Lisa Carrington may be the world’s most dominant Olympian

Lisa Carrington
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If Simone Biles is the world’s most dominant Olympic sports athlete, what does that make Lisa Carrington?

Carrington, a sprint kayaker from New Zealand, is undefeated in her sport’s splash-and-dash, the K-1 200m, since 2012 (one year longer than Biles’ all-around win streak). In 2014, she shattered a record set by her sport’s icon of icons — by more than one second in a 40-second race. And Carrington is coming off what she believes was the greatest performance of her career at the 2019 World Championships.

“Every six months she’s better than what she was in the preceding six months,” said her longtime coach, Gordon Walker.

Carrington, 30, is a 5-foot-6, 140-pound tower of power, her biceps developed through weighted chin-up sets.

She was born in the Bay of Plenty region of New Zealand’s North Island with a magnetic relationship to the water. Carrington came to kayak from competitive surf lifesaving in her mid-teens. She first joined team boats at world championships in 2009 and 2010.

In 2011, Carrington made her solo world champs debut. She won. After an early 2012 defeat, she is undefeated in the 200m. That includes two Olympic gold medals and another six world titles.

U.S. Olympian Maggie Hogan, who raced Carrington in the longer 500m event, said the 200m is not only the shortest race in the sport, but it should also be the most fickle. Carrington shatters that thought.

“It’s like running an 800m on a balance beam,” Hogan said. “You’ve got to be pretty skilled on the balance beam before you can apply all that power. What Lisa does very well is she maintains her stroke efficiency even at really high stroke rates.”

Hogan gave plenty of credit to Walker, whom she called “a guru.”

Carrington started her career focusing on the 500m, since the 200m was not on the Olympic program at the time. Walker became her coach at the end of 2010, when she began developing into a 200m sprinter, since the distance would debut at the Olympics in 2012. Walker said that, together, they chopped one second off her time in six months.

“Learning how to produce power,” Carrington said. “How to go fast rather than just slog it out and try to get as fit as possible.”

The improvement continued the rest of the decade with no major setbacks.

“She is five percent better,” than the field, said Walker, who counts strength-to-weight-ratio as a tenet. “So when she’s at the 200m mark, the others are at the 190m mark. It’s actually hard to comprehend the gap she has on the rest of the field.

“At no point in time is there any place in the race where somebody else is as good or better than her.”

Walker highlighted three competitions: Carrington’s defeat in 2012 before the streak began. Last year’s world championships. And the 2014 World Championships in Moscow.

Six years ago, Carrington had the 500m final, followed by the 200m about 90 minutes later. In the 500m, she got stuck at the start, her gate taking an extra half-second to open, Walker said. She passed everybody for the lead before falling back to silver.

“That fired her up,” Walker said.

In the 200m final, Carrington clocked the fastest time in history, taking more than one second off a mark set by German kayak legend Birgit Fischer 20 years earlier. The runner-up also bettered Fischer’s old mark, but was nearly a second behind Carrington.

“We had an amazing tailwind that day,” Carrington said. True, but she had been approaching Fischer’s time leading up to that competition and has since posted other times that would have broken the record.

“Birgit, you can argue she’s the most accomplished Olympian of all time, not just in our sport,” Hogan said of the eight-time gold medalist (all in 500m races) from 1980-2004. “I remember when Michael Phelps won eight golds in Beijing, newscasters talking about it and bringing up Birgit Fischer as an example.”

Fischer had the benefit of teammates within the deep German program, part of Olympic champion two- and four-woman events. Carrington is from a nation with no other female Olympic flatwater medalists.

“What Lisa did is equally as impressive [as Fischer],” Hogan said. “Is her career as long as Birgit? No, but I think what you’re seeing is a totally dominant athlete on the world stage, which is really uncommon these days because the field is extraordinarily deep.”

