Olympic Swimming Trials reveal where U.S. stands versus world

Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky
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No one stat can sum up the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials and American hopes for the Rio Games, but here’s an interesting note:

One world record was set during the Olympic Trials from June 26-July 3, but it was not broken in the CenturyLink Center pool in Omaha. Australian Cate Campbell lowered the 100m freestyle standard in Brisbane.

No world records fell at the U.S. Trials for a second straight time, not shocking given half of the world records in the 26 individual Olympic events are from the super-suit era of 2008 and 2009.

At the 2015 World Championships, the U.S. earned its fewest medals in Olympic swimming events at an Olympics or worlds in 50 years. It still stood atop the gold- and overall-medal standings, but as Trials proved again last week, the rest of the world is as competitive as ever.

Five thoughts off the Swimming Trials with an eye toward Rio:

1. Scarcity of Gold

If the Olympic swimming results copy the current world rankings, the U.S. would earn six individual golds and 23 individual medals in the Rio pool. The 23 medals is right on average during the Michael Phelps era, but six golds would cut the London 2012 total in half.

The six U.S. swimmers who are fastest in the world this year:

Katie Ledecky (200m freestyle)
Katie Ledecky (400m freestyle)
Katie Ledecky (800m freestyle)
David Plummer (100m backstroke)
Josh Prenot (200m breaststroke)
Lilly King (100m breaststroke)

Notice that Michael Phelps is not on this list. For as impressive as Phelps was at Trials, he ranks second, second and sixth in the world this year in his three events. He led the world rankings in those events last year.

2. Mixed Results for Big Four

Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky pretty much took care of business in Omaha. Phelps won all three of his events (100m and 200m butterflies and 200m individual medley). Though he skipped the 100m and 200m freestyles, he is expected to be chosen for the 4x100m and 4x200m free relays in Rio given his form last week and his experience on those teams.

However, Phelps’ best times in his three events this year are significantly slower than his best times from 2015 — .55 slower in the 100m butterfly, 1.16 slower in the 200m individual medley and 1.91 slower in the 200m butterfly. In 2008 and 2012, Phelps was faster at the Olympics than at Trials, but never by a half-second in the 100m fly or a full second in the 200m fly or 200m IM.

Ledecky swept the 200m, 400m and 800m frees in typical dominating fashion. The question going into Trials was how Ledecky would fare in the 100m freestyle, not a wheelhouse event. Ledecky was seventh in 53.99 seconds, which was .24 slower than her personal-best time from Jan. 15. If Ledecky repeated that personal best in Omaha, she would have tied for third and guaranteed herself a place on the 4x100m free relay. Now, we wait and see what the coaches decide.

Of the Big Four, Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin entered Trials with the most to prove. Lochte, injured throughout his decorated career, overcame a groin pull in his first swim of the meet to make the team in the 200m individual medley and the 4x200m free relay. His schedule in Rio (potentially five swims) will be far lighter than in London (13 swims), and at 31 years old, these are looking like his final Games.

Franklin, a four-time 2012 Olympic champion and six-time 2013 World champion, was not injured in Omaha, but she had not been the same swimmer since suffering back spasms at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships. After missing the team in her first event, the 100m backstroke, a concerned Franklin stated a bare-minimum goal — “I just need to make the team.”

Swimming under that kind of pressure for the first time in her career, Franklin summoned second-place finishes in the 200m backstroke and 200m freestyle. She must improve greatly to earn individual medals in Rio, as she is ranked Nos. 9 and 11 in those events in the world this year.

3. The Rise of DiRado

Three swimmers made the Olympic team in three individual events — Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky, as expected, but also Maya DiRado. Looking at times from the last year, DiRado’s sweep of the 200m and 400m individual medleys and the 200m backstroke was no surprise.

But to those who follow the sport more on the once-every-four-years basis, DiRado is a new name. She finished fourth in the 200m and 400m IMs at the 2012 Olympic Trials at age 19, then made the team for the 2013 Worlds, 2014 Pan Pacific Championships and 2015 Worlds, earning medals at each meet.

In Rio, DiRado will be an underdog in all three of her individual events but a solid medal contender. Her world rankings for 2016:

200m back — fourth
200m IM — third
400m IM — fifth

4. Most Rookies Since 2000

Not since Michael Phelps‘ first Games has the U.S. Olympic swimming team included this many rookies.

There are 30 in the pool and in all but four individual events (men’s 50m freestyle, 400m freestyle and 200m individual medley and women’s 200m freestyle).

How the young members handle their first Games is unknown. In some instances, Olympic rookies have risen to the occasion (Misty HymanRebecca Soni, Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky are recent notables). The Rio Games being in a more familiar time zone than the past four Olympics should help.

5. Farewell, Gold Medalists

The Trials likely marked the end of Olympic careers for Natalie CoughlinMatt Grevers and Cullen Jones and definitely for the retiring Tyler Clary, all Olympic gold medalists.

Coughlin, the headline U.S. female swimmer in 2004 and 2008, made a valiant bid at age 33 to make her fourth Olympic team but finished seventh and 14th in two events. If she had made the Rio team, Coughlin could have broken her tie with Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres for the most Olympic medals earned by a U.S. woman (12).

Grevers had a better shot at the Olympic team than Coughlin, but he lost out in a three-man race for two 100m backstroke spots. Grevers took 2012 Olympic and 2013 World titles and the 2015 World bronze medal in the event, but David Plummer and Ryan Murphy swam the fastest times in the world this year at Trials. Grevers is ranked No. 4 in the world, but No. 3 in the U.S. Cruelly, no Olympics.

Jones and Clary, training partners in Charlotte, finished third in their primary events — 50m freestyle and 200m backstroke.

MORE: Connor Jaeger, Abbey Weitzeil end Olympic Swim Trials with wins

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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