Clayton Young and Rory Linkletter (who will represent his native Canada), and recent Park City transplant and Run Elite Program signee Grant Fisher in the 5,000- and 10,000-meter double.

From left to right: Clayton Young, Courtney Waymente, and Whittni Orton Morgan sign autographs for more than a hundred fans in Springville as part of the Team USA delegation for the Summer Olympics in Paris next month.
From left to right: Clayton Young, Courtney Waymente, and Whittni Orton Morgan sign autographs for more than a hundred fans in Springville as part of the Team USA delegation for the Summer Olympics in Paris next month. (Photo: Sean Walker, KSL.com)

The seven former or current BYU athletes to qualify for the Olympics in track and marathon are the most from the school since 1992, tying an all-time mark in the program currently led by Taylor and men's head coach Ed Eyestone.

But a lot had to happen for Morgan to make Team USA. First, there was the injury — the type of which sidelines more than a few athletes and the latest of what Taylor estimates to be nine injuries her "Olympian No. 2" has suffered in her college and pro careers.

"Whittni has taught me that the comeback is alway better than the setback," Taylor said. "And on her 10th comeback, she became an Olympian.

"We call her 'Gritty Whitty,'" she added, "and if you ever watch her race, you know why."

Morgan didn't initially qualify for Team USA, but the former Panguitch High multi-sport star was labeled an alternate after finishing fifth in a season-best time of 15 minutes, 5.03 seconds at the U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon.

When Elle St. Pierre dropped out of the 5,000 meter to go all-in on the 1,500 meter, a spot opened up in Morgan's preferred event.

That spot would have gone to Parker Valby, the NCAA champion who finished fourth in the 5,000 meter. But when presented with the option to double in the 5,000 and 10,000 meter, the Florida star opted to focus strictly on the 10,000, which runs Aug. 9.

Panguitch's Whittni Orton wins the Utah girls 1A state cross country meet in Salt Lake City, Oct. 17, 2012. The former BYU star has qualified for her first Olympics in the 5,000 meters.
Panguitch's Whittni Orton wins the Utah girls 1A state cross country meet in Salt Lake City, Oct. 17, 2012. The former BYU star has qualified for her first Olympics in the 5,000 meters. (Photo: Hugh Carey, Deseret News)

That left Morgan, the former collegiate cross country champion now sponsored by adidas, as the next alternate for the event. Her personal best of 15:02.07 was set in July 2023, so she didn't officially clinch an Olympic standard in the event. But here ranking is well inside the World Athletics Rankings qualifying quota — she currently ranks No. 61 in the world — to be selected to her first Olympic Games.

"It was a decision for us to actually go for it; it was crazy to even get on the line (at the Olympic trials)," Morgan said. "We thought about taking the summer to heal and recover. But we decided to make a hard decision, and it's really cool when you see that pay off.

"I know that it wasn't in my favor to make the team. So if I made it, it's God; I believe that with my whole heart, that God really set this up for me. It wasn't a smooth ride, but a lot of doors opened, a lot of people made decisions that somehow put me in this amazing position, and I feel very blessed by God's hand."

With that faith — and a lot of prompting from Taylor — Morgan kept training through the summer, just in case USA Track and Field needed to fill a spot in the 5,000. That officially happened Saturday, when Taylor started a FaceTime conversation with Morgan after the latter had finished a workout while with her family in Circleville for the Fourth of July holiday.

It took Morgan a moment to realize what her coach was saying.

"I thought she was punking me," Morgan said. "But this was a terrible joke; why would you mess with me? I was in shock then, and I'm still in shock now."

But there was no kidding, no punking, no cruel jokes; like a half-dozen athletes from Utah, Morgan's dreams were coming together before her eyes. Producing world-class athletes — even Olympians — from Utah was always an objective of Run Elite Program, the state-sponsored nonprofit based in Springville co-founded by Olympian Jared Ward, Salt Lake head coach Isaac Wood and former BYU-Hawaii soccer player Landon Southwick with the intention of attracting elite-level talent to the Beehive State.

But even Wood admitted that 2024 has exceeded all but the highest "pipe dreams" of the group less than a decade old.

"At one point, they called this the golden era of Utah distance running," Wood said. "I think the culture around distance running in the state has really elevated the high schools, the colleges and the professional quality that athletes all over the world want to come run here.

"Now that we're seeing the success we've had of athletes from REP making the Olympic team, I can only foresee it getting stronger and stronger. I can see a world where there are more athletes from Utah, and hopefully REP, in 2028 than there are this year. And if we're not dreaming for that, then what are we doing?"

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