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Ruth Chepngetich wins world championship marathon of attrition

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Kenya’s Ruth Chepngetich, who won the Dubai Marathon earlier this year with the third-fastest time in history (2:17:08), broke away from the a small lead pack with seven kilometers remaining to win the world championship Saturday morning under sauna-like conditions in Doha, Qatar.

Chepngetich finished in 2:32:43, perfectly pacing herself through a race in which many runners exhausted themselves early on. Defending champion Rose Chelimo of Bahrain was second, 1:03 behind. Namibia’s Helalia Johannes took third ahead of two-time world champion Edna Ngeringwony Kiplagat of Kenya.

Roberta Groner, a 41-year-old runner and the oldest athlete in any event on the U.S. team, outlasted other runners to finish sixth in 2:38:44.

Even with the race taking place in the middle of the night along the Doha waterfront, organizers reported a starting temperature of 32.7 degrees Celsius (91 degrees Fahrenheit) with 73.3 percent humidity, putting the heat index at 111 degrees Fahrenheit. The IAAF’s live commentary said conditions in the 2007 world championships in Osaka weren’t too far behind those numbers at 32 degrees Celsius and 74 percent humidity.

The runners started conservatively, with a large pack passing the 5k mark in 18:21, roughly on pace for a 2:35 marathon. Still, the heat took its toll by the halfway mark, with all three Ethiopian entries — Tokyo Marathon winner Ruti Aga, Roza Dereje and Shure Demise — withdrawing. 

They were far from alone. Only 40 of the 68 runners who started made it across the finish line.

A lead pack of five runners — Chelimo, Johannes and the Kenyan trio of Chepngetich, Kiplagat and Visiline Jepkesho built a lead of nearly a minute by the 15k mark.

Israeli runner Lonah Chemtai Salpeter managed to chip away at that lead by the 25k mark and join up with Jepkesho, who had fallen 13 seconds behind. But Jepkesho continued to fade, and Salpeter wound up 11:53 behind before withdrawing. The top survivor behind the lead pack was Volha Mazuronak of Belarus, followed by Groner.

The lead pack of four that had run together since the 15k mark finally broke apart at 35k, when Chepngetich revved up the speed. Chelimo broke away in pursuit, leaving Johannes and Kiplagat together. 

Groner has taken an unusual path to get to world championship level. She gave up running after college, only to return 10 years later after giving birth to three kids. She ran her first marathon in 2011 in Chicago, finishing in 3:12:42. Since then, she has chipped away a few minutes each year and broke the 2:30 mark earlier this year in Rotterdam.

The two other Americans also finished the race. Carrie Dimoff finished 13th in 2:44:35. Kelsey Bruce crossed the line 38th in 3:09:37, nearly 38 minutes off her personal best.

Earlier in the day, the heat had much less impact on events in Khalifa International Stadium, where athletes occasionally took advantage of air-conditioning vents near the track. Most medal contenders advanced through their preliminary rounds with little trouble.

FRIDAY: Defending champs Gatlin, Coburn and Taylor advance

The world championship schedule for Saturday includes a pair of late-night distance events, with men and women each competing in the punishing 50k walk.

TRACK AND FIELD WORLDS: TV Schedule | U.S. Roster

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At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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