Reece Whitley, long a standout swimmer, breaks through at nationals

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Reece Whitley long had the pedigree, and the backstory, to portend swimming success. He realized it at the U.S. Championships this week.

The 6-foot-9 19-year-old made his first career summer nationals finals in Palo Alto, Calif. He won the 200m breaststroke and finished third in the 100m breast with personal-best times to establish himself as a contender for the 2020 Olympic team.

“I haven’t been as fast as I wanted to be the past couple of years,” said Whitley, who broke 23 national age-group records through high school before matriculating at Cal last year. “I feel like I’ve always been on the outside looking in.”

MORE: U.S. Swimming Champs TV Schedule

Whitley always stood out — a towering African-American coached by a woman while at a 300-year-old Quaker school in Pennsylvania. As a rising high school junior at the 2016 Olympic Trials, he made the semifinals of both breaststrokes, a discipline dominated by men at least six inches shorter.

But, two years later, the transition to college on the other side of the country proved difficult.

“I went from a small club team who couldn’t find any long-course pool time, six lanes, 25-yard pool to training next to Josh Prenot, Ryan Murphy, Nathan Adrian a couple of lanes over every day,” Whitley, naming individual Olympic medalists who also train under Dave Durden at Cal, said on USA Swimming’s Deck Pass Live after winning the 200m breast on Thursday. “Am I good? Should I be here? But fast swimming, it’s amazing how contagious it can be.”

In 2018, Whitley failed to record a personal best in either breaststroke for the first time over a calendar year. This past March, he placed fourth and fifth as a freshman at the NCAA Championships, helping Cal to its first team title in five years.

“From day one, it was like, all right, we’ve got this team goal of winning a national title,” Whitley said. “What are you going to do to help us get there? It was super intimidating at first.”

In Palo Alto, Whitley shaved 1.13 seconds off his personal best in Thursday’s 200m breast, moving to sixth-fastest among Americans this year. The top four didn’t enter nationals, which take place a week after the world championships.

He moved closer to breaking the separating-men-from-boys one-minute barrier in the 100m breast, clocking 1:00.05 to rank ninth in the U.S. this year. Devon Nowicki won in 59.69.

“It’s going to take a lot faster than that to make the team next year, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Whitley said Thursday. “That’s all I can ask for right now. This summer doesn’t need to be perfect. It’s great to drop time, but everybody’s focused on next summer.”

In other Saturday events, 2012 Olympian Breeja Larson took the women’s 100m breast in 1:06.78, her best time since 2014 and failing to make the 2016 Olympic team. Larson, 27, ranks third among Americans this year behind Olympic champion Lilly King and Annie Lazor, who are not at nationals.

Shaine Casas followed his runner-up in the 200m backstroke by winning the 100m back in 52.72, ranking him fifth in the world this year. His time would have taken bronze at the world championships.

Amy Bilquist won the women’s 100m back in 59.64 to rank sixth in the U.S. this year. Regan Smith, who lowered the world record to 57.57 at worlds, did not swim the event at nationals.

Ally McHugh won the 400m freestyle in 4:07.08 against a field lacking Olympic gold and bronze medalists Katie Ledecky and Leah Smith. McHugh’s time ranks her fifth in the U.S. this year. She also won the Ledecky- and Smith-less 800m free on Wednesday.

To no surprise, Australian Elijah Winnington captured the men’s 400m free in 3:47.39. The U.S. has no men in the top 10 in the world this year and just one in the top 20 (No. 11 Zane Grothe, who scratched the event at nationals).

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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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