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Kenenisa Bekele’s marathon world record quest resumes next week

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Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele is entered in the Dubai Marathon on Jan. 20 and the London Marathon on April 23, in what appear to be his next two bids to break the 26.2-mile world record.

The London field is deeper, also including Rio Olympic marathon silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa of Ethiopia and 2015 New York City Marathon winner Stanley Biwott of Kenya.

Bekele, 34, padded his argument as the greatest runner of all time when he ran the second-fastest marathon ever, 2:03:03, to win Berlin on Sept. 25. He missed Kenyan Dennis Kimetto‘s record by six seconds.

“It was fantastic for me to get a personal best, but I’m still disappointed to have missed out on the world record,” Bekele said in a media statement Sunday. “I knew I had trained well and I knew what my strengths were. The Berlin race was fantastic, but I could see that I still had to make a couple of changes in my training.”

Bekele racked up world records and Olympic and world titles in the 5000m and 10,000m from 2004 to 2009. He had done little of note since, debuted in the marathon in 2014 and was controversially left off Ethiopia’s Olympic team for Rio.

Bekele’s resurgence came four months ago in Berlin, known as the world’s fastest record-eligible course, and now he goes into 2017 as one of the world’s top two marathoners.

The other is Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, who is not expected to run a record-eligible spring marathon as he is part of Nike’s sub-two-hour marathon project.

If Bekele breaks the marathon world record, he becomes unquestionably the greatest distance runner of all time (he arguably already is), which would beg the debate over the greatest runner of all time, with his chief rival in that conversation being Usain Bolt.

Bekele’s best shot at the world record this year may come in Dubai next week.

Dubai and London have similar amounts of the fastest marathon times ever, despite Dubai’s disadvantage of not being a World Marathon Major that attracts more of the world’s fastest runners.

World record: 2:02:57 (Kimetto, Berlin 2014)
London Marathon course record: 2:03:05 (Kipchoge, 2016)
Dubai Marathon course record: 2:04:23 (Ayele Abshero, 2012)

If Bekele runs the Berlin Marathon again in September, that would give him the greatest chance of breaking the world record. Berlin appears unlikely if Bekele races at the world track and field championships in August, which he said he will do if he is selected by the Ethiopian federation, according to the IAAF.

Bekele attempted the Dubai-London double in 2015. He dropped out of Dubai around the 19-mile mark due to injury and withdrew before the London Marathon due to an Achilles tendon injury. Bekele wouldn’t run another marathon until London the following year.

The only marathon star whose spring plans haven’t been announced is Kenyan Wilson Kipsang, the only person to break 2:04 three times.

MORE: Boston Marathon field includes 5 of 6 U.S. marathoners from Rio

Matthew Centrowitz redeems, Jenny Simpson upset at USATF Outdoors

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Matthew Centrowitz won his fifth U.S. 1500m title, while Jenny Simpson‘s run of four straight ended at the USATF Outdoor Championships in Des Moines on Saturday.

Centrowitz, who in Rio became the first U.S. Olympic 1500m champion in 108 years, emerged from a bunched pack in the final 200 meters to win in 3:43.37.

The 28-year-old returned to the top after being beaten by Olympic teammate Robby Andrews last year. Centrowitz struggled with injuries and illness in 2017, including an emergency-room visit with a viral infection. At 2017 Worlds, a listless Centrowitz was last in his first-round heat and said he was unable to get more than two straight weeks of healthy training all season.

Centrowitz crossed the Drake Stadium finish line Saturday afternoon, a comfortable .26 ahead of Izaic Yorks, and held his hand to his ear to mimic a phone call. He said he was sending a message for somebody, whom he would not name, to call him.

“Satisfaction out there,” Centrowitz told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “A little sense of relief, get back on top.”

Simpson, the Olympic bronze medalist, was beaten by Olympic 5000m runner Shelby Houlihan for the second time this season. The Sioux City native Houlihan surged past Simpson on the final straight, just as she did at the Pre Classic last month.

“I’m totally bummed, but I guess I have a lot of practice at losing as well as winning,” Simpson told media in Des Moines. “It felt a little weird being at U.S. Championships and getting outkicked.”

Houlihan won in 4:05.48, .73 ahead of runner-up Simpson.

“I feel like she’s way ahead of me,” Houlihan said of Simpson. “She’s someone I’ve looked up to since high school.”

