Eliud Kipchoge runs 1:59 marathon, first to break 2 hours

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Eliud Kipchoge ran a marathon in 1 hour, 59 minutes, 40 seconds, becoming the first person to break two hours for 26.2 miles in a special event in Vienna on Saturday morning.

“It has taken 65 years for a human being to make history in sport after Roger Bannister,” Kipchoge said, noting the Brit who became the first man to break 4 minutes for a mile in 1954. “I can tell people that no human is limited. I expect more people all over the world to run under two hours after today.”

NBCSN airs an exclusive replay of the Ineos 1:59 Challenge on Sunday from 3-5:30 p.m. ET and Monday at 2:30 p.m.

Kipchoge, the 34-year-old Olympic champion from Kenya, reached his goal in a non-record-eligible time trial event built just for him. He flashed smiles in the final mile, appearing confident he would meet the goal he’s had in mind since the Rio Games.

He pointed to both sides of the crowd, slapped his chest twice as he crossed under the finish banner. He found the arms of his wife, Grace, watching him finish a marathon in person for the first time, and children. Then he moved onto his career-long coach, 1992 Olympic 3000m steeplechase silver medalist Patrick Sang.

Kipchoge said the hardest hours of his life were between 5 and 8:15 on Saturday morning, up until the event began. He ate oatmeal for breakfast.

The bid, similar to Kipchoge’s sub-two-hour marathon attempt in Italy two years ago, featured packs of pacers from an announced group of 41 taking turns, a lead car beaming lasers out the back as a guide and special Nike shoes.

The final pace group shed from Kipchoge so he could run the final 500 meters alone. Kipchoge sped up, taking the projected finish down from 1:50:50 in the last mile.

Pacers included a Who’s Who of distance runners, from Olympic 1500m champion Matthew Centrowitz to five-time Olympian Bernard Lagat, who is 44 years old.

Kipchoge ran 2:00:25 in his previous sub-two attempt on a Formula One track in Monza, Italy. He holds the world record of 2:01:39, set at the 2018 Berlin Marathon.

“Berlin is running and breaking a world record,” Kipchoge said before the event. “Vienna is running and making history in this world, like the first man to go the moon.”

This event was held at the Prater, a central Vienna park, with fans lining the six-mile circuit.

Next year, Kipchoge can become the third person to win multiple Olympic marathons. He won his last 10 marathons over the last five years, a modern-era elite record streak.

Kipchoge, a 2003 World 5000m champion at age 18, moved to road racing after finishing seventh in the 2012 Olympic trials 5000m, failing to make the Kenyan team for the London Games.

“I’m a believer of a challenges and a believer if you climb one branch, look for the next branch,” he said.

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Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

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NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

Rafael Nadal advances at Australian Open; American back on Slam stage

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal joined Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open third round, sweeping Argentine Federico Delbonis 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-1 on Thursday.

Nadal, whose lone Australian Open title came in 2009, gets countryman Pablo Carreno Busta in Saturday’s third round. He could face No. 23 Nick Kyrgios of Australia in round four, but neither Federer nor Djokovic until the final.

No. 4 Daniil Medvedeva and No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Simona Halep were also winners Thursday. Friday’s third-round action is headlined by defending champion Naomi Osaka facing 15-year-old U.S. phenom Coco Gauff.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

The only top-20 seed to lose Thursday was No. 20 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic. American CiCi Bellis bounced her 6-4, 6-4.

This was a big deal for Bellis: Two full years and four right arm operations have come and gone since she was last healthy enough to participate in a Grand Slam tournament.

Bellis was something of a teen prodigy. In her very first tour-level match, at age 15 at the 2014 U.S. Open, she stunned 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, an Australian Open runner-up, to become the youngest American to win a match at Flushing Meadows in 28 years.

She reached No. 35 in the rankings at 17, when she won WTA Newcomer of the Year honors.

Then came the series of health problems, including for torn tendons in her wrist, to shorten a bone in her arm and for bone spurs in her elbow. All the time away from the tour has her at No. 600 in the rankings currently, but she was able to get into the draw in Australia via the protected ranking rule.

In other action, U.S. Open runner-up Medvedev  found himself seated in the nosebleed section at Margaret Court Arena, even though he was playing his second-round match there.

That’s because the No. 4-seeded Russian found himself dealing with something he said happens to him a couple of times each year: a nosebleed.

Medvedev blotted his nose with a towel and then was treated by a trainer while his 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 over Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez was delayed for more than five minutes late in the second set.

“Can happen to me sometimes. Doesn’t usually happen during the match, so I had to stop (playing). Usually takes like four minutes — three, four minutes. … But it’s nothing,” Medvedev said.

MORE: Another top U.S. tennis player cools on Olympics

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