Molly Huddle, Emily Sisson seek spots in golden age for U.S. marathoners

Molly Huddle, Emily Sison
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The U.S. Olympic marathon trials aren’t for 10 months, but the field is already crowded. The current era has produced four of the six American women in history who have broken 2 hours, 24 minutes, for 26.2 miles.

Two more could join that club at Sunday’s London Marathon (Olympic Channel and NBC Sports Gold, 4 a.m. ET).

Molly Huddle and Emily Sisson, training partners and the two fastest U.S. half-marathoners ever, give the nation its strongest contingent in the British capital in a decade. The last American woman to place in the top five in London was Deena Kastor, who won in 2006 in an American record 2:19:36.

When Kastor clocked that time, she and Joan Benoit Samuelson were the only Americans to ever break 2:26:26. Since the start of 2018, five different U.S. women have done it. Again, that does not include Huddle or Sisson, both expected to better that time Sunday.

Huddle told LetsRun.com on Thursday that she would be happy in the 2:21-2:23 range.

“It sounds like they’re going to come through the half in 71 minutes or so and then see what they have,” said NBC Sports analyst Josh Cox, who is also an agent for 2018 Boston Marathon winner Des Linden and other U.S. distance runners, but none in the London field. “That’s 2:22 territory if they ran even [pace]. That’s some rarefied air when you’re talking about American women.”

Neither Huddle nor Sisson, expected to stick together for most of the race, is favored to win Sunday. The title is likely to come down to defending champion Vivian Cheruiyot and three-time London winner Mary Keitany, both of Kenya.

But the Americans’ times will be key in the early sorting of what should be the greatest field in U.S. women’s marathon history at trials in Atlanta on Feb. 29. London marks the last major marathon until the fall season. Many Olympic hopefuls will skip those September, October and November marathons to rest up for trials, where the top three are in line to make the Tokyo team.

The leader of the pack after last week’s Boston Marathon has to be Jordan Hasay.

The 27-year-old former high school track phenom returned from a marathon-less 2018 due to injuries to cross third on Boylston Street on Patriots’ Day. Hasay has finished third in all three of her marathon starts (all majors), has never been beaten by an American at 26.2 miles and is the second-fastest American in history behind Kastor. Hasay plans to run the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 13, chasing Kastor’s American record.

The most accomplished active elite U.S. marathoners are Shalane Flanagan and Des Linden.

Flanagan, 37 and the 2017 New York City Marathon winner, is set to undergo knee surgery and may be finished with elite racing. Linden, 35 and the 2018 Boston Marathon champ, has not announced her plans after placing fifth in her Boston defense. Either would be the oldest U.S. woman to make an Olympic marathon team in 16 years.

Amy Cragg followed her 2016 Olympic Trials win with a 2017 World bronze medal and the label of fastest U.S. marathoner of 2018. Cragg, 35, is now 14 months removed from her last 26.2-miler after passing on a spring marathon.

Huddle and Sisson take their tests Sunday.

It’s a familiar one for Huddle, a two-time Olympic 10,000m runner who has held national records from 5km to the half marathon. The 34-year-old nail polish enthusiast and avid reader has three marathons to her name, with third- and fourth-place finishes in New York.

“She hasn’t ran on a flat, fast course yet,” Cox said. “Running 71 flat in London [for the first half], she’ll have no problem doing that. The question is, what can they [Huddle and Sisson] do after 20 miles?”

Sisson has never raced a marathon. In fact, she didn’t consider running professionally until her fifth year of college while on track for an MBA at Providence (she’s still two classes away).

Her breakthrough came in 2017. Sisson shattered personal bests on the track at 5000m and 10,000m, finished two seconds behind the winner Huddle in her half-marathon debut and made the world championships team at 10,000m. Sisson followed Huddle from Providence to Scottsdale, Ariz., last fall and got even faster. She ran the second-fastest half marathon in U.S. history in January (on a record-eligible course) and became the third-fastest U.S. woman all-time at 10,000m in March.

Sisson’s passion remains on the track, but she was intrigued enough by the Olympic marathon trials to test her legs over 26.2 miles this spring. Like her more experienced countrywomen, Sisson does not see a fall marathon in her future.

“I’m not putting all this pressure on me that I need to go out there in this first one and knock it out of the park,” Sisson said recently on Carrie Tollefson‘s podcast, adding that she couldn’t predict her time Sunday because she has no reference points. “I’m not scared. I feel like I’m curious more.”

