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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Rewind: Australia’s Steven Bradbury gains gold and lasting fame after pileup takes out Apolo Ohno

Steven Bradbury
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Heading into the 2002 Winter Olympics, young American Apolo Ohno was a phenom with a legitimate shot at multiple medals in short-track speedskating.

The 1999 world junior champion and future “Dancing with the Stars” champion had finished first in the World Cup season standings in all three individual disciplines in the 2000-01 season. In the 2001 world championships, he took gold in the relay and the 3,000m (a non-Olympic event), silver in the 1,000m and fourth in the 1,500m.

Australia’s Steven Bradbury was at the other end of his career, enduring all sorts of misfortune in the years that followed — a 1995 accident in which he needed more than 100 stitches after a skate blade sliced his thigh, then a 2000 accident in which he broke two vertebra in his neck. 

The highlights of Bradbury’s career were relay world championships medals — gold in 1991, bronze in 1993, silver in 1994. He and his relay teammates also took Olympic bronze in 1994.

Bradbury barely advanced to one individual final, the 1,000m in 2002. He advanced from the quarterfinal when Canadian favorite Marc Gagnon was disqualified. He advanced from the semifinal when multiple skaters fell.

In the final, Bradbury was matched up against three outstanding skaters, including Ohno and Li Jiajun of China, who won this event and the overall title at the 2001 world championships. Ohno and Li had finished 1-2 in the 1,000m World Cup standings in 2001.

Bradbury couldn’t keep up. The other four skaters were in a pack, making dangerous passes among each other, while Bradbury fell further and further behind.

Those dangerous passes finally caught up to the rest of the field in the final turn. Li bumped into Ohno, which would lead to Li’s disqualification. After the lead pack jockeyed for position through the entire race, all four tumbled to the ice.

Bradbury, the last man standing, crossed the finish line first.

 

From the tangled pile-up, Ohno managed to fling himself, skate-first, across the finish line to take silver. Canada’s Mathieu Turcotte made it across for bronze.

Ohno wasn’t done in Salt Lake City. He won the 1,500m gold after the disqualification of Kim Dong-Sung, a controversial decision that made Ohno the object of South Korean derision.

Less controversially, Ohno won three more individual world championship events from 2005 to 2009, plus two relay golds, and the overall world title in 2008. In the Olympics, he took six more medals, including gold in the 500m in 2006 and silver in the 1,500m in 2010.

Bradbury missed the finals in the other two events in Salt Lake City, but his name lives on in the Urban Dictionary and elsewhere as a synonym for an improbable and even accidental victory. He embraced his unique place in history to carve out a career as a motivational speaker delivering more than 1,000 speeches in 19 countries, according to the International Skating Union and has even seen his win commemorated in Legos.

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Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier form new figure skating pair

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A few weeks after her husband and skating partner, Chris Knierim, stepped away from competitive figure skating, Alexa Scimeca Knierim has a new partner.

Brandon Frazier, who was also looking for someone to form a new pair after longtime partner Haven Denney stepped away from competition, at least temporarily, will join Scimeca Knierim on the ice whenever they’re able to train and compete again.

Frazier is a longtime friend of Chris Knierem. Scimeca Knierim told U.S. Figure Skating’s FanZone that Frazier had played a pivotal role in kindling the Knierem’s off-ice romance.

Denney and Frazier won the U.S. championship in 2017 and finished 20th in the world championships that year. They finished third in their two Grand Prix assignments last fall — Skate America and the Internationaux de France. They were runners-up in the 2019 U.S. championships and fifth this year, when they revived their “Lion King” free skate.

The Denney-Frazier pair took an unusual path to figure skating, starting as roller skaters.

The Knierims won their third U.S. championship in January but handed their slot in the world championships to Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson when Chris Knierim, struggling with his form and depression, decided he was unable to continue beyond the Four Continents Championship. The world championships were later canceled due to the spread of the coronavirus.

READ: Resilient Knierims withdraw from world championships

The couple had earned attention for their romance and for their inspirational returns from illness and injury. Their U.S. championship win earlier this year was their third.

Skate America, the first event on the Grand Prix circuit, is scheduled to start Oct. 23 in Las Vegas.

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