U.S. Olympic marathon trials picture after New York City Marathon

Meb Keflezighi
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With the last major marathon of 2015 completed Sunday, it’s time to look ahead to the next big 26.2-mile race — the Olympic trials on Feb. 13 in Los Angeles.

The top three men’s and women’s finishers will be the first members of the 2016 U.S. Olympic track and field team. Here’s a look at the fastest American marathoners going into the race:

Men’s sub-2:12 marathons since 1/1/14
Meb Keflezighi: 2:08:37 (Boston 2014)
Luke Puskedra: 2:10:24 (Chicago 2015)
Jeffrey Eggleston: 2:10:52 (Gold Coast 2014)
Ryan Vail: 2:10:57 (London 2014)
Dathan Ritzenhein: 2:11:20 (Boston 2015)
Bobby Curtis: 2:11:20 (Chicago 2014)
Elkanah Kibet: 2:11:31 (Chicago 2015)
Fernando Cabada: 2:11:36 (Berlin 2014)
Nick Arciniaga: 2:11:47 (Boston 2014)

In 2012, the prohibitive trials favorites were Ryan Hall and Keflezighi, who both went sub-2:10 in both 2010 and 2011 and were the only Americans to do so those years. Keflezighi and Hall went one-two at the trials. The third-place trials finisher was the only other man in the field who had previously run sub-2:10 — three-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman, whose sub-2:10 came in 2006 and who had done very little in 2010 and 2011.

This time, Keflezighi and Ritzenhein are the favorites.

Keflezighi, who at 40 is attempting to become the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history according to sports-reference, clocked a personal best to win Boston 2014. He was also the top American at the 2014 and 2015 New York City Marathons. In his only other marathon the last two years, he was the second-fastest American at Boston 2015 behind Ritzenhein.

Ritzenhein, a three-time Olympian, finished fourth at the 2012 trials, eight seconds behind Abdirahman, and ended up making the London team later in the 10,000m. Ritzenhein is seen as a favorite over Puskedra, Eggleston and Vail because of a bank of sub-2:12 marathons dating to 2007. He also owns the fastest U.S. marathon since the 2012 Olympics, a 2:07:47 at Chicago 2012. Unlike Keflezighi, Ritzenhein did not race a fall marathon and will, presumably, be better rested going into the trials.

The third spot appears up for grabs, though Puskedra made a strong impression with his 2:10:24 in Chicago on Oct. 11. Puskedra is a former University of Oregon runner who trained under scrutinized distance guru Alberto Salazar when he ran a 2:28:54 in his marathon debut in New York last year, a time so demoralizing that he reportedly briefly retired.

Hall, 33, still owns the fastest marathon in U.S. history, a 2:04:58 at Boston 2011. Since the 2012 trials, Hall dropped out of the Olympic marathon with a hamstring injury. He withdrew before the start of New York in 2012 (eventually canceled) and 2013 and Boston 2014, also citing injuries. He finally started and finished a marathon at Boston 2014, but in an uninspiring 2:17:50, and then dropped out during this year’s Los Angeles Marathon on March 15.

Hall will be written off by many predictors, but there are similarities between the Ryan Hall of 2016 and the Abdi Abdirahman of 2012.

One more name to watch is Diego Estrada, the U.S. half marathon champion who plans to make his 26.2-mile debut at the Olympic trials, according to SportsIllustrated.com.

Women’s sub-2:28:30 marathons since 1/1/14
Shalane Flanagan: 2:21:14 (Berlin 2014)
Desi Linden: 2:23:54 (Boston 2014)
Desi Linden: 2:25:39 (Boston 2015)
Amy Cragg: 2:27:03 (Chicago 2014)
Deena Kastor: 2:27:47 (Chicago 2015)
Shalane Flanagan: 2:27:47 (Boston 2015)
Desi Linden: 2:28:11 (New York 2014)
Laura Thweatt: 2:28:23 (New York 2015) — no plans to race trials
Annie Bersagel: 2:28:29 (Dusseldorf 2015)

The women’s 2012 trials provided no surprises. Flanagan and Linden were the pre-race one-two favorites, and that’s where they finished. Kara Goucher placed third to make her second Olympic team.

