Getty Images

Matt Grevers, after tearfully watching Olympics on airport runway, keeps swimming

Leave a comment

For years, U.S. swimmer Matt Grevers thought he would be in Rio de Janeiro on the night of Aug. 8, 2016.

Instead, he was at the Green Bay-Austin Straubel International Airport.

It’s 8:35 p.m., and Grevers is seated on his plane, which is taxiing to its takeoff runway. Grevers is unmissable at 6 feet, 8 inches, but in this instance he’s trying his best to be inconspicuous.

That’s because he’s ignoring (or at least delaying) protocol to turn off his phone. Grevers is watching on a stream the finalists being introduced for the Olympic men’s 100m backstroke final.

It’s the race where Grevers took silver at the 2008 Olympics, and then won in 2012. But on June 27, he finished third in the Olympic Trials 100m back, missing the Olympic team by one spot.

So he watched the Olympic final from his seat, shielding his phone from flight attendants, as Ryan Murphy and David Plummer finished first and third in Rio on Aug. 8.

“I had tears well up in my eyes,” Grevers said, pausing briefly before making sure to add, “of joy.”

“There’s a tiny tinge of jealousy to not be there, but so much pride in both David Plummer and Ryan Murphy.”

The race finished as Grevers’ plane was at about full speed on the runway. He had spent time in Wisconsin at a cabin owned by his wife’s family.

Grevers will race for the first time since the Olympic Trials, headlining this weekend’s USA Swimming Pro Series meet in Austin, Texas (Friday through Sunday on NBC Sports).

There were reports at the Olympic Trials that the 31-year-old Grevers was retiring, but that obviously wasn’t the case.

“I would be lying [if I didn’t say] I might be done competing at the highest level,” Grevers said. “I’m for sure going to swim forever, even masters [meets], so I don’t think I’d ever retire, but trying to be an elite swimmer, definitely I’ve had my doubts on that. Just giving time to think about everything, I really do love swimming at the highest level. So I’m going to keep trying to do it until, really, I’m not successful at all anymore.”

Grevers knows what it’s like to rebound from missing a team.

In 2010, he was fourth in the 100m back at the U.S. Championships, failing to qualify for both the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships and 2011 World Championships. Then he set 100m back personal bests at both the 2012 Olympic Trials and 2012 Olympics, taking gold in London.

The task will of course be more difficult to return to the top now that Grevers is north of 30. Murphy, who swept the backstrokes in Rio, is only 21 years old and broke Grevers’ Olympic record in the 100m back.

Plummer announced his retirement on Wednesday.

“It’s sad to see him go and retire, but selfishly I guess I can say that makes making the world team a little easier,” Grevers said.

Nobody other than Murphy and Plummer swam within three tenths of Grevers’ best time of 2016 in the 100m back. One of the two 100m back spots for the world championships in Budapest in July is there for the taking.

In another big life change, Grevers became a father on Nov. 9 when wife, former U.S. swimmer Annie Chandler, gave birth to daughter Skylar.

“I have not had the focus and time to work on my stroke as much, so no sharpening on my skills,” said Grevers, who still trains in Tucson, Ariz., with coach Rick DeMont. “Right now, I’m maybe an 80 out of 100 ready to race fast.”

MORE: For Katie Ledecky, starting college means riding a bike

Brigid Kosgei, Eliud Kipchoge herald new era of fast marathons

Leave a comment

Eliud Kipchoge‘s success in breaking the two-hour mark (final time: 1:59:40) for the marathon on Saturday was expected. He had come close before, and like Alex Honnold‘s unprecedented climb of El Capitan documented in the film Free Solo, the feat required meticulous planning — the ideal mix of pace-setters, course conditions and weather — to steer a once-in-a-lifetime talent to a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment.

Brigid Kosgei‘s world record at the Chicago Marathon on Sunday was a far greater surprise. Kosgei had run fast times before, but her time of 2:14:04 took more than four minutes off her personal best earlier this year in London, which is typically a faster race than Chicago.

