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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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Mark Spitz takes on Katie Ledecky’s challenge

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Swimmers around the world took on Katie Ledecky‘s milk-glass challenge since it became a social media sensation, including one of the few Americans with more Olympic gold medals.

Mark Spitz, who won seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games, took 10 strokes in an at-home pool while perfectly balancing a glass of what appeared to be water on his head.

“Would’ve been faster with the ‘stache, @markspitzusa, but I still give this 7 out of 7 gold medals,” Ledecky tweeted.

Spitz joined fellow Olympic champions Susie O’Neill of Australia and American Matt Grevers in posting similar videos to what Ledecky first shared Monday.

In Tokyo next year, Ledecky can pass Spitz’s career gold-medal count of nine if she wins all of her expected events — 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles and the 4x200m free relay.

Then she would trail one athlete from any country in any sport — Michael Phelps, the 23-time gold medalist who has yet to post video of swimming while balancing a glass on his head.

MORE: Spitz puts Michael Phelps’ career in perspective

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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