Conner Mantz: Representing America and Representing God

Two hours, nine minutes, and five seconds. What can one do in that time? To name a few: Fly from Miami to New York City, wait in line for Flight of Passage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, or travel from Ogden to Provo, Utah, on the frontrunner. For Conner Mantz, he can run an entire 26.2 miles and qualify for the Paris Olympics. 

You might see these Olympians on the TV screen decorated in medals with announcers singing praises and giving accolades. Their experience, however, took blood, sweat, tears, and pain for a chance at competing on the Olympic stage. The former BYU track and cross-country star’s journey to become an Olympian was no different and it included injury, disappointment, stress, but ultimately success.

 


Who is Conner Mantz? 

Just a small-town boy from Smithfield, Utah, Mantz started running at nine in a local 5K. He wanted to run like his brother and his dad, so his father signed him up for a half marathon at 12 years old. 

“I did two marathons that year,” Mantz said. “When I was in 8th grade, I heard about cross-country, so I went to a cross-country practice with one of my friends.” 

Mantz went to the local high school practice as an eighth grader and thought it was fun, but he didn’t think cross-country was for him. However, during his freshman year in high school, he changed his mind and decided to give it another try. Mantz became an all-star athlete and qualified for the National Championships as a sophomore and each consecutive year. 

A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mantz decided to serve as a missionary. He was called to the Ghana Africa Mission. During his service, he saw many miracles and learned how God could help him succeed by having faith. 

In Africa, he tried running, but it hindered his commitment to the work. When he sacrificed his desires and devoted himself completely to missionary work, he witnessed miracles. 

“It’s funny because as soon as I stopped running I was gaining less and less weight. I gained 30 pounds in first eight months. . . and then I lost 10 pounds [when I stopped running]. When I came home I was only 20 pounds over my old race weight,” said Mantz. 

After his two-year mission, Mantz joined the BYU team.

“We felt very fortunate when we were able to win the recruiting battle over some Ivy League schools and then some very competitive non-Ivy League schools. We were excited to get him,” said BYU track and cross-country head coach, and former Olympian, Ed Eyestone. 

While running for BYU, Mantz won the 2020 and 2021 NCAA Division I Cross-Country National Championships and now runs as a professional with Nike. 


Road to the Olympics

“I think I didn’t understand how difficult it would be to qualify,” said Mantz. 

The 2024 Olympics was not the first time Mantz attempted to make the 2020 Olympic team. He originally tried for the 5k and 10k in track but missed qualifying for both by only a few spots. 

“I had a lot of prayer. I’d be mad for a day or a week, but then eventually I’d snap out of it, and be like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s just running.’ There’s so much more to life,” said Mantz. 

Eyestone said it is so rare for collegiate athletes to make the Olympics because of the high level of competition among professionals.

“I think the reality of it was he realized that he would have another opportunity. . .and so he just had to wait those three years, be patient, do the work, and lo and behold, he was in a really good situation to make this team,” said Eyestone. 

Mantz’s faith kept things in a spiritual perspective while he trained for the Olympics. 

“The gospel keeps me humble in that sense because it’s like no matter what I do it’s nothing [in comparison],” said Mantz. 

Relying on faith, Mantz prepared for the Olympic Marathon Trials, but not everything went according to plan. 

“Before the Olympic trials, I had a stress reaction in my femur, and it was kind of devastating. I was like, ‘Wait a second, it’s been four years, I’ve trained so well. Everything’s gone pretty well for years, and I messed it up again,’” said Mantz. 

“Everything’s gone pretty well for years, and I messed it up again.”

– Conner Mantz

Mantz served in a local congregation for their church as a high counselor. After the service one Sunday, local congregation leader, Bishop Casey Warren, asked Mantz about his preparation for the Olympics.

“I asked Conner if I should be booking tickets to Paris to watch him run because he’d been doing well and he told me ‘Don’t book it Bishop, I have a problem with my leg,’” said Warren. “I said, ‘Conner, have you had a blessing yet?’ And he said, ‘I was thinking about asking for one.’”

Warren gave Mantz a priesthood blessing for his leg to heal.

“It was a very special experience because, within two weeks, I was running on the ground,” said Mantz.

Kylie Mantz, Conner Mantz’s wife, had peace that everything would work out.  “I just kept feeling like we needed to call down the powers of heaven. We needed priesthood power here, and we needed to do everything.”

“Boy, it was a modern-day miracle that [Mantz] was able to be healed enough to train for the Olympic trials and then obviously win the Olympic trials,” said Warren. 

“I think [Mantz] has a very good solid inner strength and spiritual connection that can help bail us out at times in adversity,” Eyestone said.

“It was an emotional marathon build, but it actually drew us closer to the Lord in a way we weren’t expecting,” said Kylie Mantz.

“It was an emotional marathon build, but it actually drew us closer to the Lord in a way we weren’t expecting.”

