Jim Walmsley is America’s best ultra runner. Why is he racing the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials?

Jim Walmsley
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The U.S.’ best marathoners race at Saturday’s trials in Atlanta for one of three Olympic spots per gender. Also entered: the U.S.’ best ultra marathoner — Jim Walmsley.

You may have read about Walmsley earlier this month. On Feb. 11, The New York TimesSports Illustrated and Runner’s World all published profiles of one of the most unique of the record 771 qualifiers for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.

Walmsley is at best a long shot to qualify for the Olympics. He owns the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim record of just under six hours, but he has never raced a marathon. He qualified for trials via the half-marathon route, running the slowest time possible (64 minutes exactly) to eke into Saturday’s field.

So why is Walmsley, one of the few ultra runners able to make a living on sponsorships, taking a break from racing distances up to and beyond 100 miles for the marathon trials?

Three reasons.

  • Walmsley, now that he’s an established ultra runner with a Hoke One One sponsorship and the last four Ultra Runner of the Year titles, said he has “a little bit of a luxury to try fun ideas without much pressure.”
  • To smash stereotypes. “It’s a little bit of an intrigue of, well, I think myself and several of the other top elite ultra runners are really great runners,” he said. “It’s kind of an opportunity to maybe just show that we might not be as slow as they [elite marathoners] think we are.”
  • Training for a major ultra-running goal: South Africa’s Comrades Marathon, a 56-mile race, all on asphalt. “Doing this whole training block for the marathon is basically going back to my roots of reinvigorating my legs, leg speed, and make me competitive at Comrades. I don’t know if I would have gotten out the door for as many workouts if I was just preparing for Comrades.”

Other ultra runners have qualified for and raced a U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.

Even Ann Trason, the 19990s champion whom Walmlsey called “the biggest, most badass ultra runner, period.” Trason did not respond to interview requests, but she was profiled in The New York Times before the 1996 Olympic Trials. Trason finished 61st in the 1988 Olympic Trials, according to marathonguide.com.

“People think ultra is some kind of spaghetti-eating contest for people with no talent to do anything else,” she said, according to the Times, “but there’s a lot going on.

“An ultra is not about pain — I think a marathon is about pain, about intensity — but it’s about hanging in through tiredness and about staying nutritionally fueled.”

Walmsley succeeded just by making it to the Atlanta start line. His goal in training was to reach the ballpark physical shape of a 2:10 marathoner.

“Which is completely arbitrary to start because I have no idea if I even have the potential to run a 2:10 marathon,” he conceded.

Six men in Saturday’s field have broken 2:10 in a previous marathon. The Atlanta course is hilly, which will slow times.

Walmsley also confirmed in training that his passion remains in ultra trail running. This will likely be his first and last 26.2-mile race.

“I guess I would want it to be my second-to-last marathon,” Walmsley said, correcting himself, “because, yeah, I do have dreams of somehow pulling it off and making the Olympic team.”

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MORE: Galen Rupp, after tumult, finds familiarity before Olympic marathon trials

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier top pairs’ short at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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World champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier lead after the pairs’ short program in what may be their last U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Knierim and Frazier, who last March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, tallied 81.96 points to open the four-day nationals on Thursday.

They lead by 15.1 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe going into Saturday’s free skate in San Jose, California. The top three teams from last year’s event — which Knierim and Frazier missed due to him contracting COVID-19 — are no longer competing together.

After nationals, a committee selects three U.S. pairs for March’s world championships in Japan.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Before the fall Grand Prix Series, the 31-year-old Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“I don’t like to just put it out there and say it is the last or not going to be the last because life just has that way of throwing curveballs, and you just never know,” Frazier said this month. “But I would say that this is the first nationals where I’m going to go in really trying to soak up every second as if it is my last because you just don’t know.”

Knierim is going for a fifth U.S. title, which would tie the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka Ina, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner, Karol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Knierim is also trying to become the first female pairs’ skater in her 30s to win a national title since 1993. Knierim and ice dancer Madison Chock are trying to become the first female skaters in their 30s to win a U.S. title in any discipline since 1995.

After being unable to defend their 2021 U.S. title last year, Knierim and Frazier reeled off a series of historic results in what had long been the country’s weakest discipline.

They successfully petitioned for an Olympic spot and placed sixth at the Games, best for a U.S. pair since 2002. They considered retirement after their world title, which was won without the top five teams from the Olympics in attendance. They returned in part to compete as world champions and to give back to U.S. skating, helping set up younger pairs for success.

They became the first U.S. pair to win two Grand Prix Series events, then in December became the first U.S. pair to make a Grand Prix Final podium (second place). The world’s top pairs were absent; Russians banned due to the war in Ukraine and Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong from China leaving competition ice (for now).

Knierim and Frazier’s real test isn’t nationals. It’s worlds, where they will likely be the underdog to home favorites Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who edged the Americans by 1.3 points in the closest Grand Prix Final pairs’ competition in 12 years.

Nationals continue with the rhythm dance and women’s short program later Thursday.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Pairs Short Program
1. Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 81.96
2. Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 66.86
3. Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea —- 65.75
4. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 63.45
5. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 63.12
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 56.96
7. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 50.72
8. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 46.96
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 46.81
10. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 45.27
11. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 43.99

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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