Another Flanagan-Linden finish appears in the cards for Feb. 13, given how well they ran in their last marathon in Boston this year. If Cragg, 31, hadn’t dropped out of Boston around mile 22, she’d be closer to Flanagan and Linden, but she still looks like the most likely No. 3 at this point after taking fourth at the 2012 trials.

None of Flanagan, Linden or Cragg ran a fall marathon, which left Deena Kastor, the 2004 Olympic bronze medalist now aged 42, as the fastest U.S. woman since Boston. Kastor’s time in Chicago put her back in the mix, but she may be hard-pressed to duplicate it given she went into the Windy City having not broken 2:30:40 in six years.

Goucher, now 37, could be the wild card. She last raced 26.2 miles in New York in 2014, clocking a wall-smacking 2:37:03, her slowest career marathon.

But in her previous two marathons before 2013 and 2014 injuries — London 2012 Olympics and Boston 2013 — she finished in 2:26:07 (16 seconds behind Flanagan) and 2:28:11 (63 seconds behind Flanagan).

MORE TRACK AND FIELD: Meb Keflezighi hopes to be an example for Ryan Hall

Germany opens bobsled worlds with double gold; Kaillie Humphries gets silver

Laura Nolte Bobsled
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Germans Laura Nolte and Johannes Lochner dethroned the reigning Olympic and world champions to open the world bobsled championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, this weekend.

Nolte, the Olympic two-woman champion driver, won the four-run monobob by four tenths of a second over American Kaillie Humphries, who won the first world title in the event in 2021 and the first Olympic title in the event in 2022. Another German, Lisa Buckwitz, took bronze.

In the two-man, Lochner became the first driver to beat countryman Francesco Friedrich in an Olympic or world championships event since 2016, ending Friedrich’s record 12-event streak at global championships between two-man and four-man.

Friedrich, defeated by 49 hundredths, saw his streak of seven consecutive world two-man titles also snapped.

Lochner, 32, won his first outright global title after seven Olympic or world silvers, plus a shared four-man gold with Friedrich in 2017.

Swiss Michael Vogt drove to bronze, one hundredth behind Friedrich. Geoff Gadbois and Martin Christofferson filled the top American sled in 18th.

Americans Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton were the last non-Germans to win a world two-man title in 2012.

Bobsled worlds finish next weekend with the two-woman and four-man events.

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Novak Djokovic wins 10th Australian Open, ties Rafael Nadal for most men’s Slam titles

Novak Djokovic Australian Open
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic climbed into the Rod Laver Arena stands to celebrate his 10th Australian Open championship and record-tying 22nd Grand Slam title Sunday and, after jumping and pumping his fists with his team, he collapsed onto his back, crying.

When he returned to the playing surface, Djokovic sat on his sideline bench, buried his face in a white towel and sobbed some more.

This trip to Australia was far more successful than that of a year ago, when he was deported from the country because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19. And Djokovic accomplished all he could have possibly wanted in his return: He resumed his winning ways at Melbourne Park and made it back to the top of tennis, declaring: “This probably is the, I would say, biggest victory of my life.”

Only briefly challenged in the final, Djokovic was simply better at the most crucial moments and beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5). As a bonus, Djokovic will vault from No. 5 to No. 1 in the ATP rankings, a spot he already has held for more weeks than any other man.

“I want to say this has been one of the most challenging tournaments I’ve ever played in my life, considering the circumstances. Not playing last year; coming back this year,” Djokovic said, wearing a zip-up white jacket with a “22” on his chest. “And I want to thank all the people that made me feel welcome, made me feel comfortable, to be in Melbourne, to be in Australia.”