MORE: Chicago Marathon results

The two feats had some common threads. Both runners are Kenyan, no surprise in an event in which the top 100 men’s performances of all time are almost exclusively Kenyan and Ethiopian and the top of the women’s all-time list is similarly homogeneous aside from the presence of British runner Paula Radcliffe, whose time of 2:15:25 had stood as the world record for 16 1/2 years until Sunday. Radcliffe was present in Chicago to greet Kosgei when her record fell.

Kipchoge and Kosgei also wore the same shoes, Nike’s ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%, thanks to Kosgei’s last-minute decision to switch. Earlier versions of those shoes, like the high-tech swimsuits that were eventually banned from competition or golf equipment whose advertising revels in their alleged illegality,

Both marathoners also had pace-setters running with them. Kipchoge’s effort took the concept to an extreme, with an all-star cast running pieces of the course in front of him, and will not be considered an official world record because it didn’t happen under race conditions. (The Atlantic ran a piece on the Kipchoge run with the headline “The Greatest, Fakest World Record,” though the piece itself was more inquisitive than judgmental.)

MORE: Kipchoge shakes off nerves to break barrier

Kosgei was running in an actual race and has already had her time touted as a world record by the international organizer IAAF, but because she was running in a mixed-gender race, she was able to run behind two hired guns, Geoffrey Pyego and Daniel Limo. They were easily distinguished from men’s race contenders by the singlets with the word “PACE” written in the space where a number or name would usually go.

But in general, marathoners are simply getting faster and faster. Perhaps it’s scientific, with specifically engineered shoes, pace-setters and refined training methods, or perhaps all the tinkering and lab experiments are simply a sign of increased focus on the race that traces its history to the myth of the Greek soldier Pheidippides running such a great distance to herald a momentous military victory before falling over dead.

Of the top 20 women’s times on the IAAF list, only five were run before 2012 — one by Catherine Ndereba, four by Radcliffe. Three were run in 2017, then six in 2018 (three in Berlin) and four this year. All 20 of the fastest men’s times have been posted this decade, eight of them in 2019 alone. Kipchoge, in addition to his unofficial best from this weekend, has the official record of 2:01:39 from the 2018 Berlin Marathon.

The all-time list also reminds us that, for all the controversy over the context of Kipchoge’s run, marathons aren’t really standard, anyway. Some courses are more difficult than others. Some races, like the Boston Marathon, aren’t eligible for record consideration for a variety of technical reasons. (Boston’s hilly course doesn’t lend itself to fast times, anyway — the men’s course record of 2:03:02, set by Geoffrey Mutai in 2011, would rank seventh all-time, but no other time would crack the top 100. The women’s course record is nowhere near the best ever.) London, Berlin and Dubai are the places to go for assaults on the record book.

No matter where the race takes place or how it was run, fast times in the marathon capture the imagination.

Purists may cling to romantic notions of long-haired, bearded runners pounding the Boston or New York pavement in shoes that didn’t even have a basic level of air cushioning. But the modern marathon era is built for speed.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Danielle Perkins is first U.S. boxer to win world title in 3 years

Danielle Perkins
Screenshot
Leave a comment

Danielle Perkins became the U.S.’ first world champion boxer in this Olympic cycle, taking the heavyweight crown in Russia on Sunday.

Perkins, a 37-year-old who played college basketball at George Mason and St. John’s, improved from bronze in 2018 to earn her first world title, blanking defending world champion Yang Xiaoli of China 5-0 in Sunday’s final.

Video of the bout is here.

Perkins was slated to fight Yang in the 2018 World semifinals but withdrew due to medical reasons, according to USA Boxing.

The heavyweight division is 81+kg, but the heaviest Olympic weight division is capped at 75kg.

The last American to earn a world title was Claressa Shields in 2016, before she repeated as Olympic champion in Rio and moved to the professional ranks.

The Olympic trials are in December in Louisiana, after which winners will fight internationally in early 2020 in bids to qualify for the Tokyo Games.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: IOC strips Olympic status from boxing body AIBA