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Sun Yang afraid of losing to me, Gregorio Paltrinieri says

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ROME (AP) — Gregorio Paltrinieri won’t be surprised again by Sun Yang.

The Italian swimmer recovered from his initial shock over his Chinese rival’s last-minute no-show to win the longest race in the pool at this year’s World Championships.

For next year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Paltrinieri is already considering the possibility that Sun won’t enter the 1500m freestyle at all.

“It would be great if for once I could really race him stroke for stroke. I’m not afraid of a showdown with him. In fact I would relish that,” Paltrinieri said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

“But I’ve also got to realize that he might not enter,” Paltrinieri added. “I’ve got to keep the option open in my mind that if he doesn’t race I’m going to be the favorite in an Olympic final and all eyes are going to be on me just like everyone was watching Sun Yang before.”

At the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, in August, Sun created chaos in the ready room when he failed to show up for the final of an event that he had dominated for five years.

Sun attributed the no-show to a heart problem but he also got into an altercation with a Brazilian swimmer in the warmup pool on the day of the final.

There were already questions over Sun’s form since he served a three-month doping suspension last year for a banned stimulant. And he didn’t dominate as usual in the 800 free, coming from behind over the last two laps to narrowly edge Paltrinieri for gold.

Three months later, Paltrinieri suspects Sun was afraid of losing.

“It could have been that he was ill. I’m not doubting that. But he was definitely tense and nervous. I had finished this close to him in the 800,” Paltrinieri said, holding his hands less than a meter (yard) apart. “And in the 1500 heats I had beat him by a lot. So I think he just wasn’t so sure anymore that he could win the 1500. And that must have been a factor.”

Since neither Sun nor the Chinese team told organizers that he wasn’t racing, his lane remained empty for the final and reserve Pal Joensen of the Faeroe Islands was denied a chance to compete.

“I still don’t understand what happened and I don’t think we ever will,” said Stefano Morini, Paltrinieri’s coach. “The Chinese are a fairly enigmatic people and they don’t really express themselves too much. And that can be a good thing. We Italians talk too much.”

The talk about the 21-year-old Paltrinieri is that he’s one of Italy’s biggest medal hopefuls for Rio.

Since the 800m is not an Olympic event for men, the 1500m will be Paltrinieri’s only race in Rio. It will be his second Olympics, having finished fifth in the 1500m as a 17-year-old at the 2012 London Games.

Paltrinieri’s grueling workout regimen consists of 14 to 18 kilometers (9 to 11 miles) of swimming per day. His training group includes another medal hopeful, Gabriele Detti, who missed worlds due to a urinary infection.

It’s easy to spot Paltrinieri, though, because he’s the one with the frenetic stroke style.

In an Olympic-sized 50-meter pool, Paltrinieri often requires more than 40 strokes per lap. To an untrained eye, that might appear like a big waste of energy compared to Sun’s more fluid and long strokes which usually total less than 30 per lap.

But the much smaller Paltrinieri is able to produce speed by rapidly rotating the trunk of his body, much like how American standout Katie Ledecky has come to dominate the women’s events in freestyle.

“It’s like a surfer who’s always on top of the wave,” Paltrinieri said.

Another comparison could be made to the way Tour de France winner Chris Froome pedals much more rapidly up mountains than traditional climbers.

“Everyone has their own style. Mine is an extreme one and so is Froome’s. But they’re effective,” Paltrinieri said. “The more you swim above the water the faster you go. It’s like when you’re on a motor boat bouncing up and down. Sun Yang swims underwater more than anybody else, like [Ian] Thorpe. He has enormous strength. It’s great to watch but it’s not the most effective way to swim.”

Still, Morini is working on lengthening Paltrinieri’s strokes, and they have plenty of time to discuss their plans since both coach and athlete sleep at the Italian federation’s training facility in Ostia, the Roman seaside, from Monday to Friday.

On the weekends, Paltrinieri usually goes home to Carpi, a town near Modena that was also the hometown of Dorando Pietri, the runner who was denied victory in the marathon at the 1908 London Games because officials helped him up when he collapsed just before the finish.

A century later, a statue of Pietri was erected in Carpi.

Depending on how things go for Paltrinieri in Rio, another statue might be in order – whether or not Sun races.

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Emily Sisson a U.S. Olympic marathon trials favorite, thanks to Ireland

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Emily Sisson didn’t think she would become a professional runner until her last year of college. Now, at 28, she goes into the U.S. Olympic marathon trials as a contender for one of three Tokyo spots, if not the overall favorite.

“I’ve only done one marathon, so I definitely don’t feel like I’m an experienced marathoner,” Sisson said by phone last week from her Arizona base. “That’s the one question mark I’ve had all build-up.”

Predicting a marathon can be a crapshoot, but a Podiumrunner.com experts panel pegged Sisson to win. She is younger than any female U.S. Olympic marathoner since Anne Marie Lauck in 1996 (though fellow contender Jordan Hasay is a month younger).