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MORE: 2019 Boston Marathon Results

Summer McIntosh, Canadian teen swimmer, caps record year with another historic time

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Summer McIntosh swam the fourth-fastest 400m individual medley in history on Friday, capping a year that already included world titles, Commonwealth Games titles and a victory over Katie Ledecky.

McIntosh, a 16-year-old Canadian whose mom swam at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, won the 400m IM in 4 minutes, 28.61 seconds at the U.S. Open in Greensboro, N.C. She prevailed by a Ledecky-like 13.24 seconds, breaking her own national record that was previously the fourth-fastest time in history.

“It’s still pretty early in the season, so I didn’t really know what to expect going into it,” she said on Peacock.

The only two women who ever went faster in the event known as the decathlon of swimming are Olympic gold medalists: Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu (world record 4:26.36 and 4:28.58) and China’s Ye Shiwen (4:28.43).

McIntosh has come a long way in a short time. Three years ago, she put all her eggs in the 1500m freestyle basket, thinking it was her best shot to merely qualify for the Tokyo Games in 2020. The one-year Olympic postponement was a blessing.

The rapidly improving McIntosh swam three individual events in Tokyo with a top finish of fourth in the 400m free, just missing becoming the youngest swimming medalist since 1996. She then told her coach she wanted to become an IMer.

At this past June’s world championships, McIntosh won two of the most grueling events — 400m IM and 200m butterfly — to become the youngest individual world champion since 2011. She also took silver to Ledecky in the 400m free, an event in which she later beat Ledecky in a short-course meet (25-meter pool rather than the 50-meter pool used for the Olympics).

A month after worlds, McIntosh swept the IMs at the Commonwealth Games, where she broke more world junior records and again took second in the 400m free (this time to Olympic champ and world record holder Ariarne Titmus of Australia).

McIntosh, who turned professional last year, now trains full-time in Sarasota, Florida, where she rents a house with her mom, Jill Horstead, who was ninth in the 200m fly at the 1984 Olympics (McIntosh, whose passions include the Kardashians and plants from Target, has seen video of her mom winning the B final at those Games). They’re a three-hour drive down Interstate 75 from Ledecky’s base in Gainesville.

Also Friday, Erin Gemmell celebrated her 18th birthday by nearly becoming the first American to beat Ledecky in a 200m freestyle in nearly nine years. Ledecky won by 42 hundredths of a second in 1:56.74 and said she had an off-day while also praising Gemmell, the daughter of her former coach.

NBC airs U.S. Open highlights on Dec. 10 at 4:30 p.m. ET.

U.S. OPEN SWIMMING: Full Results

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Kaillie Humphries begins trek to 2026 Winter Olympics with monobob World Cup win

Kaillie Humphries
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Kaillie Humphries is off to a strong start to a four-year cycle that she hopes ends with her breaking the record as the oldest female Olympic bobsledder.

Humphries, the women’s record holder with three Olympic bobsled titles, earned her first World Cup victory since February’s Winter Games, taking a monobob in Park City, Utah, on Friday.

Humphries, the first Olympic monobob champion, prevailed by .31 of a second over German Lisa Buckwitz combining times from two runs at the 2002 Olympic track.

Humphries has said since February’s Olympics that she planned to take time off in this four-year cycle to start a family, then return in time for the 2026 Milano-Cortina Winter Games. Humphries, who can become the first female Olympic bobsledder in her 40s, shared her experiences with IVF in the offseason on her social media.

“We’ve pushed pause so that I could go and compete this season, maintain my world ranking to be able to still work towards my 2026 goals, and we’ll go back in March to do the implantation of the embryos that we did retrieve,” she said, according to TeamUSA.org.

The next Games come 20 years after her first Olympic experience in Italy, which was a sad one. Humphries, then a bobsled push athlete, was part of the Canadian delegation at the 2006 Torino Games, marched at the Opening Ceremony and had her parents flown in to cheer her on.

But four days before the competition, Humphries learned she was not chosen for either of the two Canadian push athlete spots. She vowed on the flight home to put her future Olympic destiny in her own hands by becoming a driver.

She has since become the greatest female driver in history — Olympic golds in 2010, 2014 and 2022, plus five world championships.

Her longtime rival, five-time Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor, plans to return to competition from her second childbirth later in this Olympic cycle and can also break the record of oldest female Olympic bobsledder.

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