Galen Rupp, fit, fast, faces familiar foe at Boston Marathon

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Galen Rupp finished second in his Boston Marathon debut last year despite not knowing if he would start the race two weeks prior.

This year, Rupp had ideal, personal-best-time lead-up into the world’s oldest annual marathon. If it wasn’t for the defending champion, he might be the heavy favorite.

Rupp, a two-time Olympic medalist, contests his fifth career marathon Monday (8:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold). Early weather forecasts call for rain, temperatures in the upper 40s and 20 mph winds. Not ideal for the runners or for making predictions.

Rupp can bolster his argument as the best U.S. distance runners of all time. He already has Olympic 10,000m and marathon medals. In his last marathon, Rupp became the first American-born male runner to win the Chicago Marathon in 35 years.

On Monday, he can become the first American-born male runner to win the Boston Marathon in 35 years.

(It’s a convenient but misleading stat. Meb Keflezighi, the 2014 Boston champ, was born in Eritrea but moved from the war-torn nation to the U.S. at age 12 and matured into a competitive runner in high school and college in Southern California. He ran in all four of his Olympics for the red, white and blue and is arguably the most celebrated American runner of all time.)

Rupp’s lead-up half-marathon results in 2017 were a scratch (plantar fasciitis) and an 11th place (two weeks before Boston, still with foot discomfort). A cortisone shot worked wonders for him on Patriots’ Day.

This year? Rupp clocked a personal best over 13.1 miles on March 11. His 59:47 in Rome was four seconds shy of Ryan Hall‘s American record.

The Boston field also plays into Rupp’s favor. It lacks the world’s best marathoners — like Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge and Ethiopian legend Kenenisa Bekele, who are running London on April 22.

That said, the Boston field was of similar strength last year, when relative unknown Geoffrey Kirui of Kenya and Rupp broke from the pack in the 20th mile. Kirui surged with three miles left to prevail by 21 seconds.

Kirui defends his title Monday and is joined by the two Boston winners before him — Kenyan Lemi Berhanu and Ethiopian veteran Lelisa Desisa.

Like Rupp, Kirui won his last marathon, taking the world championships in London on Aug. 6 by 82 seconds. Kirui, a father of three like Rupp, has just as much marathon experience as Rupp, a faster personal best by nearly three minutes and is almost six years younger than the American.

But he hasn’t raced this year. Marathons are the toughest track and field event to predict, as shown by Rupp’s results leading into Boston last year.

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Federica Brignone passes Mikaela Shiffrin for World Cup overall lead

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Italian Federica Brignone passed an absent Mikaela Shiffrin for the World Cup overall standings lead by winning a combined in Switzerland on Sunday.

Brignone prevailed by .92 of a second adding times from super-G and slalom runs in Crans-Montana. Full results are here.

Brignone moved 73 points ahead of Shiffrin in the overall through 29 of 40 scheduled races. A race winner receives 100 points on a descending scale through the 30th-place finisher. The season runs through March 22.

Shiffrin, the three-time reigning World Cup overall champion, has not competed since the unexpected death of her father on Feb. 2. She has not announced if or when she will return this season.

Brignone, 29, is having a career season with five wins and 10 podiums across four disciplines.

Brignone’s best previous World Cup overall standings finish was fifth. She earned giant slalom medals at the 2018 Olympics (bronze) and 2011 World Championships (silver).

She could become Italy’s first female World Cup overall champion. The last Italian male winner was Alberto Tomba in 1995.

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves to La Thuile, Italy, for a super-G and a combined next Saturday and Sunday.

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Jade Carey on brink of becoming first gymnast to qualify for U.S. Olympic team

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The U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials aren’t until late June, but Jade Carey is in position to qualify for the Tokyo Games in March.

Carey, seeking an individual Olympic gymnastics spot outside of the team competition, earned the maximum points in a World Cup series that is one path to Olympic qualification.

Carey has three wins each on floor exercise and vault with two World Cups left in March. Carey will mathematically clinch an Olympic spot if no other gymnasts win three times on one of the apparatuses to force a tiebreaker.

So far, no other gymnast has two wins on floor. One gymnast has two wins on vault. A gymnast’s top three finishes across the eight-stop series count in Olympic qualifying. If Carey finishes atop the floor or vault standings, she goes to the Olympics.

Carey picked up those third wins on floor and vault at the sixth World Cup in Melbourne, Australia, this weekend.

The one downside to qualifying this route: Carey would not be able to compete in the team competition at the Olympics. Those four spots will be determined at and after June’s trials in St. Louis, with Simone Biles likely grabbing one of them.

“I knew I would be giving up being on the team,” Carey said in October of going the World Cup route, “but I think, for me, it made sense to just go for it.”

Carey is a world medalist on vault and floor, but she doesn’t have the all-around credentials of Biles and some other U.S. gymnasts.

Olympic team event roster sizes were cut from five to four for Tokyo, putting a greater onus on all-around prowess given a team must put three gymnasts on each apparatus in the Olympic final.

The U.S. is the deepest country in women’s gymnastics, so the only truly safe pick to make the four-woman Olympic team event roster is Biles.

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