Snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington, forced to retire early, not staying grounded

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Kaitlyn Farrington lost her Olympic gold medal. Two weeks passed, and it still hadn’t turned up. She was ready to ransack her home.

“My parents wanted to kill me, because I went through a moment of saying, ‘I have no idea where it is, mom and dad,'” said Farrington, who grew up in Idaho and then moved to Utah. “And they’re like, really Kaitlyn?”

Time was running out.

Farrington was scheduled to fly to New York earlier this month for a U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association fundraiser, where several other Olympians from the past 50 years would display their medals.

The day before her flight, Farrington sat on a bed and felt something weird. She lifted the mattress and found her Sochi gold.

Farrington lists her place on Airbnb due to frequent travels and apparently stuffed her medal there (and locked the room) during a recent leave.

“It hides in drawers or wherever. It’s around. It’s out and about,” Farrington joked after arriving in New York. “My medal’s a little dinged up because I’ve had a lot of fun with it.”

Farrington was one of the surprises of the Sochi Winter Games. She arrived in Russia as the only member of the four-woman U.S. halfpipe team without a major victory.

Then she beat an Olympic field that included the past three gold medalists — Kelly Clark, Hannah Teter and Torah Bright.

Less than a year later, Farrington emotionally announced her retirement at age 25 due to a degenerative spine condition. She learned of her congenital cervical stenosis after a fall 2014 crash that left her unable to feel anything for two minutes.

Farrington was fortunate she had never done permanent damage. If she had known about the condition earlier in life, she may never have become a snowboarder.

In retiring from halfpipe, Farrington made a deal with her longtime doctor, U.S. snowboard team physician Tom Hackett.

“I just have to keep my feet on the ground,” Farrington said in her retirement interview published Jan. 19, 2015. “I still want to be a professional snowboarder, I just have to figure out what that means.”

Farrington worked it out to continue strapping on her board the last 19 months. It’s not the same one she rode in Sochi, though. Farrington is occupying her time coaching, riding and filming, traveling the world as a back-country snowboarder.

“I definitely don’t think about the Olympics as much because that’s not who I am anymore,” said Farrington, before cutting off her words and offering a correction. “Or, right now, I feel like [if I was] a [halfpipe] rider, I’d be thinking about going into the next Olympics. My full pace has changed in the past three years, and now I am a back-country rider. I used to be a halfpipe rider.”

She’s not performing flips, twists or frontside airs, but she’s far from grounded. Farrington summited Alaska’s Denali, the highest peak in North America, in June.

She also trekked through Argentina and Chile during the South American winter, when she watched the Rio Olympics on TV and bawled during award ceremonies.

“Because I knew everything they were going through,” she said.

Farrington also has plans later this fall to work in Kazakhstan with a filmmaker who described himself as a splitboard mountaineer.

At some point in the last 19 months, Farrington said she re-fell in love with snowboarding, riding the way she first learned the sport. But then there are also these moments.

“I get a little jittery sometimes when I want to leave the ground,” said Farrington, who would risk paralysis with a fall, “but I always know better.”

When she was diagnosed two years ago, some doctors told her she could never snowboard again. Some today say they can’t believe she’s still snowboarding.

Hackett, who offered her that deal to snowboard without leaving her feet, is the one whose opinion matters most of all. Farrington sees him every six months for MRIs and has him on speed dial for more spontaneous communication.

“I’m like, so, can I go on this roller coaster?” Farrington will ask him. “He’s like, eh, not the best choice, Kaitlyn.”

Hackett urges Farrington to discuss a surgery that she said would lessen her risk should she be in any whiplash situation. The procedure would also be extensive enough to keep her from riding for at least one year.

Farrington avoids the conversation.

“It would really be the end of my snowboard career,” she said. “[The surgery] wouldn’t put me back in a halfpipe. [My back] feels fine. Why go under the knife if you don’t have to?”

MORE: Snowboarder on Time’s Most Influential Teens list

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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