Gary Player to return to Olympics, 60 years after meeting Jesse Owens at Melbourne Games

Gary Player
Gary Player Invitational
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BEDFORD HILLS, N.Y. — Gary Player plans to be in Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics next year as the South Africa golf team captain, and although his sport returns to the Games after a 112-year absence, it won’t be a foreign experience.

Player, who turns 80 on Nov. 1, attended the Melbourne 1956 Olympics when he was 21 years old.

There, he met Jesse Owens, the four-time Berlin 1936 Olympic champion who was at the 1956 Games as a representative of U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, according to Owens biographies.

“I was aware that Hitler would not shake his hand, which is hard to believe,” Player recalled Monday while hosting the Gary Player Invitational at GlenArbor Club, an hour outside of New York City. “But with a man like Hitler, anything was beyond one’s comprehension. I remember that, and I remember [Owens] winning, and I saw videos of him winning, and I spoke to him about these things. I was very proud to meet him and to see what he did as a start for change for the black man around the world.”

What did Owens say to Player?

“He said he tried to behave well and to show Hitler the opposite of the thoughts that he had of him, that he just tried to show him that he was well-behaved, he was a good competitor and that he had appreciation for people, which, obviously, Hitler did not have,” Player said.

In 1956, Player was embarking on one of the most impressive golf careers. He won his first professional tournament one year earlier. He played in his first Masters four months after attending the Melbourne Olympics.

“I’ve always held the Olympics in high esteem,” Player said. “It brings people of the world together. My great president, Nelson Mandela, said sport can help change the world, and that’s absolutely true. You’re getting nations that are having wars against each other suddenly competing against each other and realizing, why are we fighting each other? We should all be enjoying each other’s different systems of government and beliefs. So the Olympics are significant in my life.”

MORE: Nelson Mandela’s ties to the Olympics

Player’s role as South Africa Olympic golf team captain won’t be as burdensome as, say, when he was Presidents Cup captain. The South African golf team in Rio will likely consist of no more than four golfers — two men and two women.

“I suppose watching them practice and helping them tune-up a little bit with tiny little things,” Player said. “I’m not a believer in what takes place today, making significant changes in golf swings. We’ve seen how that’s hurt Tiger Woods.”

Woods dropped to No. 321 in the Official World Golf Ranking this week and is extremely unlikely to qualify for the Olympics. He would likely need to be ranked in the world top 15 on the ranking cutoff date July 11 for a shot at Rio.

Woods’ niece, Cheyenne Woods, is No. 311 in the women’s rankings this week, marking the first time she’s ranked higher than her uncle in equivalent.

“If Tiger Woods had never had a lesson after he won the U.S. Open by 15 shots [in 2000], Tiger Woods would have broken every conceivable record that ever lived,” Player said. “We need Tiger Woods to come back. Will he come back? It’s debatable. He got so mixed up with all the different coaches, and so that’s the last thing I would ever do is try and make any changes in my team. We just have discussions of being positive and having patience and enjoying the moment and being honored and grateful to be at the Olympic Games. It’s the mental, psychological help, mainly.”

Player, at 80, could become one of the oldest people to march in an Opening Ceremony, should he be allowed.

“I don’t know, what your role, if you’re entitled to do that,” Player said. “I would imagine you are. So, it’s something to look forward to.”

The rules for who may participate in the Parade of Nations have not been finalized yet, but they will likely follow the models from previous Olympics, according to the International Olympic Committee.

In London, one coach per discipline was allowed to march. In previous Olympics, six officials were allowed to march per delegation.

In either of those cases, South Africa’s Olympic Committee would decide if Player will be given the opportunity to march in the Opening Ceremony on Aug. 5.

PHOTOS: Check out the first Olympic golf course in 112 years

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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