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London Marathon preview; runners to watch

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World records are under threat from male and female runners at the London Marathon on Sunday (3:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold).

The forecast calls for the warmest London Marathon in its 38-year history (a high Sunday in the low 70s, though likely cooler for the morning start times).

The elite fields, stronger than for last Monday’s Boston Marathon, include the greatest marathoners of this generation — Eliud Kipchoge and Mary Keitany — plus arguably each Kenyan’s top rival at the moment.

Five runners to watch in each field …

Eliud Kipchoge, Kenya
2016 Olympic champ
2015, 2016 London Marathon winner
Ran 2:00:25 in Nike’s sub-two-hour marathon attempt last May

In Kipchoge’s last start in London, he missed countryman Dennis Kimetto‘s world record by eight seconds, prevailing in 2:03:05 in 2016. Since, Kipchoge won the Olympic title, had what he deemed his greatest performance in the sub-two-hour (non-record-eligible) event and extended his marathon win streak to seven races over four years in rainy, humid Berlin last September. The 33-year-old has refused to get into world-record talk, telling media he just wants to run “a beautiful race” Sunday.

Kenenisa Bekele, Ethiopia
Second-fastest marathoner of all time (Berlin 2016, 2:03:03)
World-record holder in 5000m, 10,000m
Eight Olympic/world titles in 5000m, 10,000m

Credentials from 5000m to marathon make a strong case that Bekele is the greatest runner of all time, ahead of Usain Bolt and Kipchoge. He really started taking aim at the world record after that 2016 Berlin breakthrough. Bekele was runner-up with foot blisters in London last year, nearly three minutes slower than in Germany, and failed to finish his other two marathons in 2017. “To have the records for 5000m to marathon would be something – no one else has done that. I feel like that would make me the greatest ever,” Bekele said, according to marathon organizers.

Mo Farah, Great Britain
2012, 2016 Olympic champ in 5000m/10,000m
Second marathon
8th at 2014 London Marathon

Farah’s primary goal Sunday is modest in comparison to Kipchoge and Bekele — break the British marathon record of 2:07:13. Farah, repeating in a press conference Tuesday that he is ranked 27th in the world in the distance, said he still intends to go out with the leaders even if they start on world-record pace. It’s his first marathon since switching full-time to road running after last season and his second overall after his 2:08:21 in London four years ago.

Guye Adola, Ethiopia
Second to Kipchoge at 2017 Berlin Marathon in 26.2-mile debut

Adola came out of nowhere to finish 14 seconds behind Kipchoge in Berlin on Sept. 24 in the fastest-ever marathon debut on a record-eligible course, sticking with Kipchoge until the last mile. Afterward, we learned Adola didn’t know he was running until four days before the race and wasn’t meant to start with the elite group. The 27-year-old was second and fifth in half marathons in January and February, not particularly impressive.

Daniel Wanjiru, Kenya
2017 London Marathon winner

Wanjiru won his major marathon debut last year, then returned to London for the world championships on Aug. 6 and was eighth. Neither of those fields was as strong as Sunday’s is shaping up to be. Just 25, Wanjiru will be tested like never before.

Mary Keitany, Kenya
2011, 2012, 2017 London Marathon winner
Ran fastest marathon by a woman without male pacers
2014, 2015, 2016 New York City Marathon winner

The 5-foot-2 mother of two smashed Paula Radcliffe‘s women-only world record by 41 seconds in London last year, clocking 2:17:01. She’ll run with male pacers Sunday in a bid to break Radcliffe’s world record of 2:15:25 from the 2003 London Marathon (the first time since 2003 London has male pacers for the women’s race). Keitany was stunned by Shalane Flanagan at her last marathon in New York City in November but came back in February to lower her half marathon personal best. “I’ve had Paula’s record in mind since I started my career,” the 36-year-old Keitany said.

Tirunesh Dibaba, Ethiopia
2017 Chicago Marathon winner
2017 London Marathon runner-up
Third-fastest female marathoner of all time
Eight Olympic/world titles in 5000m/10,000m

The Baby-Faced Destroyer is the only woman in the field whose personal best is within two minutes of Keitany’s. There’s reason to believe she can be closer to Keitany than last year (55 seconds behind, and that’s after stopping briefly with two miles left with stomach problems). Dibaba is four years younger than Keitany, with a decorated track background and just one year into her full-time marathon career.

Gladys Cherono, Kenya
2015, 2017 Berlin Marathon winner

The woman with the third-fastest personal best in the field has never raced London and was fifth in her only major marathon outside of Berlin. She was eighth in a half marathon in February, more than two minutes behind Keitany.

Rose Chelimo, Bahrain
2017 World champion
2017 Boston Marathon runner-up

Impressive second year as a marathoner in 2017. Chelimo, 28, was born in Kenya but switched to Bahrain in 2015. Though this is her London Marathon debut, her world title came in London in August. She did not impress at the world half marathon championships last month, finishing 14th overall and fifth among runners from Bahrain.

