More—or Less—than 2 Hours, 45 Minutes
Sarah Fountain wants to be Armenia’s first Olympic marathoner, even as standards are changing.
LØPE MAGAZINE – Issue No. 014, December 2019
By Liam Boylan-Pett
Photography by Zach Hetrick
Sarah Fountain stood on the awards stand with a red-, blue-, and orange-striped Armenian flag in her hands, and was not quite sure what was going to happen. She was in Tblisi, Georgia, having just run her personal best for 10 kilometers at 36 minutes, 50 seconds. It was good enough for second place, and a spot on the podium.
She had not planned to bring the flag with her, but as she was announced, one of her friends she had traveled to the race with handed it to her. She was proud to represent Armenia, so brought it with her. It was the flag that the third-place finisher brought with her—Azerbaijan’s blue, red, and green flag with a crescent and eight-pointed star in the center—that gave Fountain pause.
The history between Armenia and Azerbaijan has not been kind, including, most recently, clashes in 2016 where an estimated 350 civilians and troops from both sides were killed. A cease-fire was declared shortly after those clashes, but Fountain was standing on the podium just over one year later, and, as she said, she had seen a lot of personal disdain between people from those countries during her time in Armenia. She was unsure what the reaction would be, and was unsure how to act, even though she did not hold any animosity towards anyone at the race.
So, because she did not speak Azerbaijani, Fountain simply smiled and shook the third-place finisher’s hand. The runner smiled back, and Fountain thought that might have been the end of it. But the next thing she knew, she was in the midst of an Armenia-Azerbaijan post-race celebration and photo opportunity. First, friends of the Azerbaijani runner joined her behind her flag, then Fountain’s friends were on the podium, too. They smiled and celebrated together.
Fountain had not gone to Armenia to turn into a runner—she was working as a strategic philanthropy lead for ONEArmenia, a nonprofit for Armenia’s future, after graduating from the University of Michigan. But standing on the podium with the Armenian flag next to the group of Azerbaijani runners struck a chord. She thought her running could make a difference.
She had been working with a coach in Armenia who had been mentioning that she should step up her training; there was room for improvement, he thought. The race in Georgia—along with the amazing experience, it was a personal best, after all—flipped a switch.
She told her coach she wanted to go for it: Fountain wanted to be Armenia’s first woman to run the Olympic Marathon.
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