What’s next for U.S. speed skating

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SOCHI, Russia – One is retiring. Another is getting married. A third is going to Puerto Vallerta.

The U.S. speed skating team must move on after a disastrous Olympics, its third ever without a medal. It finished with sixth- and seventh-place results in the eight-nation team pursuits at Adler Arena on Saturday.

The slow times, the suits and the Dutch dominance won’t soon be forgotten.

The controversial mid-Games switch from the new Under Armour Mach 39 suits, billed as the world’s fastest, back to their successful suits from the World Cup season didn’t affect results.

After the first poor races, they were desperately seeking answers. It was the only thing they could think of, one skater said.

“Things were going wrong for everybody,” said Joey Mantia, a World Cup race winner this season who finished 15th and 22nd in the 1000m and 1500m. “We took a step back. We said, what can we change? We all have something in common, and we don’t know what it is that’s making us skate bad was kind of our thought process coming out of the first couple days of racing. We said, well, we can’t change how we train, we can’t change where we were geographically because we already did that [training at altitude before the Olympics in Collalbo, Italy]. We can’t really change our skates.

“The only thing we can change is the suit. When things are going wrong, you don’t stay on the same path. You try to at least change something, see what it is. I don’t think it was definitive whether it was the suit or not. There was no way to tell, but we had to at least try.”

Details run much deeper than the suit, to training methods and the US Speedskating organization, as reported in this Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story.

Under Armour will join US Speedskating in trying to reverse a downward spiral that’s seen the medal tally drop from eight in 2002 to seven in 2006 to four in 2010 to zero. They extended their partnership through 2022.

That’s great, but what really matters is the talent zipping up those synthetic fabrics. Everyone will remember the Olympics, but a poor two weeks in Sochi doesn’t erase a fantastic month of World Cup racing in the fall.

Quickly, U.S. Olympians will get a chance to show they are still fast. The season picks up again with two World Cups in March followed by the World Allround Championships, all in Europe.

Here’s what’s next for the top U.S. skaters:

  • Shani Davis (31) – Unsure if he will try for 2018, citing a need for reevaluation.
  • Brian Hansen (23) – May take next season off but could see himself back for 2018.
  • Joey Mantia (28) – Definitely trying for 2018.
  • Jonathan Kuck (23) – Retiring after the Olympics.
  • Emery Lehman (17) – Plans to skate at World Junior Championships in Norway in March.
  • Heather Richardson (24) – Will keep skating rest of this season, next season and, hopefully, in 2018. Also marrying Dutch Olympic champion Jorrit Bergsma next year.
  • Brittany Bowe (25) – Same as Richardson, except for the wedding.
  • Jilleanne Rookard (31) – Done skating this season. May skip next season with an eye on 2014-15. Will vacation with the U.S. women’s hockey team in Puerto Vallerta, Mexico, in April.

Davis, the only individual Olympic medalist in the bunch, will be 35 come the Pyeongchang Olympics. It’s not unheard for somebody that old to contend for Olympic medals.

The Netherlands’ Bob de Jong, 37, won bronze in the 10,000m here.

But Davis must deal with assembly-line like Dutch depth in the middle distances as well as younger competition from nations such as Kazakhstan and Poland.

Hansen, too, is a middle-distance skater. He’s in the midst of his best World Cup season ever, and, at eight years younger than Davis, may not have peaked yet.

Mantia is in his third year of speed skating after a decorated inline career. Lehman, a high school student, knocked seven seconds off his personal best in the 10,000m at the Olympic Trials.

They, too, could still be rising.

Bowe and Richardson are still two of the best sprinters in the world and at similar ages as their biggest competition from Europe and Asia.

Rookard considered quitting last season. The U.S. will hope a younger athlete can come along and help carry the distance load.

That skater might not come though.

Lehman was the only American to finish in the top seven of any race at the World Junior Championships either of the last two years.

The current crop of Olympians reflected on Sochi after the team pursuit — the preparations, the distractions, the disappointments.

“Obviously the past couple weeks haven’t gone exactly how we wanted them to, but I think we learned a lot about ourselves, and we’ve stuck together through the entire few weeks,” Bowe said. “I think that says a lot about our team. Through thick and thin, we’re going to stand together.”

Kenenisa Bekele still eyes Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record, but a duel must wait

Kenenisa Bekele
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LONDON — Kenenisa Bekele made headlines last week by declaring “of course I am the best” long distance runner ever. But the Ethiopian was fifth-best at Sunday’s London Marathon, finishing 74 seconds behind Kenya’s Amos Kipruto.

