Soldier strides to summer Olympics spot

By Shannon CollinsMay 2, 2024

Army Staff Sgt. Leonard Korir of the Army World Class Athlete Program and 2016 Olympian stands for a photo on a running track at Fort Carson, Colo. March 11, 2024.
Army Staff Sgt. Leonard Korir of the Army World Class Athlete Program and 2016 Olympian stands for a photo on a running track at Fort Carson, Colo. March 11, 2024. (Photo Credit: DOD photo by EJ Hersom) VIEW ORIGINAL

UPDATE: USA Track and Field officially added Korir to the U.S. marathon team for the Paris Olympics on June 6, 2024.

WASHINGTON — As the Florida crowd cheers the runners, Staff Sgt. Leonard Korir knows he’s 37 seconds behind third place at the 24-mile mark. A mile later, he works his way up, only 18 seconds away from that last qualifying spot. In the last mile, Korir surged past Zach Panning and Elkanah Kibet to earn a bronze medal in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Orlando April 3, 2024, with a time of 2 hours, 9 minutes and 57 seconds, taking him one step closer to the Olympics in Paris this summer.

“I have the mentality of, ‘Don’t give up until the finish line,’” Korir said. “I knew the marathon is usually a long and grueling event. I saw the two guys ahead of me, and I decided to push and give everything I had. I’m glad it worked out for me and thankful for finishing third.”

Korir’s coach, Staff Sgt. Sam Kosgei, knew he could earn the win.

“I knew he was ready to handle anything thrown at him,” Kosgei said. “In the marathon, you must trust the process. His buildup to the Olympic trials was great. He was ready for any challenges, and I had no doubt he was the type of Soldier who will never accept defeat or ever quit.”

Staff Sgt. Leonard Korir, a Soldier-Athlete with the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, exults before crossing the finish line during the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials on Feb. 3 in Orlando, Florida. Korir won the bronze medal in a time of 2 hours, 9 minutes, 57 seconds.
Staff Sgt. Leonard Korir, a Soldier-Athlete with the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, exults before crossing the finish line during the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials on Feb. 3 in Orlando, Florida. Korir won the bronze medal in a time of 2 hours, 9 minutes, 57 seconds. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Maj. Nathaniel Garcia) VIEW ORIGINAL
Paris, Rio

The top two finishers in Orlando earned automatic berths to the U.S. Olympic Marathon team. Korir will find out if he made the team in May.

“I’m confident I’ll get to run the Olympics in Paris,” he said. “I’m currently ranked 68th in the world, and I don’t expect to be displaced in this position. The number of athletes required to run in the Olympics is 80. I’m hoping to make the team and medal. I’ll be so happy for this.”

He said he’s happy with his performance in Orlando since it’s an improvement from his 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials, where he placed fourth. He earned a bronze in the 10,000-meter, eighth in the 5,000-meter at the Olympic trials in 2016, earning him a spot in the 2016 Rio Olympics. He placed 14th in the 10,000-meter at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. He also qualified for the World Championships in London and Doha, both in the 10,000-meter in 2017.

After the Olympics, Korir hopes to win the New York or Boston Marathon.

“If I could win a Boston marathon, that would be a huge accomplishment for me,” he said. His current marathon personal record, or PR, is 2 hours 7 minutes 56 seconds. Sisay Lemma won Boston with 2 hours 6 minutes 17 seconds April 15.

“It’s possible,” Korir said with a smile.

Giving Back

Korir grew up in Iten, Kenya, a place known for several Olympic, world champion and world record holders. While attending Tambach Teachers College, he met coach Colm O’Connell, who noticed his running ability and encouraged him to apply for a scholarship to Iona College in New York.

While attending Iona College in 2011, he earned an NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championship in the 10,000-meter and an NCAA Division I Indoor Track and Field Championship in the 5,000-meter. Because of his scholarship and living in the U.S., he wanted to give back and joined the Army.

“I work so hard, train every day to serve this country,” Korir said. “I wanted to give back. I want to make the Olympic team and represent the U.S. and the Army. When my parents back in Kenya see me succeed, they are so happy for me. It keeps me going and looking forward to more competition in the future.”

His sister ran for her college and joined the Army as a nurse. Korir, a motor transport operator, said he plans to retire from the Army and eventually be a coach to mentor other runners in the World Class Athlete Program.

Army Spc. Benard Keter, Staff Sgt. Leonard Korir and Sgt. Anthony Rotich, World Class Athlete Program, lead a team of elite runners in 4 X 400-meter drills during training near Fort Carson, Colorado. They're hoping to make the U.S. Olympic team so they can compete in Paris this summer.
Army Spc. Benard Keter, Staff Sgt. Leonard Korir and Sgt. Anthony Rotich, World Class Athlete Program, lead a team of elite runners in 4 X 400-meter drills during training near Fort Carson, Colorado. They're hoping to make the U.S. Olympic team so they can compete in Paris this summer. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Shannon Collins) VIEW ORIGINAL
Teamwork

Korir said the WCAP runners work as a team during training, inspiring and supporting each other.

“We train together on the track, especially when we’re doing mile repeats,” he said. “So, 24 by 400 [meter], we switch. I can take the first one, you take the next one. When we do it like that, before you know it, you’ve done like 25 laps because it’s all of us.”

He said even though running marathons is an individual sport, they train together, running in a pack. If they see anyone falling back, they ask them if they’re okay. They encourage them. They stay together, usually running 100 miles a week.

“When you’re running together with the team, you get motivated and then before you know it, you finish the race,” Korir said.

Korir credits WCAP for his running improvement from the 2016 to 2024 Olympic Trials.

“The leadership is so motivating and inspiring,” he said. “They give us everything we need to train.”

Korir’s determination and resilience impressed Kosgei.

“His daily grinding and his performance at the trials define what the WCAP mission stands for,” Kosgei said. “He sets the tone for the rest of the WCAP Soldier athletes to follow as they get ready for the Olympic track and field trials in June.”