Jimmie Johnson just misses Boston Marathon goal, eyes return

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BOSTON — When Jimmie Johnson arrived in Boston for his first marathon, running less than two days after Saturday’s 400-mile NASCAR race, one of Meb Keflezighi‘s books was waiting in his hotel room, signed by the 2014 Boston Marathon champion himself.

When Johnson finished his first marathon in 3 hours, 9 minutes, 7 seconds on Monday, there was Keflezighi again. This time to present the seven-time NASCAR Cup champion his finisher’s medal.

“He congratulated me, was impressed with my time for a first-time marathoner,” said Johnson, who got into Boston via a Gatorade sponsor’s exemption but has run a 1:33 half marathon. “I invited [Keflezighi] to a car race, would love to connect with him and host him and show him what our world’s like at the race track.”

Johnson may be seeing Keflezighi again next year. The 43-year-old noted his time beat the 2020 Boston Marathon qualifying standard by 53 seconds for his age group.

“I would love to be able to try to break three [hours],” Johnson said 45 minutes after crossing the Boylston Street finish line, repeating his pre-race goal time. “I know for a fact it wasn’t in the cards today. I left on that number and was trying to hold it and just didn’t have it. I need to go back to the drawing board. I love that kind of challenge, and it’s going to weigh on me. … I just need to look at the schedule and see if it all lays out, and I can come back.”

Johnson said the transition from Saturday’s NASCAR race in Richmond, where he placed 12th, to the world’s oldest annual marathon was smooth. He felt strong on the starting line, though admitting the buzz of the Hopkinton start drained some energy.

“I couldn’t believe how many people did spot me,” he said. “It was loud, especially the closer we got to town. Once somebody would recognize me, the crowd would get going, and I could kind of egg them on.”

Johnson, wearing bib 4848 to correspond to his No. 48 Chevrolet, did get bragging rights over former NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray, who ran a 3:14 marathon in December.

“It’s always been of interest to me, endurance sports,” Johnson told NBC Sports before the race. “The year of the bombings, I realized that if the NASCAR schedule is right, with the marathon on a Monday, it’s something I can do. It just took from the year of the bombings until now for the opportunity.

“The stories of Boston and the energy and the excitement, the way the city is, it’s something I have to experience.”

Johnson also has triathlon and swimming experience, having trained in the same pool as U.S. Olympic swimmers in Charlotte, including taking tips from London 2012 200m backstroke gold medalist Tyler Clary.

He’ll take the finisher’s medal home, where he is sure his daughters will want to play with it. It will eventually rest in his office, along with three other trophies from the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and a season-long championship.

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World silver medalist opts out of figure skating Grand Prix

Elizabet Tursynbaeva
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Elizabet Tursynbayeva, the 2019 World silver medalist, said she will not compete in figure skating’s upcoming Grand Prix Series, according to Kazakhstan’s Olympic Committee.

Tursynbayeva noted in stating her decision that world ranking points will not be awarded in the series, which starts with Skate America from Oct. 23-25.

Fields for the six Grand Prix events, held on consecutive weekends through November, have not been released.

Skaters will be restricted to one Grand Prix start — halved from the usual two — and to the event in their home nations or closest to their training locations.

Tursynbayeva trains in Russia, one of six nations to host Grand Prix events.

Previously, Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu announced he would not compete on the Grand Prix due to coronavirus pandemic-related travel risks.

Russian Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova, who announced an indefinite break from competition last December, is also not expected to compete. She is hosting a Russian skating-themed TV show but has not announced her future competition plans.

Tursynbayeva took silver behind Zagitova at the most recent world championships in 2019, a surprise given her 12th-place finish at the PyeongChang Olympics. Tursynbayeva withdrew before her 2019 Grand Prix events, reportedly after suffering an injury.

Last season’s top skaters were all first-year seniors — Russians Alena Kostornaya, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova. The world championships were not held due to the pandemic.

Two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

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Serena Williams battles, then rolls into French Open second round

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Serena Williams overcame early struggles, sweeping past countrywoman Kristie Ahn 7-6 (2), 6-0 to reach the French Open second round.

Williams, again eyeing a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title, started out like somebody who went 16 months between clay-court matches. She needed 74 minutes to take the first set from the 102nd-ranked Ahn, recovering twice after having her serve broken.

She dominated the second set in 27 minutes, advancing to play Bulgarian and fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova, a rematch of their three-set U.S. Open quarterfinal three weeks ago.

Williams, in long sleeves and tights, had 15 winners to 28 unforced errors in the first set in cloudy, sub-60-degree weather on Monday.

“I hate the cold. I’m from L.A. and I live in Florida,” Williams said before the tournament, which was postponed from its usual May/June slot due to the coronavirus pandemic. “For half my life I’ve never seen snow. Cold weather and me do not mix.”

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Williams also noted before the tournament that she was “not at 100 percent physically” and spent most of her time in France “rehabbing” without giving specifics. She took a medical timeout with a left Achilles injury in her last match, a U.S. Open semifinal loss to Victoria Azarenka,

“I wouldn’t be playing if I didn’t think I could perform,” Williams said Saturday. “I don’t know any athlete that ever plays physically when they’re feeling perfect. That’s just something I think as athletes we have to play with.”

Earlier Monday, newly crowned U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem rolled 2014 U.S. Open winner Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Thiem, the 2018 and 2019 French Open runner-up, next gets American Jack Sock, a former top-10 player now ranked No. 310. Sock took out countryman Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 for his first main draw win at the French Open in four years.

Rafael Nadal begins his quest for a record-extending 13th French Open title and male record-tying 20th Grand Slam singles title later Monday.

The French Open first round concludes Tuesday with top-ranked Novak Djokovic in action.

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