– Kylie Mantz

The Olympic Trials 

To make the Olympic roster, there are two rounds of qualifications. The first was in Chicago, where athletes had to open spots for the United States for the Paris games. They do this by running 2:08:10 or under. 

“[Mantz and former BYU teammate Clayton Young] were in a situation where they actually kind of had to qualify twice because in order for the U.S. to send a team they had to have people that had run under 2:08:10,” said Eyestone. “In Chicago, Mantz went 2:07:47 and Clayton ran 2:08:00, and so both of them qualified, which opened up two spots for the U.S. to take two people.” 

With the open spots, Mantz had to defend his top seed in Orlando at the U.S. Olympic Team Marathon Runners to go to Paris. 

“In a way, hitting the Olympic standard [in Chicago] and then having to go and run the Olympic trials again wasn’t very fun,” said Mantz. “I earned a spot for the whole country, I’ve proven I’m the best American marathoner right now, and now I’ve got to go prove that I’m in the top two again,”  

“It’s a game. That’s why it’s called an Olympic game. He’s a game piece,” said Kylie Mantz.


Orlando 

Mantz and Young placed first and second in the 2024 U.S. Olympic Team Marathon Runners in Orlando, Florida on February 3. 

I don’t know [if many people realize] how amazing it was what happened in Orlando, with Clayton and Connor going one and two in that race,” said training partner and former Olympian Jared Ward.

“It was like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders,” said Mantz. 

Not only was it a huge weight off of Mantz but for everyone involved. 

U.S. Olympic Team Marathon Trials Orlando, Florida February 3, 2024, Photo Courtesy: Kevin Morris

“That smile you see on my face is 30% joy and 70% relief,” said Eyestone. “There is so much pressure building into these events and it’s like, if you don’t hit it right then you’re gonna have to wait four more years and you have 220 other guys in the race who want to hit it just right too.” 

Watching Mantz cross that finish line was an emotional experience for his wife. 

“I was really overwhelmed. I just crazy screamed in a way I never have, but it just showed how much I love [Conner],” said Kylie Mantz.

Ward was thrilled for him as well. 

“I’ve had a long-running career and been a part of some amazing finish line experiences, including finish lines where I was happy for my accomplishment, but I don’t know that I’ve ever been happier at a finish line than I was in Orlando,” said Ward.  

Years of training, numerous defeats, difficult adversity, hopeless injuries, constant encouragement, and endless miracles from God helped Conner Mantz achieve his dream since he was 12. 


Road to Paris 

After Conner Mantz crossed that finish line and secured his spot for the 2024 Olympic Games, he has a new sense of urgency to prepare for what’s in store.   

“We generally work out hard, our hard days are Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday,” said Eyestone. “But once we get a little closer though, there’s a new element of urgency that kind of kicks in.”

What’s exciting for marathon runners is that, unlike most athletes, they know well ahead of time that they are competing. 

“So, the nice thing about qualifying early is that you can benefit from any publicity that comes about, and you have plenty of time to enjoy your newly crowned Olympic status,” said Eyestone. 

Lots of scenarios can happen while prepping for the marathon race. 

“[When the Olympic] marathon starts, there’s only a third of the field that’s healthy and fit. Because even if you’re injured. . . you’re going to run the Olympics if you’ve been selected by your nation and your governing body. Nobody passes on this race despite how their training goes,” said Ward. “If Clayton and Connor are ready on race day, then they have as good a chance as any other top runner in the field of medaling.”

“If Clayton and Connor are ready on race day, then they have as good a chance as any other top runner in the field of medaling.”

– Jared Ward

“I think that they hopefully will be in a situation where they can enjoy the Olympics a little bit but still be focused to do the very best that they can,” said Eyestone. 


Representing America and Representing God

Olympians from the United States represent the stars and stripes, but Mantz is also excited to represent his home state of Utah. 

“I think a lot of it is the community we have here in Provo or the community we have in Utah that I’m very excited to represent,” he said. “Yes, it’s the whole country I’m representing, but I think it’s easier when I think about the people from Smithfield, Utah, where I grew up, or the people from Provo who are in our ward, or the people from Mapleton when [Kylie and I] lived there. . . it’s just special to think about those people I am representing and am running [for].”

Conner Mantz is a dedicated runner and a dedicated American, but an even more dedicated follower of Jesus Christ. What is unique about these upcoming games is both representatives in the U.S. marathon are faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

“I think it’s super cool that our US marathoners are members and faithful covenant-keeping members,” said Kylie Mantz. 

Conner Mantz is known for his running but wants to be known as an advocate for the Savior. He has been blessed tremendously and wants to spread his beliefs to the world through his talents.

“[Representing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is] pretty special; it definitely has more pressure than the race itself. I don’t want to stand before the judgment bar of God and [God say], ‘Well these people are asking about the church, and you kind skipped out,’” said Mantz. “That’s one thing I just really want to do well [because it’s] where all the big blessings come in my life.”

Photo Courtesy: Jason S

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