An American record fell Saturday. Deanna Price took the women’s hammer record back from Gwen Berry with a 78.12-meter throw, the best in the world this year.

USATF Outdoors conclude Sunday on NBC (4-6 p.m. ET) and NBC Sports Gold (12:30-6 p.m.), highlighted by 200m, 5000m and 110m hurdles finals.

USATF Outdoors: TV Schedule | Results | Women’s Preview | Men’s Preview

Also Saturday, Shakima Wimbley and Kahmari Montgomery won their first U.S. titles in the 400m.

Wimbley prevailed in 49.52, lowering her personal best by .66, tying the fastest time in the world this year and torching a field lacking the last two world champions, Phyllis Francis and Allyson Felix. Wimbley showed promise at the Pre Classic last month, finishing third behind Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo and Francis.

Montgomery clocked 44.58 to win, two weeks after finishing seventh at the NCAA Championships for the University of Houston. The men’s field lacked 2008 Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt and Michael Norman, the fastest man in the world this year who opted to race the 200m this week.

World-record holder Kendra Harrison repeated as 100m hurdles champion. Harrison clocked 12.46, off of her world record of 12.20. Olympic champion Brianna McNeal, who beat Harrison in Shanghai on May 12, was not in the field.

World gold and silver medalists Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs went one-two in the 3000m steeplechase. Coburn, the Olympic bronze medalist, earned her seventh national title in eight years by clocking 9:17.70. She pulled away from Frerichs on the last lap to win by .99. Nobody else finished within 15 seconds.

“[Frerichs] gave me a run for my money,” Coburn, who has been beaten by a countrywoman once in eight years, said on NBC. “This is going to be a battle that’s worth watching for years to come.”

In the pole vault, Olympic bronze medalist and world champion Sam Kendricks cleared 5.85 meters for his fifth straight U.S. title.

Vashti Cunningham repeated as high jump champion by clearing 1.95 meters. Cunningham, whose father and coach is retired NFL All-Pro quarterback Randall Cunningham, was 13th at the Olympics and 10th at the world championships.

Darrell Hill upset Olympic champion Ryan Crouser in the shot put, winning with a 21.57-meter throw. Hill improved to 3-17 against Crouser. Crouser came to Des Moines with the top 23 throws by an American this year out of his 24 total legal throws, according to Tilastopaja.org. But on Saturday he had five fouls in six throws. His only legal throw was 20.99 meters for second place.

NCAA runner-up Kenny Selmon won the 400m hurdles from lane eight against a field that lacked Olympic champion Kerron Clement. Selmon clocked 48.21 seconds, three tenths ahead of TJ Holmes, who was fifth at 2017 Worlds.

The favorites advanced to Sunday’s semifinals in the 200m and 110m hurdles, including 400m indoor world-record holder Michael Norman and Olympian Ameer Webb in the 200m and world-record holder Aries Merritt, Olympian Devon Allen and NCAA champion Grant Holloway in the hurdles.

MORE: Lyles, Norman, green teens at Olympic Trials, now stars at USATF Champs

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U.S. Open changes seeding policy for pregnancies

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Serena Williams will learn Wednesday if she is seeded at Wimbledon, while a top U.S. Open official is already reportedly saying its seeds will be revised if a return from pregnancy comes into play, though not naming Williams specifically.

The U.S. Open, the fourth and final Grand Slam tournament of the year in September, would “revise the seedings if pregnancy is a factor in the current rankings of a player,” USTA president and chairwoman Katrina Adams said, according to The New York Times.

Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, was not given one of 32 seeds at the French Open in May, her first Grand Slam since coming back from having daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jron Sept. 1.

Her ranking had fallen to No. 453 due to maternity leave. She could enter the major tournament due to the WTA’s protected ranking rule, but it was up to Grand Slam organizers whether to give her a seed.

Williams reached the semifinals of her last eight U.S. Opens, missing the New York event in 2010 and 2017. She has won it six times. Her current ranking is No. 183.

If Williams neither makes a deep Wimbledon run nor plays plenty of summer hard-court matches, it’s likely the U.S. Open will have to decide whether to give her a seed. It sounds like organizers are prepared to.

“It’s the right thing to do for these mothers that are coming back,” Adams said, according to the report, adding that players should not be “penalized” for starting a family.

Williams reached the fourth round of the French Open in her first Grand Slam since winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant (but before the world learned). She withdrew before a round of 16 showdown with Maria Sharapova due to a pectoral muscle injury and has not played in a tournament since.

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