Getty Images

Who is Sarah Sellers? Boston Marathon runner-up’s surprising story

Leave a comment

At 12:16 p.m., at a miserable Boston Marathon, a woman whose eyes were covered from the rain by a blank, black cap and ears shielded from the 20 mph winds by a black headband crossed the Boylston Street finish line.

Few who braved the worst Patriots’ Day weather in 30 years paid attention to Sarah Sellers. After all, Japan’s Yuki Kawauchi had won the men’s race exactly 11 seconds earlier, his eyes popping in disbelief. She wasn’t wearing the typical branded outfits of the elite stars.

Nobody would have known who Sellers was if her last name wasn’t on the bib pinned to a logo-less blue tank top. She had never raced a major marathon nor had a profile on any major track and field website. Her profession is nursing (one of two nurses to finish in the top five on Monday, actually).

“I feel like an outsider,” Sellers told local TV afterward. “I have no credentials.”

She does now. Sellers, a 26-year-old nurse anesthetist who paid the $185 entry fee, finished second in the world’s oldest annual marathon and will collect $75,000.

“I don’t know [what I’ll do with the money],” she told Flotrack. “I didn’t even think it was a possibility that I would be in this position.”

BOSTON MARATHON: Results | Finish Line Camera

Sellers only entered Boston to join her brother, Ryan. So she recorded a qualifying time on Sept. 16 by winning the Huntsville Marathon in Utah, also known as “The Full Monte.” It starts near the top of Monte Cristo and descends 4,000 feet.

She clocked 2:44:27, a time that would have placed 28th at the 2017 Boston Marathon.

Sellers, then Sarah Callister, was a Utah state champion in high school but never reached NCAAs on the track at Weber State, graduating in 2013 with a navicular stress fracture and then taking two years off from training. 

“I never really reached my peak in college,” Sellers told Flotrack. “I think I ran well, but I was kind of juggling a lot of clinical hours with nursing school, not a lot of sleep.”

She completed Florida grad school classes for nursing and anesthesia last year and moved to Tucson, training in up to 90-degree heat for what would be the coldest Boston Marathon of her lifetime.

She ran before work at 4 a.m. or after at 7 p.m., coached long distance by Weber State’s Paul Pilkington. Pilkington famously won the 1994 Los Angeles Marathon as a pace setter and high school English and history teacher.

Her goal on Patriots’ Day was to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Trials by running 2:37. That was before she saw Monday’s forecast.

She readjusted. The time was no longer the goal. Top 15 would be nice. Sellers ran smarter — her second 13.1 miles were six seconds faster than her first 13.1 miles.

Her time was 2:44:04. She didn’t think much of it. After all, Kawauchi beat her to the finish, and the male winner usually finishes about 15 minutes after the female winner in real time due to the staggered starts.

Maybe she finished in the top 10, she thought. She did pass four-time Olympian Shalane Flanagan between miles 23 and 25, giving her hero a thumbs-up and telling her, “good job.”

“Shalane would have blown me away on a day with good conditions,” Sellers said.

As cameras focused on Kawauchi and Linden, Sellers sought out placement.

“I couldn’t really hear what people were saying,” she said. “I was a little out of it. When someone said second, I was totally in disbelief.”

Sellers had finished 4 minutes, 10 seconds, behind winner Desi Linden. But no other women were between her and Linden, a two-time Olympian.

A press conference followed. She sat next to unlikely third-place finisher, Canadian Krista DuChene, a 41-year-old mother of three who placed 35th at the Rio Olympics.

“I had to see it to believe it that I was third,” said DuChene, a registered dietitian. “It was very similar to when we had our third child after having two boys. It took me an hour to believe she was a girl.”

Fourth-place finisher Rachel Hyland has taught Spanish for the last seven years at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., 25 miles north of Boston.

Fifth-place finisher Jessica Chichester, a nurse practitioner, didn’t even start in the elite women’s wave.

Sixth-place Nicole Dimercurio was 73rd at the 2016 Olympic Trials.

They all beat some of the world’s greatest distance runners. Many of the elites dropped out, but the forecast was well-known days ahead of the race. Kenyans and Ethiopians combined to win the previous 10 Boston Marathons. On Monday, all three Ethiopian elites failed to finish. Same for two of the three Kenyans.

