Catching up with Klete Keller

Klete Keller
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Klete Keller was part of some of the most memorable Olympic swimming races of all time, in the heyday of Ian ThorpePieter van den Hoogenband and Michael Phelps, and won five medals in six career events spanning three Olympics.

Few swimmers can gauge that era better than Keller, who retired after the 2008 Beijing Games.

OlympicTalk recently caught up with Keller to look back on his career:

OlympicTalk: Let’s start with Sydney 2000, you won bronze in the 400m freestyle and silver in the 4x200m free relay, both behind Thorpe. What do you remember?

Keller: Going against Thorpe in the 400 freestyle, he was a hero in Australia. He was almost like a mythical figure. [Australian GrantHackett was in that race as well. The crowd was just going crazy. I was almost kind of scared because it was my first big international meet.

The funny thing I remember about that race is the camera at the bottom of the pool. It was following Thorpe the whole time. By the end of the race it was like 25 meters ahead of me. I couldn’t believe somebody was swimming that much faster than me [Thorpe finished 6.41 seconds ahead of Keller]. I couldn’t even see him.

OlympicTalk: You anchored the 4x200m free relay, you held off van den Hoogenband on anchor to get silver by .06.

Keller: The Aussies won that one, and I remember they played that land “Down Under” song by Men at Work. The whole stands of Aussies were singing that song. They were blasting that through the stadium. I’m really glad I stopped and took a moment, rather than rushing through the media zone. It’s really cool how a sport like swimming can get people so pumped up.

OlympicTalk: In the 2004 Olympics, you anchored the 4x200m relay again and held off Thorpe for gold.

Keller: It all started in the prelims that morning, when all the teams qualified for finals. It was told to me that I would be the anchor. I knew Thorpe would be the anchor for Australia. I knew he had never really been challenged a whole lot at that point, and I knew we would be ahead [going into the anchor leg] because we had [earlier legs] Michael [Phelps] and [RyanLochte, who was swimming really well.

I thought [Thorpe] would try and be the hero and catch up right away and make me look like a fool. He did catch up right away. When he did that, I was happy, because I knew he wouldn’t be able to hold it.

The thing I remember from the last lap was the U.S. team sitting down on the deck that night. The way the seating arrangements worked, they switched countries to different parts of the stands every night. You could be in nosebleeds, but it was really lucky our team was deck level. I could see them going crazy and waving towels and shirts. I had a feeling I would win, but I wasn’t sure until I popped my head out at the very end. It was more of a relief at first than anything.

I’m just so proud that I got to be a part of history and be involved with one of Phelps’ 22 medals. It has meant different things to me as I’ve gotten older. At first, I felt responsible for winning a gold. In reality, that’s not really what it was. It was all four of us.

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OlympicTalk: You also finished fourth in the 200m free, known as the Race of the Century with Thorpe, Phelps, van den Hoogenband and Hackett.

Keller: I just remember a lot of splashes and bubbles. I don’t really remember seeing anything.

What was interesting is Phelps got third [in an American record 1:45.32]. When he went on to win in Beijing, he went [a world record] 1:42, which is just unheard of.

OlympicTalk: Overall, looking back on your career …

Keller: I regret being so focused on swimming. It’s really fulfilling, it can be inspiring to yourself and others at times, but at the end, from an individual perspective, it’s just a sport. There’s so much more to life afterwards, so many things that are way more important. Having my kids was incredible.

I should have put a lot more time into thinking about careers and what I was doing after swimming. I just got tunnel vision with swimming.

You get done, and you’re like, “Oh God, what do you do now?” If I could go back, I probably wouldn’t have done another Olympics [swimming on the 4x200m free relay team in prelims in 2008]. I would have retired right after Athens and probably went back to school.

It’s not right, but I still probably hold some bitterness toward myself mostly, but also a little bit toward my sport because I let myself get too deep into it. I’m still not quite over that, unfortunately, but I’m working on it. I do love the sport. I’m just a little disappointed overall.

source: Getty Images
Klete Keller (far right) and the U.S. handed Ian Thorpe (far left) and the Aussies their first loss in the 4x200m free relay in seven years at the 2004 Olympics. (Getty Images)

OlympicTalk: What was your relationship like with Thorpe?