The 35-year-old from Serbia stretched his unbeaten streak in Melbourne to 28 matches, the longest run there in the Open era, which dates to 1968. He adds trophy No. 10 to the seven from Wimbledon, three from the U.S. Open — where he also was absent last year because of no coronavirus shots — and two from the French Open, to match rival Rafael Nadal for the most by a man.

Only two women — Margaret Court, with 24, and Serena Williams, with 23 — are ahead of him.

This was also the 93rd ATP tour-level title for Djokovic, breaking a tie with Nadal for the fourth-most.

“I would like to thank you for pushing our sport so far,” Tsitsipas told Djokovic.

Djokovic was participating in his 33rd major final, Tsitsipas in his second — and the 24-year-old from Greece also lost the other, at the 2021 French Open, to Djokovic.

On a cool evening under a cloud-filled sky, and with a soundtrack of chants from supporters of both men prompting repeated pleas for quiet from the chair umpire, Djokovic was superior throughout, especially so in the two tiebreakers.

He took a 4-1 lead in the first, then reeled off the last three points. He led 5-0 in the closing tiebreaker and, when it finished, he pointed to his temple before screaming, a prelude to all of the tears.

“Very emotional for us. Very emotional for him,” said Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic. “It’s a great achievement. It was a really tough three weeks for him. He managed to overcome everything.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Tsitsipas was willing to engage in the kind of leg-wearying, lung-searing back-and-forths upon which Djokovic has built his superlative career. How did that work out? Of points lasting at least five strokes, Djokovic won 43, Tsitsipas 30.

Then again, on those rare occasions that Tsitsipas did charge the net, Djokovic often conjured up a passing shot that was too tough to handle.

It’s not as though Tsitsipas played all that poorly, other than a rash of early miscues that seemed to be more a product of tension than anything.

It’s that Djokovic was too unyielding. Too accurate with his strokes, making merely 22 unforced errors, 20 fewer than his foe. Too speedy and flexible chasing shots (other than on one second-set point, when, running to his left, Djokovic took a tumble).

“I did everything possible,” said Tsitsipas, who also would have moved to No. 1 with a victory, replacing Carlos Alcaraz, who sat out the Australian Open with a leg injury.

Perhaps. Yet Djokovic pushes and pushes and pushes some more, until it’s the opponent who is something less than perfect on one swing, either missing or providing an opening to pounce.

That’s what happened when Tsitsipas held his first break point — which was also a set point — while ahead 5-4 in the second and Djokovic serving at 30-40. Might this be a fulcrum? Might Djokovic relent? Might Tsitsipas surge?

Uh, no.

A 15-stroke point concluded with Djokovic smacking a cross-court forehand winner that felt like a statement. Two misses by Tsitsipas followed: A backhand long, a forehand wide. Those felt like capitulation. Even when Tsitsipas actually did break in the third, Djokovic broke right back.

There has been more than forehands and backhands on Djokovic’s mind over the past two weeks.

There was the not-so-small matter of last year’s legal saga — he has alternately acknowledged the whole thing served as a form of motivation but also said the other day, “I’m over it” — and curiosity about the sort of reception he would get when allowed to enter Australia because pandemic restrictions were eased.

He heard a ton of loud support, but also dealt with some persistent heckling while competing, including applause after faults Sunday.

There was the sore left hamstring that has been heavily bandaged for every match — until the final, that is, when only a single piece of beige athletic tape was visible.

And then there was the complicated matter of his father, Srdjan, being filmed with a group of people with Russian flags — one with an image of Vladimir Putin — after Djokovic’s quarterfinal. The tournament banned spectators from carrying flags of Russia or Belarus, saying they would cause disruption because of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Djokovic and his father said it was a misunderstanding; Srdjan thought he was with Serbian fans.

Still, Srdjan Djokovic did not attend his son’s semifinal or the final.

No matter any of it, Djokovic excelled as he so often has.

“He is the greatest,” Tsitsipas said, “that has ever held a tennis racket.”

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