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

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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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Mark Spitz takes on Katie Ledecky’s challenge

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Swimmers around the world took on Katie Ledecky‘s milk-glass challenge since it became a social media sensation, including one of the few Americans with more Olympic gold medals.

Mark Spitz, who won seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games, took 10 strokes in an at-home pool while perfectly balancing a glass of what appeared to be water on his head.

“Would’ve been faster with the ‘stache, @markspitzusa, but I still give this 7 out of 7 gold medals,” Ledecky tweeted.

Spitz joined fellow Olympic champions Susie O’Neill of Australia and American Matt Grevers in posting similar videos to what Ledecky first shared Monday.

In Tokyo next year, Ledecky can pass Spitz’s career gold-medal count of nine if she wins all of her expected events — 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles and the 4x200m free relay.

Then she would trail one athlete from any country in any sport — Michael Phelps, the 23-time gold medalist who has yet to post video of swimming while balancing a glass on his head.

MORE: Spitz puts Michael Phelps’ career in perspective

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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