U.S. golfers will be in medal contention despite withdrawals

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Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson are out, but the U.S. will still have a good shot at collecting a few medals when golf makes its return to the Olympics next month.

Spieth, the world’s third-ranked golfer, was set to be the highest ranked player to compete in Rio. But on Monday, the last day to withdrawal, he pulled out citing health concerns. He’ll speak to the media Tuesday as he prepares for the British Open in Scotland.

Johnson, No. 2 in the world, became the first American to back out last week.

So now, Bubba Watson, at No. 5 in the world rankings, will be the top-ranked male golfer in Rio. His U.S. teammates will be Rickie Fowler (No. 7), Patrick Reed (No. 13) and Matt Kuchar (No. 15). A country can only send four players to the Olympics if they’re all ranked within the world’s top 15, and Kuchar barely achieved that ranking when he tied for third at the Bridgestone Invitational two weeks ago.

The only other top-10 golfers to commit to Rio are Sweden’s Henrik Stenson (No. 6) and Great Britain’s Danny Willett (No. 9). Jason Day (No. 1), Rory McIlroy (4), Adam Scott (8) and Branden Grace (10) all previously withdrew for various reasons.

That leaves all four Americans within the top 10 as far as the Olympic golf rankings are concerned, and in strong contention for a medal.

Watson will be one of five major winners to compete in Rio; he won the Masters in 2012 and 2014. Ireland’s Padraig Harrington will lead the field with three majors won (2007 British Open, 2008 British Open and PGA Championship), but he’ll be ranked 43rd in Rio. Germany’s Martin Kaymer (17th in Rio) owns two major titles (2010 PGA Championship, 2014 U.S. Open).

Willett and his compatriot, Justin Rose (No. 5 in Rio), both own one major. Willett captured the Masters title in April and Rose won the 2013 U.S. Open.

Nearly as notable are the major winners opting not to compete in Rio:

Rory McIlroy – 4 majors
Vijay Singh – 3
Jordan Spieth – 2
Jason Day – 1
Dustin Johnson – 1
Adam Scott – 1
Graeme McDowell – 1
Charl Schwartzel – 1
Louis Oosthuizen – 1

Then there’s Spain’s Sergio Garcia, probably the best golfer to never win a major. He’s been a runner-up four times in majors, but has yet to break through for a signature victory. He won the Players Championship, which is widely considered golf’s “fifth” major, in 2008, but an Olympic gold could top that. Garcia will be ranked sixth in Rio.

At the other end of the rankings, No. 60 will be Mexico’s Rodolfo Cazaubon, who is No. 344 in the world golf rankings. He was awarded a berth when Angelo Que of the Philippines withdrew Monday due to Zika virus concerns.

The women haven’t had nearly the same spate of withdrawals. Only South Africa’s Lee-Anne Pace has pulled out.

The U.S. women’s team will consist of Lexi Thompson (No. 4 in the Olympic rankings), Stacy Lewis (No. 9) and Gerina Piller (No. 13). The top three will be New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, Canada’s Brooke M. Henderson and South Korea’s Inbee Park.

Piller, a former Big Break contestant, didn’t clinch her spot until Sunday. She tied for eighth at the U.S. Women’s Open, which moved her to 15th in the women’s world rankings, allowing the U.S. to send a third woman.

The 60th-ranked female golfer will be New Zealand’s Cathryn Bristow, who is No. 446 in the world.

MORE: Jason Day to skip Olympics due to Zika virus

Valencia Marathon produces historic times in men’s, women’s races

2022 Valencia Marathon
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Kenyan Kelvin Kiptum and Ethiopian Amane Beriso won the Valencia Marathon and became the third-fastest man and woman in history, respectively.

Kiptum, a 23-year-old in his marathon debut, won the men’s race in 2 hours, 1 minute, 53 seconds. The only men to ever run faster over 26.2 miles are legends: Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge (2:01:09 world record, plus a 2:01:39) and Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele (2:01:41).

Kipchoge made his marathon debut at age 28, and Bekele at 31.

Beriso, a 31-year-old whose personal best was 2:20:48 from January 2016, stunned the women’s field Sunday by running 2:14:58. The only women to have run faster: Kenyans Brigid Kosgei (2:14:04) and Ruth Chepngetich (2:14:18).

Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey finished second in 2:16:49, the fastest-ever time for a woman in her marathon debut. Gidey is the world record holder at 5000m and 10,000m.

Valencia is arguably the top annual marathon outside of the six World Marathon Majors. The next major marathon is Tokyo on March 5.

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Aleksander Aamodt Kilde wins Beaver Creek downhill

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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde won his second straight World Cup downhill race to start the season, despite feeling under the weather.

Although dealing with an illness all week in training, Kilde powered through the challenging Birds of Prey course Saturday in a time of 1 minute, 42.09 seconds. It was enough to hold off Marco Odermatt of Switzerland by 0.06 seconds. James Crawford of Canada was third to earn his second career World Cup podium finish.

Kilde also won the opening downhill last weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta.

“It’s been a tough week,” Kilde said after the race. “I caught the flu in Lake Louise after a very, very nice weekend. It really hit me hard. Then I got a couple of days to rest and take it easy. … I felt OK. Still feeling it a little bit in my system.”

The Beaver Creek crew members had the course in solid shape a day after a downhill race was canceled due to high wind and snowfall.

ALPINE SKIING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Kilde reached speeds around 75 mph in picking up his eighth World Cup downhill victory. That tied him with Kjetil Jansrud for the third-most downhill wins in the World Cup discipline among Norwegian men. The total trails only Aksel Lund Svindal (14) and Lasse Kjus (10).

“I found a really, really good set-up with my equipment and also with my skiing,” Kilde explained. “I believe in myself. I trust in myself. I have a good game plan. When I stand on the start, I don’t dwell on anything. I know that this plan is what I do and when I do that it’s going to be fast.”

Odermatt has been on the podium in all four World Cup races this season as he tries to defend his overall World Cup title. The 25-year-old finished third in the opening downhill of the season last weekend. He’s also won a giant slalom race and a super-G.

Ryan Cochran-Siegle wound up in seventh place for the top American finish. He was ninth in the downhill in Lake Louise.

“It’s been solid,” Cochran-Siegle said of his strides in the discipline. “A couple of little things here and there that pushed me off that top three. You have to ski with a lot of intensity and ski without abandon, in a sense. Today was a good step.”

Switzerland’s Beat Feuz, who won the Olympic downhill gold medal at the Beijing Games last February, tied for ninth.

The Beaver Creek stop on the circuit comes to a close Sunday with a super-G race. Odermatt will be the favorite after holding off Kilde in the opening super-G last weekend.

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