Jilleanne Rookard

Jilleanne Rookard, Jonathan Kuck win at U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials

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Jilleanne Rookard and Jonathan Kuck are going back to the Olympics.

The 2010 Olympians won the opening races at the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials in Kearns, Utah, on Friday night, clinching spots on the 2014 Olympic Team that will officially be named next week.

Rookard, 30, claimed the 3000m in 4 minutes, 9.66 seconds. She beat second-place Anna Ringsred by more than four seconds. Ringsred is also likely going to Sochi.

The U.S. qualified two entries in the Olympic 3000m, an event it hasn’t won an Olympic medal in since Beth Heiden‘s bronze in 1980.

Kuck, 23, won the men’s 5000m in 6:19.76, as expected. Emery Lehman and Patrick Meek, who were second and third, are also likely going to Sochi as the U.S. has three entries into the Olympic 5000m.

The U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials continue with the men’s and women’s 500m from the 2002 Olympic oval Saturday at 11:30 a.m. ET. NBC will broadcast the competition at 3 p.m.

U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials Preview, Schedule

Rookard finished 12th in the 2010 Olympic 3000m and is a contender to make the U.S. Olympic Team in the 1500m and the 5000m again, too. The former inline skater and weightlifter competed in Vancouver two months after her mother died of cancer.

“I’m going to pop champagne and celebrate with my teammate,” Rookard said, according to the U.S. Olympic Committee. “I’m really excited.”

Ringsred, 29, will join Rookard on the Olympic team as long as no more than 10 different women’s skaters qualify over the total of five distances at trials. It will help if stars Brittany Bowe and Heather Richardson qualify in multiple distances to keep the overall team size down.

Ringsred would be a first-time Olympian. The University of Calgary chemical engineering graduate briefly retired after failing to make the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team.

“Last Olympic Trials, I really did have too many nerves, and it really ruined my race; I didn’t perform well at all,” Ringsred said on NBCSN. “I went into this realizing that speed skating, for the first time in my life, amidst all the turmoil and the pressure, it makes me really feel alive.”

Among the women who missed out on the top two were 2010 Olympians Maria Lamb (fifth) and Nancy Swider-Peltz Jr. (ninth) and three-time Olympic short track speed skater Allison Baver (14th). They’ll try to qualify in other distances.

Kuck won an Olympic silver medal in the team pursuit in Vancouver and placed eighth in the 10,000m, his lone individual event in 2010. One month later, Kuck took silver in the World Allround Championships behind Dutch superstar Sven Kramer.

Kuck also won bronze in the 5000m and 10,000m at the 2012 World Single Distance Championships, though it will be hard for him to get past the Netherlands’ powerful trio in Sochi. Kuck is expected to win the 10,000m at the Olympic Trials on the final day of skating Wednesday.

“It’s nice to have it out of the way,” Kuck said on NBCSN. “A couple more races coming up [at trials], but there isn’t any question mark [about making the U.S. Olympic Team].”

Lehman and Meek are going to Sochi so long as 10 or fewer male skaters qualify over the five Olympic distances.

Lehman, an Oak Park (Ill.)-River Forest High School student, is likely to be the youngest male athlete among the entire U.S. Olympic delegation in Sochi. He’s 17 and the reigning world junior champion in the 5000m.

Meek, like Lehman, would be a first-time Olympian.

Comeback story at U.S. Olympic Trials

Galen Rupp, Meb Keflezighi lead U.S. Olympic marathon team

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Galen Rupp and Meb Keflezighi shared nothing in marathon running before the U.S. Olympic trials on Saturday, but the two men from vastly different backgrounds were together, alone, leading the race with five miles left.

Rupp, 29, pulled away to win in 2:11:12 on the streets of Los Angeles. The former Oregon Catholic high school prodigy became the first American to make an Olympic marathon team in his 26.2-mile debut since 1968.

Keflezighi, a 40-year-old born in war-torn Eritrea who moved to the U.S. in 1987, crossed the finish line 68 seconds later in second place. He will become the oldest U.S. Olympic runner of all time in Rio in August.

Rupp and Keflezighi, the only U.S. men to make an Olympic podium in distances longer than 1500m since 1984, were so close to each other in their three-mile leading stretch that their Olympic silver medals could have clanked against each other had they been wearing them.

Keflezighi, in his 23rd marathon and in front of Rupp at the time, didn’t take kindly to the six-inches-taller marathon rookie breathing on him. He let Rupp know about it on the streets of LA.

“It’s not a track, the road is open,” Keflezighi recalled in a press conference, shortly before exchanging a laughter-inducing glance with Rupp, who fittingly walked in to sit on a stool to Keflezighi’s immediate right mid-answer. “It was not a very friendly conversation.”

Now Rupp and Keflezighi are U.S. Olympic marathon teammates. Along with Jared Ward, who finished third Saturday, 1:47 behind Rupp, to make his first Olympics.

Full results are here.

In the women’s race, Amy CraggDesi Linden and Shalane Flanagan were the top three, all returning to the Olympics, with Flanagan collapsing at the finish line. Full recap here.

