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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Katie Ledecky swims fastest at U.S. Open from B final

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For what must have been the first time in seven years, Katie Ledecky failed to qualify for an A final in one of her primary events on Friday morning. No matter, she swam the fastest 200m freestyle at the U.S. Open from the B final at night.

Ledecky, owner of 20 combined Olympic and world titles, clocked 1:56.24 to win the B final by nearly three seconds in Atlanta. In the very next race, American record holder Allison Schmitt touched first in the A final in 1:56.47.

Full results are here. The final day of the meet airs live on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Ledecky has rarely lost domestically in freestyles from 200m through 1500m since she made her first Olympic team at age 15 in 2012.

She kept the streak intact, giving her a sweep of the 200m, 400m and 800m frees in the first three days of the U.S. Open, what could be the deepest domestic meet before the Olympic trials in June.

Internationally, Ledecky faced challengers in the 200m free in this Olympic cycle, unlike the last one. Italian veteran and world-record holder Federica Pellegrini won the last two world titles, with Ledecky missing the event this summer due to her mid-meet illness.

Ledecky ranks seventh in the world in the 200m free this year but likely would have been faster if she was able to race at her best at world champs.

Domestically, Simone Manuel has crept up, clocking 1:56.09 to lead off the 4x200m free relay at worlds to rank second among Americans in 2019. Manuel was the third-fastest American on Friday, recording 1:57.21, her fastest time ever outside of a major summer meet.

In other events Friday, Phoebe Bacon upset world-record holder Regan Smith in the 100m backstroke. Bacon, who like Smith is 17 years old, overtook Smith in the last 25 meters and prevailed by .05 in 58.63. Bacon, while shy of Smith’s world record 57.57, took .39 off her personal best to become the fifth-fastest in the world this year.

Olympic and world champion Lilly King dominated the 100m breaststroke, beating a strong field by .62 of a second in 1:05.65.

Chase Kalisz won a potential Olympic trials preview in the 400m individual medley in 4:13.07. Kalisz, the Rio silver medalist, held off 18-year-old Carson Foster by 1.69 seconds. Ryan Lochte, the 2012 Olympic champion in the event, was fifth, 6.65 seconds behind.

Rio Olympian Townley Haas won the men’s 200m free in 1:45.92, his fastest time since August 2018. Haas, the 2017 World silver medalist, improved to the second-fastest American in the event this year behind Andrew Seliskar.

Torri Huske won the 100m butterfly on the eve of her 17th birthday. Huske clocked 57.48, taking .23 off her personal best to move from sixth fastest to third fastest in the U.S. this year.

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Ester Ledecka stuns again, wins World Cup downhill from bib No. 26

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Consider 26 a lucky number for Ester Ledecka.

Ledecka, the snowboard champion who stunningly captured the PyeongChang Olympic super-G from bib No. 26, won her first World Cup ski race on Friday — also from bib No. 26.

Ledecka was fastest in a downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta.

She kept Swiss Corinne Suter from her first World Cup win by .35 of a second. Austrian Stephanie Venier was third. Mikaela Shiffrin was 10th in her weakest discipline. Full results are here.

“I am for sure more shocked than everybody here,” Ledecka said. “I was a little bit, not disappointed about the run, but I was not super satisfied. Then I was really surprised about the time.”

Ledecka, an Olympic and world champion in Alpine snowboarding from the Czech Republic, had a previous best Alpine skiing World Cup finish of seventh. The top-ranked racers all go in the top 20 of the start list.

Last season, Ledecka raced more World Cup skiing events than snowboarding events for the first time. She was forced to choose between world championships in skiing and in snowboarding due to schedules and picked the former with a top finish of 15th.

She’s undecided about her upcoming schedule. She could continue on the Alpine skiing tour with a super-G in Switzerland next weekend, or she could fly to Italy for a snowboarding event.

The women race another downhill and a super-G in Lake Louise the next two days. A full TV and live stream schedule for the weekend races is here.

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