Vivian Cheruiyot, Kenya
Fourth at 2017 London Marathon in 26.2-mile debut
Four Olympic medals in 5000m/10,000m
Four world championships in 5000m/10,000m

Credentials similar to but not quite as impressive as Dibaba in terms of track medals, early marathon experience and age (34 to Dibaba’s 32). Cheruiyot finished more than five minutes behind Keitany and Dibaba in her 26.2-mile debut in London last year. She dropped out of the New York City Half Marathon on March 18 with a breathing problem in the cold weather but insisted she’s healthy for Sunday.

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MORE: Shalane Flanagan looks to future after last Boston Marathon

Shiffrin recharging, focusing on early March return to slopes

Shiffrin
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A worn out and under-the-weather Mikaela Shiffrin will temporarily apply the brakes on her historic Alpine skiing season in order to take a much-needed breather. The way she’s racing, that’s almost got to be a sigh of relief for the rest of the field.

The skier from Avon, Colorado , plans on skipping World Cup races in Switzerland and Russia — site of the 2014 Sochi Games, where she won Olympic gold in the slalom — before returning to the circuit for the final push. Following a nearly two-week hiatus, she will be back in the start gate for the technical races in the Czech Republic and then the World Cup Finals in Andorra.

Her absence is a chance for other names to appear on top of a podium she’s dominated of late.

So far this season, Shiffrin’s recorded 20 top-three finishes, including 14 World Cup wins along with two world championships gold medals and a bronze. She’s already wrapped up the World Cup slalom title and currently sits 719 points ahead of Petra Vlhova of Slovakia in a bid to win her third straight overall World Cup crown.

Shiffrin could keep right on charging. But what she really needs is time to recharge.

“Just get 100 percent recovered and healthy again, get some training in,” said Shiffrin, who turns 24 on March 13.

Shiffrin’s been running on fumes for days. She earned her fourth straight slalom title at the world championships in Sweden last Saturday despite a cold so severe it had her team fearing she might have a touch of pneumonia. She wasn’t sure how well she could compete, but stormed to the title with a furious final run that left her breathless and speechless.

“Most emotional I’ve ever been at a ski race. I kept crying,” said Shiffrin , who’s typically so reserved after wins. “Some of that might have been illness and being exhausted.”

A few days later, Shiffrin captured a city event in Stockholm. It was her 57th career win on the circuit and 14th of the season, matching the record for most World Cup victories in a single campaign, set by Swiss great Vreni Schneider in the 1990s.

“Rest,” she said, “is going to help a lot.”

And rest assured, she’s got the formula for winning down to a science. Her hidden secret? Don’t set high expectations.

Better yet, none at all.

She does her best work when she doesn’t imagine a good run, because rarely does it live up to the picture in her mind. So she concentrates on going from gate to gate in order to capture win after win.

“When I’m in the starting gate thinking, ‘I want to win this,’ I bring the intensity too high and then I make a mistake,” explained Shiffrin, who also won gold in the super-G at the recent world championships and bronze in the giant slalom. “I get to the finish and I’m really disappointed because I totally let the result get in the way of the actual process. My biggest goal is every time I stand in the starting gate, no matter what records I might be looking at, focus on the skiing, focus on the turns, because that’s the thing that leaves me the most satisfied.”

Lately, she’s been dealing with a sore back. She described it as a “GS back,” due to all the rotational force and the movement required in the giant slalom.

“With each year, my body is starting to complain to me,” said Shiffrin, who earned Olympic gold (giant slalom) and silver (combined) at the Pyeongchang Games last February. “My back has been kind of nagging all season long. It’s something we’ve had to manage.”

There will be plenty on the line when she returns from her brief break. She holds a slight lead over Tessa Worley of France in the overall GS race. Shiffrin also has a 32-point advantage over Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein in the season-long super-G standings (one of the races in Russia is a super-G). Her priority the rest of the way will definitely be on the GS, a World Cup crown she’s yet captured. Should she capture the super-G title, well, that’s an added bonus since she only recently started training for the speed discipline.

“I’m having more fun this season than I ever have, which is awesome,” Shiffrin said.

This will keep her motivated down the stretch: “I’m looking forward,” Shiffrin said, “to getting to a beach — somewhere.”

US World Champs ready to take to the ice in Heerenveen

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After winning world championship titles two weeks ago, two-time Olympians Brittany Bowe (Ocala, Fla.) and Joey Mantia (Ocala, Fla.) will compete this weekend at the 2019 World Sprint Championships in Heerenveen, Netherlands.

Bowe’s performance at the World Single Distance Championships earned her a gold medal in the 1000m while setting a new track record. Mantia’s Mass Start gold medal was a back-to-back win for him in that championship event.

The World Sprint Championships is a combined points event. All athletes skate two 500m and two 1000m races. Lowest point total after four races wins the overall title. Along with Bowe and Mantia, Brianna Bocox (Cheyenne, Wyo.) and Kimi Goetz (Flemington, N.J.) will compete at the event.

You can catch the action Live on NBC Sports Gold and on the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA: February 23 from 8-9 p.m. ET and February 24 from 8-9 p.m. ET.