See more of the story

Dakotah Lindwurm has always been comfortable in the underdog's role. When she graduated from St. Francis High School, she walked on to the track team at Northern State University, then built herself into a Division II All-American.

She was happy to stay in the shadows again going into the U.S. Olympic marathon trials. On Saturday, though, Lindwurm might have outrun her old title for good. Over the course of 26.2 miles on the streets of Orlando, the underdog rose to become an Olympian, as Lindwurm's third-place finish vaulted her onto the U.S. team for this summer's Paris Games.

Lindwurm, 28, became the first Minnesota athlete to qualify for the Paris Olympics. Fiona O'Keeffe won the race in 2 hours, 22 minutes, 10 seconds, breaking the Olympic trials record in her debut marathon. American record holder Emily Sisson was second in 2:22:42.

They were waiting for Lindwurm when she crossed the line in 2:25:31, wrapping her in the Stars and Stripes after she secured the final Olympic berth by 15 seconds.

"It almost doesn't feel real," Lindwurm said in a post-race news conference. "I can't tell you how many times I've pictured myself holding this American flag. I don't know if I'm ever going to take it off."

Two American men also made the Olympic team Saturday. Former Brigham Young teammates Conner Mantz and Clayton Young, who still train together in Utah, finished first and second to earn their way to Paris. Mantz had a time of 2:09:05, and Young was one second behind.

Third-place Leonard Korir (2:09:57) did not achieve the time standard to qualify for the team, but he could still make it if the U.S. is awarded a third Olympic spot in the men's marathon. That will be determined by world rankings in May.

A two-time Grandma's Marathon champion, Lindwurm competed in track and cross-country at St. Francis High School and was a goalie for the St. Francis/North Branch girls hockey team. At Northern State in Aberdeen, S.D., she started as a walk-on and ended as a scholarship athlete.

Lindwurm was a first-team All-American in the 10,000 meters and earned second-team honors in cross-country. After graduating in 2017, she joined the Minnesota Distance Elite training group in the fall of 2018, balancing careers as a pro runner and a paralegal.

Though Lindwurm often likes to race up front, she chose a different strategy Saturday. During the first several miles, she stayed in ninth or 10th place. Around the 12-mile mark, she found herself in the lead — and was not happy about it.

"I was pretty upset with myself," Lindwurm said. "I told my coach and my family I wasn't going to do that. I tried to get back out of the lead as soon as possible."

Lindwurm settled back into the middle of the lead pack and sat in eighth place at the 18-mile mark, eight seconds behind the leaders. An experienced marathoner, she felt confident in her ability to finish strong. At mile 21, with O'Keeffe and Sisson well in front, Lindwurm moved up and engaged in a duel with Caroline Rotich for third.

The two ran neck-and-neck until mile 24, when Lindwurm made a move that left Rotich 11 seconds behind. Lindwurm said she was "calling on the Lord" over the final four miles, praying for divine assistance as she neared the finish line.

"When it seemed to really open up, and it felt like the team was running away from me, I just reminded myself that it wasn't over," Lindwurm said. "There was a lot of race left. I just held on tight."

O'Keeffe praised Lindwurm for her "brave" race. NBC analyst Kara Goucher, a two-time Olympian who grew up in Duluth, was full of home-state pride.

"My little Minnesotan," Goucher said. "Believing in herself, and willing herself onto that Olympic team."

Other Minnesotans also finished well Saturday. Minnesota Distance Elite runner Annie Frisbie of Edina was 10th, Spicer native Jessa Hanson was 18th and Gabi Rooker of New Brighton was 19th. The top Minnesota man was Minnetonka native Reed Fischer, who finished ninth.

After Saturday's race, Lindwurm thanked coach Chris Lundstrom and Minnesota Distance Elite for their faith in her. Before she connected with them, she said no one wanted to sign her, and no one expected her to become an Olympian.

Now, the one-time underdog will carry that title forever.

"I just had this undeniable belief in myself," Lindwurm said. "I knew I could carry this flag on my shoulders and represent this country. And here we are."