Ben Decker, shown in a 2017 file photo, graduated from Yarmouth High and now lives in Mexico City. He achieved the Olympic Marathon Trials standard of 2:18 in October, running 2:17:08 at the McKirdy Micro Marathon in Valley Cottage, New York. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

When Ben Decker was growing up in Yarmouth, he saw the effort and determination his father, Byrne, put into an attempt to qualify for the 2004 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.

“My dad spent two years trying to qualify. I’m not sure how many marathons he ran in that time, but it was around 10,” said Decker, 27. “He came within a minute of the standard twice but didn’t end up making it. My dad’s competitive career is what got me into the sport, and once I was done with college running and took a little time off, (the marathon) was pretty immediately a goal.”

On Feb. 3 in Orlando, Florida, Decker will be among 215 entrants in the men’s race at the 2024 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. The top two finishers will make the U.S. team for the Paris Olympics this summer if they have met the Olympic time standard of 2 hours, 11 minutes, 30 seconds. There are a series of factors that could allow the U.S. to qualify a third runner, but that is unlikely.

For Decker, just making the trials field is the accomplishment.

“I understand I have no chance of actually qualifying for the Olympics,” said Decker, who was the top Maine finisher at the 2015 Beach to Beacon 10K. “I have done quite a structured build for this and will run my hardest, but I don’t feel any sort of stress. For me, this race is more of a celebration. I feel excited to have the opportunity.”

Decker achieved the Olympic Trials standard of 2:18 in October, running 2:17:08 at the McKirdy Micro Marathon in Valley Cottage, New York, finishing 20th overall. His dad, mother Melanie, sister Megan and girlfriend Hannah Lebowitz were at the finish line. His father will be in Orlando for the trials, too.


Shortly after Ben’s qualifying marathon, he moved to Mexico City and started a new job. The former NCAA Division III All-American at Williams College (fifth in the 10,000 meters in 2018) turned his work commute into training. To avoid the high-altitude city’s notorious traffic, he runs uphill 8 miles wearing a backpack to get to the office. Decker said he takes an Uber home.

Below is a quick look at the other men with Maine connections planning to compete in the marathon trials.

Matt Rand, 32, of Portland, also qualified at the 2023 McKirdy Micro Marathon with personal best of 2:17:11. A native of Cape Elizabeth, Rand competed in the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta, finishing 108th in 2:25:42. He was a three-time NCAA Division III All-American at Tufts, where he met his wife, Heather, who was an All-American pole vaulter. The couple has a young son.

Ryan Jara, 36, of Gorham, ran a personal best of 2:17:19 at the 2023 McKirdy Micro Marathon. A teammate of Rand’s with Valor TC Portland, Jara is the radiology coordinator at Maine Medical Center. A Michigan native, he does most of his training after he and wife Claire’s three young boys go to sleep.

Henry Sterling, 32, a native of South Freeport, qualified with personal best 2:17:21 at 2022 California International Marathon. Sterling, who attended North Yarmouth Academy, now lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he’s a second-grade teacher. This is Sterling’s second Olympic Marathon Trials. He finished 95th in 2020 in 2:24:40.

Dan Vassallo, 38, of Peabody, Massachusetts, qualified with a 2:17:39 at the McKirdy Micro Marathon. A native of Wilmington, Massachusetts, Vassallo is a former Colby College record holder in the 10,000 meters. His wife, Katrina, was an All-American cross country runner at Colby. This is Vassallo’s third straight Olympic Marathon Trials. He’s also won the Maine Marathon twice (2007, 2012) and was the former course-record holder there.

Two other Maine natives have chosen not to race despite being among the 228 men who met the qualifying standard. North Yarmouth native Ben True, who narrowly missed the 2021 Olympics when he finished fourth in 10,000 meters at the U.S. track and field trials, said he is not competing. Former Madison High and Purdue University standout Matt McClintock had the fastest time among Maine qualifiers at 2:14:00, but recently announced his retirement from competitive running.

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