Rupp and Keflezighi broke away on their own around the 20th mile. Rupp then dropped Keflezighi in the 23rd mile. The reigning Olympic 10,000m silver medalist fist pumped crossing the finish line.

“It was a bit of a change running the marathon, but there’s no bigger honor than being able to represent your country at the Olympics,” Rupp then told Lewis Johnson on NBC.

Dathan Ritzenhein, a three-time Olympian and a pre-race favorite with Keflezighi and Rupp, dropped out of the race around mile 20 in the hottest U.S. Olympic marathon trials of all time. The temperature at the men’s start at 10:06 a.m. local time was 66 degrees.

The Rio Olympic men’s marathon will be on Aug. 21, the final day of the Games. Keflezighi’s 2004 silver is the only U.S. men’s marathon medal since Frank Shorter took gold in 1972 and silver in 1976.

Rupp has said he prefers the 10,000m and might not race the marathon at the Olympics. If he doesn’t, the fourth-place trials finisher, Luke Puskedra, will move onto the team.

“I think [Rupp] is a 2:05 [marathon] guy, someday,” Rupp’s coach, three-time New York City Marathon winner Alberto Salazar, told media after Saturday’s race. (The fastest American marathoner of all time, Ryan Hall, clocked a best of 2:04:58 at the 2011 Boston Marathon.)

Rupp could contest two races in Rio, the 10,000m (Aug. 13 final) and the marathon, or the 10,000m and the 5000m (Aug. 20). Rupp finished seventh in the 5000m in London.

“I would say that the 10k is still my primary focus,” said Rupp, who would have to make the Olympic track team at those trials in Eugene, Ore., from July 1-10, in a USATF interview published Jan. 28. “Really, it just comes down to what I think I have a better chance in as a second event, whether that’s the 5k or the marathon.”

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Amy Cragg wins marathon trials; Shalane Flanagan collapses at finish

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No doubt Amy Cragg and Shalane Flanagan bonded as training partners en route to the U.S. Olympic marathon trials, escaping a black bear the clearest example.

They couldn’t have been closer after finishing first and third to make the Olympic team Saturday.

Flanagan collapsed in Cragg’s arms two strides after the finish line at the hottest U.S. Olympic marathon trials ever in Los Angeles. She was then helped into a wheelchair.

Cragg won the race in 2:28:20, redeeming after she finished fourth to miss the team by one spot at the 2012 trials. Flanagan came in third Saturday to make her fourth Olympic team, 25 seconds behind second-place Desi Linden and 58 seconds behind Cragg.

Full results are here.

Cragg, 32, waited for Flanagan at the finish line, holding an American flag, hugging Flanagan and then, suddenly, keeping the 2008 Olympic 10,000m bronze medalist from falling onto the pavement.

Flanagan, the 2012 trials winner and a pre-race favorite, said there was a point in the 26.2 miles where she thought she was “done.”

Cragg talked her through it. They spent most of the final half of the race alone in the lead.

“Sweet baby Jesus, I’m so thankful for [Cragg],” Flanagan, the second-fastest U.S. female marathoner ever, said minutes after finishing, with an ice pack over her shoulders, clutching a water bottle in her right hand and holding onto Cragg’s right shoulder with her left hand.

Cragg held up Flanagan during the interview and then helped her back into the wheelchair.

The temperature at the start of the men’s race at 10:06 a.m. local time was 66 degrees, hottest ever at a marathon trials (the first trials were in 1968). The women began 16 minutes later.

Cragg finished fourth at the 2012 marathon trials, then made that Olympic team in the 10,000m on the track and finished 11th in London in her Olympic debut. She moved from Providence, R.I., to Portland, Ore., in the fall to join Flanagan’s training group.

“Finishing fourth, looking back on it now, was so good for me,” Cragg told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “It made me more determined than ever as an athlete. I’ve worked really hard the last four years, basically, to move up one spot.

“I just knew, training with Shalane, would give me all the confidence I need.”

Cragg dropped Flanagan in the final two miles. Before that, she said she asked Flanagan if she was OK. Flanagan replied, no, I’m not.

“She seemed like she was even struggling a little bit just to say that,” Cragg said. “Before the last water stop, I kind of looked at her, and she was turning bright red. I knew the heat was getting to her. I told her, I’m going to get you a water bottle, dump the whole thing on your head.”

Linden, arguably the pre-race co-favorite with Flanagan, repeated her 2012 trials finish of second place, surging in the final mile past Flanagan.

At the London Olympics, Linden pulled out 2.2 miles into the race with right hip pain, what would later be diagnosed as a femoral stress fracture.

“It’s been this Sisyphean task where I get to the top, and then the rock crumbles down,” Linden said Saturday. “I want to do it better this time.”

Two-time Olympian Kara Goucher was fourth. She plans to compete at the track trials in July in Eugene, Ore., to go for Rio.

Goucher finished 65 seconds behind Flanagan, her former training partner, and said she missed workouts last week while sick. The 37-year-old said she may have picked up an illness from her 5-year-old son, Colt.

“I kept asking myself if I was doing all that I could, and I was,” Goucher told media, in tears. “They were just better. … I didn’t fight this hard to just fold right now, so yeah, I’ll be trying to make the 10k team [at track trials in July].”

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