Keller: It’s unfortunate because I never spoke more than probably two sentences to Thorpe. When I was younger I probably had too big of a chip on my shoulder. And a bad attitude. My motivation was anger pretty much. I wanted the spotlight, and Thorpe had it for those two Olympics [2000 and 2004].

I wasn’t angry [at Thorpe], but I wasn’t open to him as much as I could have been. On the other hand, Hackett I always thought was a cool guy. We’d talk in the ready room. I’d see him at parties after the Olympics.

It seemed like Thorpe was a little more isolated, I don’t know why. It’s not like there’s anything wrong with that. I have tremendous respect for Thorpe’s swimming. It was really an honor to swim next to him. It’s weird because I never really saw him swim, because I was always swimming in the lane next to him. I couldn’t appreciate it.

It seems like people who have success at that level of swimming, it seems like everybody’s had some battles they’ve had to overcome out of the pool. It’s kind of nice to know that I’m not the only one struggling with whatever it may be [Thorpe and Hackett have both been in rehab recently].

Being good at an Olympic sport is almost as much a curse as it is a blessing because I kind of got a skewed sense of reality. If I was as good at basketball or football as I was at swimming, I wouldn’t have had to worry about that stuff because I would have had lots of money.

You make just enough swimming to be comfortable, and then you have to get real after [your swimming career ends]. In that way you have to have your head on straight.

OlympicTalk: You mentioned 2008. Were you disappointed not to make the 4x200m free relay final team?

Keller: There was really only one spot open. I didn’t really expect to make it. I was happy for Ricky [Berens, who earned his spot with a split .04 faster than Keller in prelims]. I had my moment [in 2004]. I really didn’t mind.

Leading up, during the summer, I had the best training of my life, was in the best shape of my life. Then it all fell apart toward the end with an injury and a sinus infection at the wrong time. I really started to move mentally away from swimming by that point anyway, which I felt pretty guilty about.

I didn’t really care to be at the Olympics at that point, which sounds pretty bad, but I was over it. So I guess it was good [that Berens made the final over me], because I didn’t have the attitude to want to be there.

OlympicTalk: How much do you keep up with swimming today?

Keller: Every once in a while I’ll hear what times kids are swimming these days, what times the national teamers are swimming and what they’re doing in practice. I’m like, “Man, thank God that I’m not still swimming.” People weren’t this fast when I was swimming. I don’t know how people are getting this fast.

I thought our generation, when we were in it, that things couldn’t get much faster than this.

OlympicTalk: A video interview of Phelps at age 15 recently went viral. What do you remember about 15-year-old Michael Phelps?

Keller: He was really spirited on the team and really happy to be there [in Sydney in 2000]. He was leading cheers. He painted his face and his chest. He was an outgoing, happy kid without a lot of pressure it seemed.

My personal view was I thought I had seen a lot of swimmers that were really good when they were younger and fizzled out when they got older. That was my guess what was going to happen with Michael, but it was really amazing to see what he bloomed into. He had domination on every level for a long, long time. I did not expect it.

OlympicTalk: Where are your five Olympic medals now?

Keller: My parents have one of them. I’ve been doing a lot of moving around. I don’t know where three of them are. I think they’re in a box somewhere in the garage. I’m sure they’ll be recovered at some point.

To me the medals don’t really mean much. The ribbons get all tattered. It’s not like they’re solid gold or anything. What they do for me is serve as a tangible reminder of a really important time in my life.

I could not really care less about the medals themselves, which would explain why I don’t know where three of them are.

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Chicago Marathon features Emily Sisson’s return, Conner Mantz’s debut, live on Peacock

Emily Sisson
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At Sunday’s Chicago Marathon, Emily Sisson makes her return, nearly three years after Olympic Trials disappointment. Conner Mantz makes one of the most anticipated U.S. men’s debuts in 26.2-mile racing.

It is not the norm, but an American will be one of the spotlight runners in both the men’s and women’s elite races at a major marathon. Peacock airs live coverage at 8 a.m. ET.