Sellers and the other unknowns at the top of the leaderboard savored one of the gnarliest days in Boston history.

“I still think I’m going to wake up, and it’s going to be a dream,” Sellers told LetsRun.com.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Boston winner has run 80 marathons, half marathon as panda

Marvel superheroes inspire Bradie Tennell, Starr Andrews

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Bradie Tennell and Starr Andrews have something in common beyond their obvious figure skating talents: both skaters look to Marvel superheroes for inspiration.

The 20-year-old Tennell, who opened her 2018-19 international season with a big win over two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia at the Autumn International Classic in Oakville, Ontario, counts Iron Man and Spider-Man as her favorites.

Believe it or not, Iron Man – also known as Tony Stark – figures into Tennell’s free skate to “Romeo and Juliet.”

“After I land the triple salchow toward the end of my program, I go down on one knee and do what I call my Iron Man pose, because that’s what Iron Man (played by Robert Downey Jr.) does in the first Avengers movie,” she said.

Summoning superhuman strength worked. Tennell had a personal-best free skate in Oakville. But in other ways, she’s the opposite of her hero: Iron Man survives his adventures largely be wearing a special suit of armor, while Tennell is all about dropping her guard this season and being more expressive on the ice.

“I believe in myself a lot more,” she said. “I don’t think I’m as timid. I’m really working on not being as shy, just kind of letting my personality come through in everything.”

Andrews, 17, is inspired by the noble and determined Black Panther, depicted in the 2018 film by Chadwick Boseman.

“There is always a challenge and you always have to fight to get what you want,” she said.

“I wanted something different this year, I definitely wanted no lyrics, and an African theme,” she added. “When I watched Black Panther, I said, ‘Yeah, I want something like (the music in) this’ and Derrick (Delmore) pulled up some music.”

Delmore, who coaches Andrews in Los Angeles, wracked his brain to find the right material. Ultimately, he choreographed her free to a medley he calls “African Tribal Xotica.”

“The music is from five different things,” he said. “She saw the movie, loved it, and sent me some music from that movie she cut herself that I didn’t love. She was inspired to do something in that genre. I finally thought of music I used a few years back for another skater, and I played it for her, and as soon as it came on she said, ‘Oh, this is what I want.’”

What Andrews wants now is a triple axel. She attempted the three-and-a-half revolution jump in her free skate in Oakville, but it was downgraded (judged short of rotation) by the technical panel. Still, she placed a respectable seventh in a tough international field.

“I’m excited for the day I get it,” Andrews said. “I just have to keep working on it. One day I will land it and will be super-confident and happy.  It’s not new to me, I’ve been working on it for a while. That little extra effort, and then I’ll land it.”

Only two other senior U.S. ladies – Tonya Harding, back in the early 1990s, and Mirai Nagasu at the Pyeongchang Olympics in February – have landed the jump in international competition, but Andrews believes it is becoming almost commonplace.  While Tennell and Andrews were competing in Oakville, Japanese teenager Rika Kihira landed two triple axels, including one in combination with a triple toe, at Ondrej Nepela Trophy.

“There are so many more people doing it know. I feel like it’s not surprising for women to do it,” Andrews said. “They are doing it in junior and even in advanced novice, like Alysa Liu (at the Asian Open), which was amazing.”

Delmore supports his student’s ambition, with a few caveats.

“Right now, I want her to get used to doing the axel,” he said. “I want it to be a regular part of her competitive experience, so she knows how to keep going when it doesn’t go well, and hopefully when she gets it, she knows what it’s like to have that amazing moment and to keep going.”

MORE: 12-year-old is third U.S. woman to land triple Axel internationally

Yuzuru Hanyu wins Autumn Classic despite shaky performance

AP Photo
1 Comment

Yuzuru Hanyu won his third Autumn Classic International crown in Oakville, Ontario on Saturday, but it was a bumpy ride.

The two-time Olympic champion’s debut of his “Origin” free skate, inspired by Yevgeni Plushenko’s famous “Tribute to Njinsky” program, had many fine elements: opening quadruple loop and toe loop jumps, plus two triple axels in the program’s second half; a pair of superb closing spins with fittingly baroque positions; and promising step and choreography sequences that preserved Plushenko’s flair, while adding a touch more refinement and control.

