Shalane Flanagan, U.S. women are the story at New York City Marathon

Shalane Flanagan, Des Linden, Molly Huddle
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NEW YORK — If there is one news angle leading into Sunday’s New York City Marathon, it’s a collective: the rise of U.S. women.

Last year, Shalane Flanagan became the first U.S. female runner in 40 years to win New York, the world’s largest annual marathon.

Des Linden watched the broadcast from Michigan. Five minutes before Flanagan crossed the Central Park finish line, an already crying Linden tweeted from her iPhone, “Thank you @ShalaneFlanagan for giving us something to believe in.”

Flanagan responded two days later amid a victory whirlwind: “Now it’s your turn,” with emojis of a fist, a flexed bicep and an American flag.

Then 160 days after that, Linden broke a 33-year drought for U.S. women at the Boston Marathon on perhaps the worst weather day in the 122-year history of the world’s oldest annual marathon.

“My legs have never been more sore. They hurt so bad I couldn’t sleep,” tweeted Flanagan, a Massachusetts native who finished seventh in what she said was her final Boston Marathon as an elite. “BUT @des_linden won the @bostonmarathon so life is good.”

Flanagan, 37, and Linden, 35, headline Sunday’s race, along with the arguably more promising 34-year-old Molly Huddle. None of those multiple-time Olympians is considered the favorite. Kenyans Mary Keitany and Vivian Cheruiyot have personal bests three minutes faster than any American, but the power of the red, white and blue surge is irresistible.

In the last year, Flanagan’s two-word expletive from her 2017 win became a rallying cry. She appeared in a Super Bowl commercial with Chris Pratt. Countless girls dressed as her for Halloween.

Linden had a viral moment, chugging champagne from a lightly used running shoe hours after the Boston win. Flanagan and Linden received the highest appearance fees for Sunday’s race among runners of either gender, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“Any chance that we get to be in the spotlight, the American women and the women’s field, that’s something to be relished,” Flanagan said Friday. “I don’t know that I’ve always been a part of races where it is like that.”

Linden can relate. The self-labeled “grinder,” book nerd and Scottish whiskey connoisseur began marathoning in 2007, when 2004 Olympic silver medalist Deena Kastor was the only relevant U.S. woman on the global stage. In 2007, 69 women broke 2 hours, 30 minutes around the world. None were Americans.

“Anything under 2:30 was Deena territory. That was reserved for greatness,” Linden said. “Everyone else was just trying to break 2:30. That was where the bar was. It’s like this men’s 2:10 right now. If you can get through there, then you’re a real threat.”

Last year, the U.S. had seven women in the top 85 in the world, all with sub-2:27:30 times.

Contrast that with the U.S. men, who haven’t put anybody other than Galen Rupp in the yearly top 150 since 2014.

The men’s race Sunday should come down to the usual Kenya-Ethiopia battle, including defending champion Geoffrey Kamworor.

The most intriguing American is 43-year-old, five-time Olympian Bernard Lagat, who in his marathon debut hopes to break Meb Keflezighi‘s over-40 U.S. age group record of 2:12:20.

Such is the state of American men’s running that If Lagat does that on the difficult five-borough course, he would be the second-fastest American this year behind Rupp and arguably a favorite to make the Tokyo Olympic team. Lagat is already the oldest U.S. Olympic runner of all time. In 2020, he could become the fourth-oldest Olympic male runner ever.

“2:15 is the time to qualify,” for the 2020 Olympic Trials, Lagat said, noting the A standard. “If I run really well, and I feel good on Sunday, I don’t see why not just go try.”

Technically, Lagat isn’t yet committing to running another marathon. Neither is Flanagan. She and Linden both had retirement thoughts in the last year, though Linden now talks about the Olympic Trials. That women’s race on Leap Day 2020 could be one to savor.

Not only the prospect of Linden and Flanagan going for their third and fifth Olympic teams, but also a field with 2017 World bronze medalist Amy CraggJordan Hasay (the second-fastest U.S. female marathoner ever) and Huddle.

If the U.S. women’s marathoning story writes itself Sunday, it would be the New York state native Huddle breaking the tape in Central Park to make it a true winning streak. That would fulfill another tweet, one week after April’s Boston Marathon.

“Head up,” Linden tweeted to Huddle, who finished 16th with hypothermia in Boston. “You’re next.”