Sisson, 30, starts her first mass marathon since dropping out of the Olympic Trials on Feb. 29, 2020, her legs “destroyed” on the hilly Atlanta course where she started as arguably the favorite. She ran the virtual New York City Marathon later in 2020, but that was solo (and not in New York City). Her 2:38:00 isn’t recorded in her official results on her World Athletics bio.

Since, Sisson won the Olympic Trials 10,000m on the track and was the top American in Tokyo in 10th place. She moved back to the roads, winning national titles at 15km and the half marathon and breaking the American record in the latter.

Sisson vaulted into the elite group of U.S. female marathoners in 2019, when she clocked the second-fastest debut marathon in American history, a 2:23:08 on a windy day in London, where the early pace was slow.

At the time, it was the 12th-best U.S. performance all-time. In the last two years, Keira D’Amato, 37, and Sara Hall, 39, combined to run seven faster marathons. At Chicago, a flat course that produced a world record three years ago, Sisson can answer them and perhaps get close to D’Amato’s American record 2:19:12.

“I’m hoping sub-2:20,” coach Ray Treacy said, according to LetsRun.com. “With the [super] shoes and the training behind her, I would think that’s [worth] at least three minutes.”

It is less likely that Sisson can challenge for the win on Sunday given the presence of Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich, the 2019 World champion and defending champion in the Windy City. The 28-year-old mom is the fifth-fastest woman in history with a personal best of 2:17:08. And Ethiopian Ruti Aga, a podium finisher in Berlin, New York City and Tokyo with a best time of 2:18:34, though she has one marathon finish since the pandemic (a seventh place).

Like Sisson, Mantz has shown strong recent road racing form. The American men’s debut marathon record of 2:07:56 (Leonard Korir) is in play. If he can break that, Mantz will be among the five fastest U.S. marathoners in history.

Rarely has a U.S. male distance runner as accomplished as Mantz moved up to the marathon at such a young age (25). At BYU, he won NCAA cross-country titles in 2020 and 2021 and placed fifth in the Olympic Trials 10,000m, then turned pro and won the U.S. Half Marathon Championships last December.

“If everything goes as planned, I think sub-2:08 is realistic,” Mantz said in a Citius Mag video interview last month. “If everything goes perfect on the day, I think a sub-2:07, that’s a big stretch goal.”

The men’s field doesn’t have the singular star power of Chepngetich, but a large group of East Africans with personal bests around 2:05. The most notable: defending champion Seifu Tura of Ethiopia and 2021 Boston Marathon winner Benson Kipruto of Kenya.

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Alpine skiing to test new format for combined race

Alpine Skiing Combined
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Alpine skiing officials will test a new format for the combined event, a race that is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

French newspaper L’Equipe reported that the International Ski Federation (FIS) will test a new team format for the combined, which has been an individual event on the Olympic program since 1988. L’Equipe reported that a nation can use a different skier for the downhill and slalom in the new setup, quoting FIS secretary general Michel Vion.

For example, the U.S. could use Breezy Johnson in the downhill run and sub her out for Mikaela Shiffrin in the slalom run, should the format be adopted into senior competition.

The format will be tested at the world junior championships in January in St. Anton, Austria, according to the report.

In response to the report, a FIS spokesperson said, “Regarding the new format of the combined is correct, and our directors are working on the rules so for the moment the only thing we can confirm is that there will be this new format for the Alpine combined that has been proposed by the athletes’ commission.”

Some version of the combined event has been provisionally included on the 2026 Olympic program, with a final IOC decision on its place coming by April.

This will be the third consecutive World Cup season with no combined events. Instead, FIS has included more parallel races in recent years. The individual combined remains on the biennial world championships program.

L’Equipe also reported that the mixed team parallel event, which is being dropped from the Olympics, will also be dropped from the biennial world championships after this season.

“There is nothing definitive about that yet, but it is a project in the making,” a FIS spokesperson said in commenting on the report.

Vion said the mixed team event, which debuted at the Olympics in 2018, was not a hit at the Beijing Games and did not draw a strong audience, according to L’Equipe.

The World Cup season starts in two weeks with the traditional opening giant slaloms in Soelden, Austria.

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