But a face-forward fall on a quad salchow, followed by a popped quad toe, meant Hanyu’s 165.91 points put him second in the free skate to his 16-year-old training partner, Junhwan Cha of South Korea. His total score, including Friday’s short program, was 263.65 points, just under four points higher than Cha’s second-place total.

At this point in the season, many other skaters – not including Plushenko – would have shrugged  off the imperfections in the challenging program and been happy to put a few miles on the choreography. But the 23-year-old Hanyu’s perfectionism runs year-round.

“My first competition of the season is always this level, unfortunately,” he said, as translated from Japanese. “I wanted to skate my short and free without any regrets here, and I was not able to do that.”

Hanyu likely remembers this event last season, when a mistake-riddled free skate put him second to longtime rival Javier Fernandez of Spain. This time around, the Japanese superstar, who trains at Toronto’s Cricket Skating and Curling Club under Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson, was especially disappointed that his jump glitches meant he could not attempt a quad-triple axel sequence, a combination that might have been worth some 20 points.

“I was not strong enough to skate this program yet,” he said. “I feel fine, I am not injured. Another program, maybe (last season’s) ‘Seimei,’ I might have been able to do well, but not this program. I am just not ready.”

Just as he did after Friday’s short program, where a botched spin cost him several points, Hanyu vowed to work harder.

“This is where I am right now, and I need to practice more,” he said.

Hanyu has plenty of time: his first Grand Prix event is in Finland on November 2.

The skating world may best remember this event as the week Cha came into his own. The Korean teen, who landed a quad salchow in his short on Friday, hit a quad toe to start his free to “Romeo and Juliet” – just the second time he has landed the jump in competition. While his quad salchow was judge under rotated, he went on to land two triple-triple combinations and two triple axels, all done with style and maturity beyond his years. The program earned 169.22 points to win the day.

“Last season, I didn’t skate so well. I had some hip and back (injuries) and boot problems,” Cha, who also said he had recently had a growth spurt, said. “Now I feel much stronger, and I have been working hard.”

Asked if he had a skating idol – perhaps his training partner, Hanyu – Cha demurred.

“I don’t have just one idol,” he said. “I like many different skaters, for different reasons. I will like one skater for his jumps; another skater for his spins.”

MORE: Tennell upsets Medvedeva at Autumn Classic

Canada’s Roman Sadovsky, fourth after the short program, stepped up to win the bronze medal with 233.86 points after landing two quads, a salchow and toe, in his free skate.

Jason Brown may be disappointed in his fourth-place finish here, but it cannot have come as a big surprise: the 2015 U.S. champion has said that since moving to Toronto this spring to train under Orser and Wilson, he has been re-learning his jump technique. He called the move “a four-year project.”

“I cannot speak more highly of Brian, Tracy, Lee (Barkell) and Karen (Preston), the whole team at Cricket Club,” Brown, 23, said. “They have been really been patient with me and worked with me methodically. … We’re starting from the ground up. Each day I’m learning something new, each day they are helping me work through something, whether that me a mental thing, physically getting a jump,  or the pacing of a program.”

The debut of Brown’s free to a medley of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Old Friends” and “Hazy Days of Winter” was bittersweet: his blades sung during spins, step sequences and transitions, but the jumps weren’t there. An opening quad salchow was doubled; a triple axel, popped into a single. He earned 144.33 points to place fifth in the free and fourth overall with 233.23.

Wilson, though, said they are just getting started.

“Let’s face it, he is a brilliant skater and he’s gotten close to the top of the world,” Wilson said of Brown, who was fourth in the world in 2015. “It’s a fine line trying to find room for improvement, and so that’s what we are trying to do. We are throwing a lot at him. We’re going to pull back a little.”

“What he brings, though, cannot be ignored,” she added. “My husband can be in the rink and know nothing about skating, and be mesmerized by what Jason does. He could teach clinics for every step sequence and position details. He is integral to what the sport needs.”

MORE: Kaitlyn Weaver, Andrew Poje debut free dance tribute to Denis Ten