Bekele, 40, clocked 2:05:53, the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. He was with the lead pack until being dropped in the 21st mile.

But Bekele estimated he could have run 90 to 120 seconds faster had he not missed parts of six weeks of training with hip and joint injuries.

“I expect better even if the preparation is short,” he said. “I know my talent and I know my capacity, but really I couldn’t achieve what I expect.”

Bekele is the second-fastest marathoner in history behind Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, who broke his own world record by clocking 2:01:09 at the Berlin Marathon last week.

“I am happy when I see Eliud Kipchoge run that time,” Bekele said. “It motivates all athletes who really expect to do the same thing.”

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Bekele’s best time was within two seconds of Kipchoge’s previous world record (2:01:39). He described breaking Kipchoge’s new mark as the “main goal” for the rest of his career.

“Yes, I hope, one day it will happen, of course,” Bekele said. “With good preparation, I don’t know when, but we will see one more time.”

Nobody has won more London Marathons than Kipchoge, a four-time champion who set the course record (2:02:37) in 2019. But the two-time Olympic marathon champion did not run this year in London, as elite marathoners typically choose to enter one race each spring and fall.

Bekele does not know which race he will enter in the spring. But it will not be against Kipchoge.

“I need to show something first,” Bekele said. “I need to run a fast time. I have to check myself. This is not enough.”

Kipchoge will try to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles at the Paris Games. Bekele, who will be 42 in 2024, has not committed to trying to qualify for the Ethiopian team.

“There’s a long time to go before Paris,” Bekele said. “At this moment I am not decided. I have to show something.”

So who is the greatest long distance runner ever?

Bekele can make a strong case on the track:

Bekele
Four Olympic medals (three gold)
Six World Championship medals (five gold)
Former 5000m and 10,000m world-record holder

Kipchoge
Two Olympic medals
Two World Championship medals (one gold)

But Kipchoge can make a strong case on the pavement:

Bekele
Second-fastest marathoner in history
Two World Marathon Major victories

Kipchoge
Four of the five best marathon times in history
Two-time Olympic marathon champion
12 World Marathon Major victories

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Yalemzerf Yehualaw, Amos Kipruto win London Marathon

Yalemzerf Yehualaw
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Ethiopian Yalemzerf Yehualaw became the youngest female runner to win the London Marathon, while Kenyan Amos Kipruto earned the biggest victory of his career in the men’s race.

Yehualaw, 23, clocked 2:17:26, prevailing by 41 seconds over 2021 London champ Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya.

Yehualaw tripped and fell over a speed bump around the 20-mile mark. She quickly rejoined the lead pack, then pulled away from Jepkosgei by running the 24th mile in a reported 4:43, which converts to 2:03:30 marathon pace; the women’s world record is 2:14:04.

Yehualaw and Jepkosgei were pre-race favorites after world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya withdrew Monday with a right hamstring injury.

On April 24, Yehualaw ran the fastest women’s debut marathon in history, a 2:17:23 to win in Hamburg, Germany.

She has joined the elite tier of female marathoners, a group led by Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir, the reigning Olympic, New York City and Boston champion. Another Ethiopian staked a claim last week when Tigist Assefa won Berlin in 2:15:37, shattering Yehualaw’s national record.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion in 1984, finished Sunday’s race in 3:20:20 at age 65.

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Kipruto, 30, won the men’s race in 2:04:39. He broke free from the leading group in the 25th mile and crossed the finish line 33 seconds ahead of Ethiopian Leul Gebresilase, who said he had hamstring problems.

Kipruto, one of the pre-race favorites, had never won a major marathon but did finish second behind world record holder Eliud Kipchoge in Tokyo (2022) and Berlin (2018) and third at the world championships (2019) and Tokyo (2018).

Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest marathoner in history, was fifth after being dropped in the 21st mile. His 2:05:53 was the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. Bekele ran his personal best at the 2019 Berlin Marathon — 2:01:41 — and has not run within four minutes of that time since.

The major marathon season continues next Sunday with the Chicago Marathon, headlined by a women’s field that includes Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich and American Emily Sisson.

London returns next year to its traditional April place after being pushed to October the last three years due to the pandemic.

MORE: Bekele looks ahead to Kipchoge chase after London Marathon

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