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Galen Rupp ponders American record, finally beating Mo Farah at Chicago Marathon

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Galen Rupp believes the American record is in play at Sunday’s Chicago Marathon, where he could beat an upright Mo Farah for the first time.

“This is probably the best situation I’ve ever been in to run fast,” Rupp said Monday, six days before the 26.2-mile race (8 a.m. ET, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports Gold for subscribers).

Rupp leans on the confidence from his last marathon, when he won in Prague in 2:06:07 on May 6, shattering his personal best of 2:09:20 from winning the 2017 Chicago Marathon.

Prague came three weeks after Rupp dropped out of the Boston Marathon before the 20th mile due to the hypothermia-inducing weather. Rupp had said before Boston that his pre-race training was “by far” his best of his first five marathons.

“It wasn’t the most ideal circumstances,” Rupp said of Prague. “In that race it was more about winning and really surging in the second half. It wasn’t necessarily the best way to run a fast time, and I still ran pretty quick there. … It left me thinking there’s a lot more room still where I have that I can improve.”

Every marathon that Rupp has finished came in a personal-best time: 2:11:13 (Olympic Trials), 2:10:05 (Olympics), 2:09:58 (Boston 2017), 2:09:20 (Chicago 2017), 2:06:07 (Prague 2018).

Rupp is now the third-fastest American marathoner in history. Khalid Khannouchi‘s American record — 2:05:38 — is not that far off. Ryan Hall ran 2:04:58 in Boston, but the course is not record-eligible.

The situation Rupp mentioned is boosted by a stronger Chicago field than last year (adding the four-time Olympic track champion Farah, plus 2017 Boston and 2017 World champion Geoffrey Kirui and three others who have broken 2:05).

And the reintroduction of pacers. From 2011-14, the Chicago Marathon winning time was faster than Khannouchi’s American record. Race organizers ditched pacers from 2015-17, during which Rupp’s 2:09:20 was the fastest time.

“I’ve got no excuses,” said Rupp, fully recovered from an ankle/Achilles problem that forced him to withdraw before the Sept. 16 Copenhagen Half Marathon. Rupp said training the last two weeks of September was similar to if not faster than before this race a year ago and before Prague.

One stat working against Rupp: He has never won a race that’s included Farah, his former training partner and FIFA video game rival. En route to 10 total Olympic and world championships, the Brit Farah was 21-1 versus Rupp, but never in a marathon, according to Tilastopaja.org.

“He dominated me on the track,” Rupp mentions without being told of their head-to-head record. “I think I might have beaten him once, and that’s because he got tripped.”

Rupp’s right. He finished third and Farah fourth in an indoor mile in 2012 after Farah tripped and fell 21 seconds after the gun.

But Rupp has the experience edge in the marathon. Farah has raced 26.2 miles just twice (2014 and 2018 London Marathons, though he was an impressive third in London in 2:06:21 on April 22, at the time better than Rupp’s PR).

“He’s one of the best track runners of all time,” said Rupp, adding that he hasn’t seen Farah in person since Farah announced a split from their coach, Alberto Salazar, and moved from Oregon back to Britain last year. “I’m certainly more suited for the longer distances.”

Rupp watched the last 30 minutes of Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge‘s world record 2:01:39 in Berlin on Sept. 16. Not as it happened, but he didn’t know the result beforehand, either. Rupp called Kipchoge, a fellow Nike runner, “a good friend” and the best person to represent the marathon.

Rupp hasn’t faced Kipchoge since they shared the 2016 Olympic podium (Kipchoge gold, Rupp bronze).

But beating Kirui, arguably the most impressive non-Kipchoge marathoner of 2017, and Farah, the greatest track runner of the last decade, would move Rupp closer to the top of the non-Kipchoge division of the marathon.

“For you to make the next step in your development, especially what you want to do in 2020, you’ve got to start really running against great competition,” Rupp said Salazar told him before flying to Chicago. “[Salazar] looks back on what he did [a New York City Marathon three-peat and a PR of 2:08:13]. He’s shown me before when he’s run his best times in the marathon. He’s like, everything I’ve done has been so superior to that.”

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VIDEO: Tatyana McFadden stars in Nike ad before Chicago Marathon

Bryan brothers to retire at 2020 U.S. Open, don’t plan on Olympics

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Bob and Mike Bryan said they will retire after the 2020 U.S. Open, ending a tennis career that’s included a men’s record 16 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

They also don’t plan to play at the Tokyo Olympics, their manager later said in an email.

The twins are 41 years old, having spent more than half their lives as professionals.

“A part of us, feels like, is dying,” Bob Bryan said on Tennis Channel. “But we’re really clear about this decision. It’s going to be great to have a finish line.”

Mike said that in 2020 they will play all the events they “really love,” including all four Grand Slams and American tournaments. The Olympics weren’t mentioned.

Rather, they will see how they’re feeling midway through the year, they said on the Tennis.com podcast.

The Bryans earned doubles gold at the 2012 London Games but withdrew from the Rio Olympics six days before the Opening Ceremony. They cited making their family’s health a “top priority” and later said Zika virus concerns were “a very small part of” the decision.

The Bryans own 118 titles overall but nearly ended their partnership after Bob underwent hip surgery a year ago. He rejoined Mike this season, reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals and winning two ATP doubles titles.

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

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