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MORE: Galen Rupp out several months, to miss spring marathon

Kenenisa Bekele still eyes Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record, but a duel must wait

Kenenisa Bekele
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LONDON — Kenenisa Bekele made headlines last week by declaring “of course I am the best” long distance runner ever. But the Ethiopian was fifth-best at Sunday’s London Marathon, finishing 74 seconds behind Kenya’s Amos Kipruto.

Bekele, 40, clocked 2:05:53, the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. He was with the lead pack until being dropped in the 21st mile.

But Bekele estimated he could have run 90 to 120 seconds faster had he not missed parts of six weeks of training with hip and joint injuries.

“I expect better even if the preparation is short,” he said. “I know my talent and I know my capacity, but really I couldn’t achieve what I expect.”

Bekele is the second-fastest marathoner in history behind Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, who broke his own world record by clocking 2:01:09 at the Berlin Marathon last week.

“I am happy when I see Eliud Kipchoge run that time,” Bekele said. “It motivates all athletes who really expect to do the same thing.”

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Bekele’s best time was within two seconds of Kipchoge’s previous world record (2:01:39). He described breaking Kipchoge’s new mark as the “main goal” for the rest of his career.

“Yes, I hope, one day it will happen, of course,” Bekele said. “With good preparation, I don’t know when, but we will see one more time.”

Nobody has won more London Marathons than Kipchoge, a four-time champion who set the course record (2:02:37) in 2019. But the two-time Olympic marathon champion did not run this year in London, as elite marathoners typically choose to enter one race each spring and fall.

Bekele does not know which race he will enter in the spring. But it will not be against Kipchoge.

“I need to show something first,” Bekele said. “I need to run a fast time. I have to check myself. This is not enough.”

Kipchoge will try to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles at the Paris Games. Bekele, who will be 42 in 2024, has not committed to trying to qualify for the Ethiopian team.

“There’s a long time to go before Paris,” Bekele said. “At this moment I am not decided. I have to show something.”

So who is the greatest long distance runner ever?

Bekele can make a strong case on the track:

Bekele
Four Olympic medals (three gold)
Six World Championship medals (five gold)
Former 5000m and 10,000m world-record holder

Kipchoge
Two Olympic medals
Two World Championship medals (one gold)

But Kipchoge can make a strong case on the pavement:

Bekele
Second-fastest marathoner in history
Two World Marathon Major victories

Kipchoge
Four of the five best marathon times in history
Two-time Olympic marathon champion
12 World Marathon Major victories

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Yalemzerf Yehualaw, Amos Kipruto win London Marathon

Yalemzerf Yehualaw
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Ethiopian Yalemzerf Yehualaw became the youngest female runner to win the London Marathon, while Kenyan Amos Kipruto earned the biggest victory of his career in the men’s race.

Yehualaw, 23, clocked 2:17:26, prevailing by 41 seconds over 2021 London champ Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya.

Yehualaw tripped and fell over a speed bump around the 20-mile mark. She quickly rejoined the lead pack, then pulled away from Jepkosgei by running the 24th mile in a reported 4:43, which converts to 2:03:30 marathon pace; the women’s world record is 2:14:04.

Yehualaw and Jepkosgei were pre-race favorites after world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya withdrew Monday with a right hamstring injury.

On April 24, Yehualaw ran the fastest women’s debut marathon in history, a 2:17:23 to win in Hamburg, Germany.

She has joined the elite tier of female marathoners, a group led by Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir, the reigning Olympic, New York City and Boston champion. Another Ethiopian staked a claim last week when Tigist Assefa won Berlin in 2:15:37, shattering Yehualaw’s national record.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion in 1984, finished Sunday’s race in 3:20:20 at age 65.

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Kipruto, 30, won the men’s race in 2:04:39. He broke free from the leading group in the 25th mile and crossed the finish line 33 seconds ahead of Ethiopian Leul Gebresilase, who said he had hamstring problems.

Kipruto, one of the pre-race favorites, had never won a major marathon but did finish second behind world record holder Eliud Kipchoge in Tokyo (2022) and Berlin (2018) and third at the world championships (2019) and Tokyo (2018).

Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest marathoner in history, was fifth after being dropped in the 21st mile. His 2:05:53 was the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. Bekele ran his personal best at the 2019 Berlin Marathon — 2:01:41 — and has not run within four minutes of that time since.

The major marathon season continues next Sunday with the Chicago Marathon, headlined by a women’s field that includes Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich and American Emily Sisson.

London returns next year to its traditional April place after being pushed to October the last three years due to the pandemic.

MORE: Bekele looks ahead to Kipchoge chase after London Marathon

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