Confidence stems from last April 28. Sisson clocked the second-fastest debut marathon in U.S. women’s history, a 2:23:08 on a windy day in London, where the early pace was slow. She finished sixth — behind five East Africans. She crossed 3:25 ahead of sometimes training partner and mentor Molly Huddle, also a headliner at trials in Atlanta on Feb. 29 (12 p.m. ET, NBC).

“We wanted to run faster,” Sisson said that day in London. “There’s a lot of room for improvement.”

Sisson later mentioned a pre-race scare on the “Keeping Track” podcast. She tripped over a carpet jogging back from a bathroom, banged both knees 15 minutes before the start and got checked out physically by a chiropractor and mentally by her husband, who has a master’s degree in mental health counseling.

Sisson then covered the final half of that marathon alone, a foreign feeling for the longtime track runner. At one point, she thought about having never before run more than 23 miles.

Her mind could have also wandered to sports memories that led her to the world’s strongest marathon: Attending a 1999 Women’s World Cup match and seeing her hero, Mia Hamm. As a soccer-playing teenager, being asked by a friend to join a track relay team. Or being told during a record-breaking high school career that she was reminiscent of 2004 Olympic marathoner Jen Rhines.

Sisson, whose dad ran and mom did gymnastics at the University of Wisconsin, transferred after one year in Madison to Providence. She had a best NCAA Championships finish of fourth going into her last year. Before that final season, Sisson was prepared to leave competitive running once her NCAA eligibility exhausted in pursuit of an MBA.

“I had been going through a bit of a funk with running,” she said. “I was getting a little tired.”

Things changed the summer before her senior year. She vacationed with then-boyfriend/now-husband Shane Quinn, a fellow Providence runner, in Quinn’s native Ireland. At one point, they altered training, ditching tempo runs for local road races. Sisson never before competed on the roads. She doesn’t remember the distances being exact. She does remember winning.

“That was a new, fun thing that kept the sport kind of fresh for me,” she said. “You finish, and you go into a local pub and have sandwiches.”

Providence coach Ray Treacy put Sisson in more road races that fall. The opportunity was right. She had no cross-country eligibility left while she readied for the winter and spring track seasons. She went on to win the 2015 NCAA Indoor and Outdoor 5000m, a springboard to the pros (while still going after the MBA).

Sisson was set back by injury in 2016 and placed 10th in the Olympic trials 10,000m. She kept training under Treacy, and perhaps just as important, with Huddle, the American record holder at 10,000m. Huddle, seven years older than Sisson, made her marathon debut after the Rio Olympics.

“Emily really looks up to her and is inspired by her,” Treacy said. “Molly has helped her out in numerous ways in training. … Making sure she’s not going overboard with the training, not running too fast. She kind of keeps her under control.”

Sisson made the last two world championships teams in the 10,000m, but Treacy thought marathon since 2015. They signed her up for the 2019 London Marathon, in part because Huddle was going to race it as her third career 26.2-miler. And in part to get Sisson ready for the Olympic trials in 10 months’ time.

The build-up was better than ideal. Sisson ran the second-fastest half marathon in U.S. history (on a record-eligible course) in January. She became the third-fastest U.S. woman all-time at 10,000m in March.

Come April, Treacy was impressed again just by watching Sisson after she crossed the London finish line in what would be the second-fastest marathon for a U.S. woman in 2019.

“It didn’t look like it took anything out of her,” Treacy said. “She recovered really fast. Within minutes, she was feeling pretty good. That was a good sign.”

Sisson returned home to Quinn and their golden retriever, Desmond, who has 1,400 Instagram followers. She skipped a fall marathon to compete in the 10,000m at track worlds in Doha, placing a respectable 10th.

The recent marathon build-up for trials went just as well, if not better, than the training for London.

“I’m definitely putting a bit of pressure on myself with this one,” Sisson said. “But at the same time, I don’t get caught up in so much what other people say. I don’t really read the articles about who’s the favorite or what chance you have of making the team.”

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Brigid Kosgei beaten as another world record smashed in Nike shoes

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Ethiopian Ababel Yeshaneh broke the half marathon world record by 20 seconds, beating new marathon world-record holder Brigid Kosgei in the United Arab Emirates on Friday.

Nike-sponsored runners lowered the men’s and women’s marathon and half marathon records since September 2018, each appearing to race in versions of the apparel giant’s scrutinized Vaporfly shoes.

Yeshaneh, a 28-year-old who finished 14th in the 2016 Olympic 5000m, clocked 1:04:31 for 13.1 miles to better Kenyan Joyciline Jepkosgei‘s world record from 2017.

Kosgei, a 26-year-old Kenyan, also came in under the old world record but 18 seconds behind Yeshaneh.

Kosgei took 81 seconds off Paula Radcliffe‘s 16-year-old women’s marathon world record on Oct. 13, clocking 2:14:04 to win the Chicago Marathon.

Nike Vaporfly shoes, including the prototypes worn by Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge when he ran a sub-two-hour marathon, were deemed legal by World Athletics’ new shoe regulations last month, according to Nike.

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