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Kenenisa Bekele eyes world record at London Marathon

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Ethiopian icon Kenenisa Bekele takes his second crack at the 26.2-mile world record this year at the London Marathon, live on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 a.m. ET.

Bekele, an Olympic champion and world-record holder in the 5000m and 10,000m, leads a field that includes Rio Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa of Ethiopia and 2016 New York City Marathon winner Ghirmay Ghebreslassie of Eritrea.

The women’s race on Sunday is even more decorated:

Mary Keitany: Five combined London and NYC Marathon wins
Vivian Cheruiyot: Rio Olympic 5000m champ in marathon debut
Tirunesh Dibaba: Eight combined Olympic/world titles at 5000m/10,000m
Mare Dibaba: 2015 World marathon champion
Tigist Tufa: 2015 London Marathon winner
Florence Kiplagat: Two Berlin Marathon titles

If one runner is the focus Sunday, it’s Bekele.

In his last finished marathon, Bekele missed the world record of 2:02:57 by six seconds in September.

He’s already arguably the greatest runner of all time, by virtue of his eight combined Olympic and world 5000m and 10,000m gold medals and enduring world records in both distances.

Bekele, now 34, set the 5000m mark in 2004. Nobody has been within nine seconds since. He broke the 10,000m record in 2004 and 2005. Nobody has been within 18 seconds in the last 12 years.

Bekele moved up to the marathon in 2014 and had decent results but was not a world-beater.

Until Sept. 25. Bekele won the Berlin Marathon in 2 hours, 3 minutes, 3 seconds, the second-fastest time ever on a record-eligible course. He was disappointed that he did not break Dennis Kimetto‘s world record from 2014.

London will mark Bekele’s third marathon in the last seven months. He was trampled at the start of the Dubai Marathon on Jan. 20 and then dropped out of the race halfway through, citing a calf injury from the fall.

Bekele says he is fit.

“I am in just as good shape as I was in Berlin last year,” he said, according to London organizers. “I think I can improve my personal best.”

Don’t be so sure.

Berlin is unquestionably the best course for world-record chasing. Six of the seven fastest marathon times in history came in Berlin in the last six years (on record-eligible courses).

Bekele also benefited in Berlin last year from having Wilson Kipsang, the former world-record holder, to push him to a faster time in the final miles.

The London field includes neither Kipsang nor Eliud Kipchoge, considered the world’s best marathoner. Kipchoge is preparing for Nike’s special attempt to break two hours in the marathon on an Italian race track in two weeks. That Nike attempt is reportedly not for an officially sanctioned world record, though.

Bekele is one of eight active runners who have broken 2:04. None of the other seven are in the London field.

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Leanne Smith leads U.S. gold medalists at para swim worlds

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Leanne Smith has never competed at a Paralympics. Came into this week’s world championships with zero world medals. But she leaves London with three individual golds, most for any American, one year before the Tokyo Games.

Smith, 21, won the 150m individual medley, 50m breaststroke and 100m freestyle in her classification, all in American record times. The last two titles came on the final day of the seven-day meet on Sunday.

Smith, diagnosed with a rare neurological muscle disease called dystonia in January 2012, began swimming in 2013. By 2017, she broke a world record and then debuted at the world championships with a best individual finish of sixth.

The U.S. finished with 35 total medals and 14 golds, ranking sixth in the overall standings. Ukraine, usually strong at the Paralympics, led the way with 55 medals. Full results are here.

Jessica Long, the second-most-decorated U.S. Paralympian in history with 23 medals, earned six this week — five silvers and a bronze — to give her 52 career world championships medals.

Two-time Paralympian Mallory Weggemann earned two golds this week, giving her 15 world titles in three appearances (her others being in 2009 and 2010).

She won 50m titles in the butterfly and freestyle. Weggemann won a 2012 Paralympic 50m free title but was fortunate just to make it back for Rio after a 2014 accident that she said was harder to come back from than her teenage paralysis. She left Rio with no medals but a resolve to return for a third Games in Tokyo.

“I’m two seconds away from bursting into tears,” Weggemann said after winning the first of her two golds in the 50m fly, according to U.S. Paralympics. “I had a really rough go these past three years since Rio, so to finally be back after busting my butt to be here, and to be here in London of all places, is absolutely incredible.”

Fellow Rio Paralympians McKenzie Coan and Robert Griswold added two golds a piece.

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Heimana Reynolds wins skateboard world title, nears an Olympic goal from age 10

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In February 2009, a 10-year-old Heimana Reynolds was profiled by his local NBC TV station on Oahu.

“My goal is to become a professional skateboarder and compete in the X Games and the Olympics,” he said, according to the report.

Skateboarding would not be added to the Olympics for another seven years. But here Reynolds is, age 21, having just won the world title in park, one of two skateboarding events that debut at the Games in Tokyo.

Reynolds, who wasn’t named to the four-man U.S. national team in March, consolidated his lead in the Olympic qualification rankings by prevailing over a pair of Brazilians in Sao Paulo on Sunday.

A shirtless Reynolds scored 88 points in the final, beating Luis Francisco (85.50) and Pedro Quintas (85).

No more than three Americans can make the Olympic team in the event, which will make it difficult if three-time Olympic halfpipe snowboarding champion Shaun White decides to continue his skateboarding pursuit. White was the sixth-best American, bowing out in the semifinals in 13th place on Saturday in just his second contest since returning to competitive skating last year.

Back to Reynolds. He grew up on the North Shore and attended the Punahou School, where Barack Obama is the most famous alum. His first name is Tahitian, reportedly referring to the power of Jesus’ crown of thorns.

Reynolds, the son of a surfer, proved a natural on land. After pre-teen media profiles, he blossomed into a world silver medalist last year. He won an Olympic qualifier in China in July to take the top spot in the Olympic rankings despite a best career X Games finish of sixth.

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