Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps back with ‘OK’ victory in Mesa

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Michael Phelps and his coach called his first final swim in nearly eight months “OK,” a victory in the 100m butterfly in Mesa, Ariz., on Thursday night.

Phelps, in his first meet since the Pan Pacific Championships in August, clocked 52.38 seconds to prevail by .73 of a second over longtime friendly rival Ryan Lochte (full results here | race video).

“I’m always hard on myself, but being the first race back I think it’s OK,” Phelps said on Universal Sports, wrapping himself in a white towel on the pool deck shortly after the race. “Probably some things to fix, but I think it’s a good starting point. … I’m looking forward on more to come.”

Longtime coach Bob Bowman agreed.

“OK,” Bowman told reporters. “There’s so many things he could do better, and obviously the time’s not particularly good. … That’s kind of his get-into-it swim.”

Last year, Phelps swam the 100m fly in 52.13 in Mesa in his first meet since the 2012 Olympics, losing that race to Lochte. Asked about Phelps being slower Thursday, Bowman pointed to his pupil putting in more work outside of competition.

“Last year I let him get a little peppy,” Bowman said. “This time, I trained the living crap out of him. … I told him, you’re actually tired from the training for the first time in probably a long time.”

Phelps could swim in two events each on Friday and Saturday as he trains with a possible fifth Olympics in mind in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

In other events Thursday, Katie Ledecky took the 200m freestyle over European silver medalist Katinka Hosszu and Olympic champion Allison Schmitt.

Ledecky’s time, 1:56.79, was .63 slower than her winning clocking at the Pro Swim Series in Austin, Texas, on Jan. 16. Only the Netherlands’ Femke Heemskerk and Australia’s Emma McKeon have been faster this year.

Ledecky, who took the 1500m free by 44.72 seconds Wednesday, is slated to swim the 400m free Friday and the 800m free Saturday. The high school senior is the world record holder in all of those events.

Conor Dwyer took the men’s 200m free by .99 over Lochte.

The Hungarian Hosszu, the FINA World Swimmer of the Year, captured the 400m individual medley. Ledecky was fifth, 2.59 seconds slower than in her morning preliminary heat in an event she rarely swims.

Michael Phelps could be offered World Championships spot by FINA

Brigid Kosgei, Eliud Kipchoge herald new era of fast marathons

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Eliud Kipchoge‘s success in breaking the two-hour mark (final time: 1:59:40) for the marathon on Saturday was expected. He had come close before, and like Alex Honnold‘s unprecedented climb of El Capitan documented in the film Free Solo, the feat required meticulous planning — the ideal mix of pace-setters, course conditions and weather — to steer a once-in-a-lifetime talent to a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment.

Brigid Kosgei‘s world record at the Chicago Marathon on Sunday was a far greater surprise. Kosgei had run fast times before, but her time of 2:14:04 took more than four minutes off her personal best earlier this year in London, which is typically a faster race than Chicago.

MORE: Chicago Marathon results

The two feats had some common threads. Both runners are Kenyan, no surprise in an event in which the top 100 men’s performances of all time are almost exclusively Kenyan and Ethiopian and the top of the women’s all-time list is similarly homogeneous aside from the presence of British runner Paula Radcliffe, whose time of 2:15:25 had stood as the world record for 16 1/2 years until Sunday. Radcliffe was present in Chicago to greet Kosgei when her record fell.

Kipchoge and Kosgei also wore the same shoes, Nike’s ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%, thanks to Kosgei’s last-minute decision to switch. Earlier versions of those shoes, like the high-tech swimsuits that were eventually banned from competition or golf equipment whose advertising revels in their alleged illegality,

Both marathoners also had pace-setters running with them. Kipchoge’s effort took the concept to an extreme, with an all-star cast running pieces of the course in front of him, and will not be considered an official world record because it didn’t happen under race conditions. (The Atlantic ran a piece on the Kipchoge run with the headline “The Greatest, Fakest World Record,” though the piece itself was more inquisitive than judgmental.)

MORE: Kipchoge shakes off nerves to break barrier

Kosgei was running in an actual race and has already had her time touted as a world record by the international organizer IAAF, but because she was running in a mixed-gender race, she was able to run behind two hired guns, Geoffrey Pyego and Daniel Limo. They were easily distinguished from men’s race contenders by the singlets with the word “PACE” written in the space where a number or name would usually go.

But in general, marathoners are simply getting faster and faster. Perhaps it’s scientific, with specifically engineered shoes, pace-setters and refined training methods, or perhaps all the tinkering and lab experiments are simply a sign of increased focus on the race that traces its history to the myth of the Greek soldier Pheidippides running such a great distance to herald a momentous military victory before falling over dead.

Of the top 20 women’s times on the IAAF list, only five were run before 2012 — one by Catherine Ndereba, four by Radcliffe. Three were run in 2017, then six in 2018 (three in Berlin) and four this year. All 20 of the fastest men’s times have been posted this decade, eight of them in 2019 alone. Kipchoge, in addition to his unofficial best from this weekend, has the official record of 2:01:39 from the 2018 Berlin Marathon.

The all-time list also reminds us that, for all the controversy over the context of Kipchoge’s run, marathons aren’t really standard, anyway. Some courses are more difficult than others. Some races, like the Boston Marathon, aren’t eligible for record consideration for a variety of technical reasons. (Boston’s hilly course doesn’t lend itself to fast times, anyway — the men’s course record of 2:03:02, set by Geoffrey Mutai in 2011, would rank seventh all-time, but no other time would crack the top 100. The women’s course record is nowhere near the best ever.) London, Berlin and Dubai are the places to go for assaults on the record book.

No matter where the race takes place or how it was run, fast times in the marathon capture the imagination.

Purists may cling to romantic notions of long-haired, bearded runners pounding the Boston or New York pavement in shoes that didn’t even have a basic level of air cushioning. But the modern marathon era is built for speed.

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Danielle Perkins is first U.S. boxer to win world title in 3 years

Danielle Perkins
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Danielle Perkins became the U.S.’ first world champion boxer in this Olympic cycle, taking the heavyweight crown in Russia on Sunday.

Perkins, a 37-year-old who played college basketball at George Mason and St. John’s, improved from bronze in 2018 to earn her first world title, blanking defending world champion Yang Xiaoli of China 5-0 in Sunday’s final.

Video of the bout is here.

Perkins was slated to fight Yang in the 2018 World semifinals but withdrew due to medical reasons, according to USA Boxing.

The heavyweight division is 81+kg, but the heaviest Olympic weight division is capped at 75kg.

The last American to earn a world title was Claressa Shields in 2016, before she repeated as Olympic champion in Rio and moved to the professional ranks.

The Olympic trials are in December in Louisiana, after which winners will fight internationally in early 2020 in bids to qualify for the Tokyo Games.

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