Dafne Schippers reminds Dutch of Olympic legend

Dafne Schippers
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HENGELO, Netherlands (AP) — It was fitting that Dafne Schippers streaked away from her rivals to set the fastest 200m time in the world this year at the wet, windy and chilly FBK Stadion.

The stadium was named in honor of the great Fanny Blankers-Koen, who won four Olympic sprint titles at the 1948 London Games.

One close observer who can compare the Dutch sprinters is Jan Blankers, the 74-year-old son of the national legend, who told The Associated Press of Schippers: “Her style, her build. She reminds me of my mother.”

The similarities are giving sports fans in the Netherlands hope for gold on the track in Rio de Janeiro.

And Schippers continues to reinforce that hope, barely two months ahead of the Olympics in Rio, where she is a favorite in the 200m, a strong challenger for gold in the 100m and has an outside shot at a medal in the relay. With such a performance, she would break the recent stranglehold of U.S. and Jamaican athletes on Olympic sprinting.

Three Olympic medals would be a major achievement for Schippers, but may not have quite the same aura of four golds — after all, FBK is a tough act to follow after winning the 100m, 200m, 80m hurdles and relay in ’48.

The IAAF, the world governing body for track and field, elected Blankers-Koen as the top female athlete of the 20th century. Little wonder Schippers doesn’t want to race history too much.

“To be honest I haven’t looked back too much at the old reels,” Schippers said, avoiding being drawn into comparisons of powerful strides and strong physiques. Still, the 23-year-old Schippers was touched by the Blankers’ comparison. “Different times, but it is great to hear.”

After last Sunday’s top time of 22.02 seconds in the 200m, she left the provincial crowd behind and flew off to the United States, where she will face some of her toughest U.S. and Jamaican opponents at the Prefontaine Classic on Saturday.

MORE: Five events to watch at Pre; broadcast schedule

It will be another step in the unlikely transformation of an elite heptathlon competitor into the one of the world’s foremost sprinters — which Schippers now is since she won the 200m and took silver at the 100m at the World Championships in Beijing in August.

After capping an early career in the heptathlon with a bronze medal at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, she steadily found out that her extraordinary speed was better served focusing on the sprints rather than spread over seven disciplines. After a season of wavering, she finally decided to concentrate on the sprints.

The switch of events required a shift in her mental approach to competition, too. She had to leave behind the camaraderie of the heptathlon, which often concludes in a sweaty scrum of bodies at the end of their two-day competition, and learn to deal with the sometimes ice-old air and egos in sprinting.

Moving to the higher-profile 100m and 200m also meant changes off the track.

“I can no longer walk everywhere I want to walk,” she said, as she was mobbed by teenage fans who might hardly have recognized her as a heptathlete. “It is a totally different year, really. Everything is different.”

Demands from the media have increased, and her openness of years past has given way to pragmatism.

If doping controls already seemed intense to her last year, it has now gone to another level. She said two testers showed up within five minutes a few weeks ago — one international controller, another national. “That’s part of it,” Schippers said.

That’s why she loves coming to the FBK Stadion, where signing around the track during her 200m flashed up the message “Go Dafne,” and which is as close to a family meet as she’ll find anywhere. One hour before her race, she was still chatting and smiling with friends in the public stands, taking in the waft of quiche and beer. “My only thought was, ‘keep it away from me,'” she said, explaining she can have a tender stomach ahead of a race.

After the race is a different matter, though, as her food blog attests.

“I do crave chocolate,” she sighed. “It is horrible when I cannot touch it. So every now and then, I still grab a piece.”

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Kenenisa Bekele still eyes Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record, but a duel must wait

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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

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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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