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‘Better together:’ How friendship and faith helped guide these two US marathon runners to Paris 2024

By Ben Church, CNN

(CNN) — In many ways, Conner Mantz and Clayton Young are typical friends.

They have known each other for years, live just a short drive from each other in Utah and spend a lot of time together. Mantz and his wife have occasionally stepped in for baby-sitting duties and Young once helped paint his friend’s house.

But this friendship has an added level of complexity – Mantz and Young are two of the best marathon runners in the US and race against one another.

After meeting at college in 2017, the duo have been on a near-seven-year mission to represent their country at the Olympic Games.

During an emotional Olympic trials race in February, they worked together to make that ambition a reality.

The pair finished first and second at the Florida event to stamp their tickets to Paris 2024. Young, who had looked the fresher of the two on the final stretch, seemingly gave up his lead to Mantz as the pair were separated by just one second, both achieving a life-long dream in the process.

“Not a day goes by when I’m not having this conversation about the Olympics and the Olympic trials,” Young, 30, tells CNN Sport in a joint-interview with Mantz.

“There’s this wave of emotion that comes over you and you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s right. I did make the Olympic team. I’m an Olympian.’”

Mantz says the achievement has taken a while to settle in but has slowly become more “normal” now that the training partners have started their preparations for Paris 2024.

“It’s kind of unbelievable because you never know who’s going to be good,” the 27-year-old Mantz, who is three years younger than his friend, tells CNN Sport when reflecting on what they achieved at the Olympic trials.

“Yes, we were the number one and number two seeds heading into the [race], but in athletics, everything is a lot more complicated than that. You can be the number one seed and you not make the final [selection].

“So it was just special that it happened together. We’ve trained together for almost seven years and we’ve actually had our goals and dreams accomplished.”

Sharing a journey

The pair estimate they’ve run well over 10,000 miles together over the years, since meeting at Brigham Young University (BYU) in 2017.

Both agree that experiencing that same journey has offered each of them a deeper level of support, be it on a physical or mental level.

“We’re able to learn from one another when we’re not running, and then when we are running, we’re able to push each other,” says Mantz, whose personal best for the marathon is two hours, seven minutes and 47 seconds.

Young agrees, adding: “I think about standing on the starting line in Paris. I’m going to be standing next to [Mantz] again and just having the confidence that I’ve trained with one of the best athletes in the world, will give me a lot of confidence knowing that I belong.

“If I can stick with him in practice, I can stick with him, hopefully, in Paris. That gives me a lot of confidence.”

Make no mistake, though, both these men are fiercely competitive and are aware there might come a time where they have to put their friendship aside in order to claim personal glory – and for their country.

If they have managed to maintain a healthy working relationship over almost seven years of training together, the two friends are honest enough to admit the occasional tension during workouts.

“It’s definitely a dance that we have to play, and we just have to keep reminding ourselves that we’re better together,” says Young, who boasts a marathon personal best of two hours and eight minutes.

“We are very competitive and we want to beat each other at the end of the day. But, ultimately, I have decided to fully embrace this relationship and I know that I will just be better because of it.”

Importance of faith

As well as a love for running, both men also share a joint faith, which they credit for helping them achieve so much in track and field.

Both are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – the largest Mormon denomination – and each served missions before meeting at college.

Mantz served a mission in Ghana, while Young spent two years on a mission in North Carolina. The latter says his faith has helped ease the “daunting” pressures of racing on a global stage.

“If my only identity is as a runner or making this Olympic team, it can be very debilitating,” he says, with Mantz nodding along in agreement.

“Through our canonized faith, we’ve realized that we’re more than just a couple of runners, we’re more than just professional athletes. We’re husbands, I’m a father, and we’re ultimately sons of God.

“It definitely has contributed to our running because that eternal perspective is really what grounds us. Racing is important and making an Olympic team is obviously a once in a lifetime thing, but there is more to this life than running.”

With Paris 2024 fast approaching, both men are building up their preparations ahead of this year’s Olympics.

Young is excited to compete at the upcoming NYC Half on March 17, a half-marathon event organized by New York Road Runners.

More than 25,000 runners participate in the event, which goes from Brooklyn to Manhattan and ends in Central Park, with the race the only time other than New Year’s Eve that Times Square is closed to traffic.

It will be another opportunity for Young to compete with other elite athletes before he races for medals at the Olympic Games.

Mantz, meanwhile, has picked up a minor injury in recent days and had to drop out of the half-marathon race. The setback is not expected to impact his participation at Paris 2024 though.

Neither is afraid to admit that a podium place in Paris is the goal, but both are acutely aware of how unpredictable an Olympic marathon can be.

“I’d be lying if I said that [Young] and I don’t have it in the back of our minds that we’re wanting to go and get a medal. Whether that’s public or not, it shouldn’t matter,” Mantz says.

Young agrees, saying: “I’m going to put myself in the best position possible and see what happens.”

The 2024 Paris Summer Olympic Games are set to begin on July 26, with the men’s marathon scheduled for August 10.

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