Carrington has branched out to the only other Olympic women’s distance, 500m. She won her first world title in the 500m in 2015, then took silver or bronze medals at the 2016 Olympics and 2017 and 2018 Worlds.

Then came 2019. Carrington swept the 200m and 500m at worlds, winning each final by more than a second and a half. Her 200m margin — 1.94 seconds and the largest of her global championship career — was six tenths greater than what separated second place and ninth place.

“Historic, all-time events,” Walker said.

No woman has won Olympic gold medals in both the 200m and 500m, given the 200m debuted at the Olympics in 2012. The last man to do it was in 2000. Carrington, if she pulls it off in Tokyo, where she also plans to race the K-4 500m with three other Kiwis, might walk away.

“I kind of figured that I would just see how it would go at the Games,” she said while in lockdown last month, unable to train in the water or see Walker face-to-face. “I was happy to continue, and I was also happy to call it there.”

Carrington has never wanted to be famous. In New Zealand, an athlete can live a fairly normal life if they’re not on the All Black rugby team.

So maybe few know of Carrington’s penchant for do-it-yourself work around the house. She recently painted her whole perimeter fence.

Maybe few know about her Māori heritage from her dad’s side. She regularly wears a pounamu necklace. She has one tattoo — from high school — of a koru, or spiral wave representing continual movement and all of one’s life experiences.

What she doesn’t dwell on is the exact number of 200m races she’s won consecutively.

“It’s probably something I’ll look back on,” she said, guessing the streak is around 40. “Winning medals and doing the best opens a lot of doors, but, for me, being in it for so long, as much as it’s about winning or being the best, there’s a lot more to it.

“It’s not just settling for winning. It’s settling for finding my own best and my own potential.”

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Kenenisa Bekele still eyes Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record, but a duel must wait

Kenenisa Bekele
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LONDON — Kenenisa Bekele made headlines last week by declaring “of course I am the best” long distance runner ever. But the Ethiopian was fifth-best at Sunday’s London Marathon, finishing 74 seconds behind Kenya’s Amos Kipruto.

Bekele, 40, clocked 2:05:53, the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. He was with the lead pack until being dropped in the 21st mile.

But Bekele estimated he could have run 90 to 120 seconds faster had he not missed parts of six weeks of training with hip and joint injuries.

“I expect better even if the preparation is short,” he said. “I know my talent and I know my capacity, but really I couldn’t achieve what I expect.”

Bekele is the second-fastest marathoner in history behind Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, who broke his own world record by clocking 2:01:09 at the Berlin Marathon last week.

“I am happy when I see Eliud Kipchoge run that time,” Bekele said. “It motivates all athletes who really expect to do the same thing.”

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Bekele’s best time was within two seconds of Kipchoge’s previous world record (2:01:39). He described breaking Kipchoge’s new mark as the “main goal” for the rest of his career.

“Yes, I hope, one day it will happen, of course,” Bekele said. “With good preparation, I don’t know when, but we will see one more time.”

Nobody has won more London Marathons than Kipchoge, a four-time champion who set the course record (2:02:37) in 2019. But the two-time Olympic marathon champion did not run this year in London, as elite marathoners typically choose to enter one race each spring and fall.

Bekele does not know which race he will enter in the spring. But it will not be against Kipchoge.

“I need to show something first,” Bekele said. “I need to run a fast time. I have to check myself. This is not enough.”

Kipchoge will try to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles at the Paris Games. Bekele, who will be 42 in 2024, has not committed to trying to qualify for the Ethiopian team.

“There’s a long time to go before Paris,” Bekele said. “At this moment I am not decided. I have to show something.”

So who is the greatest long distance runner ever?

Bekele can make a strong case on the track:

Bekele
Four Olympic medals (three gold)
Six World Championship medals (five gold)
Former 5000m and 10,000m world-record holder

Kipchoge
Two Olympic medals
Two World Championship medals (one gold)

But Kipchoge can make a strong case on the pavement:

Bekele
Second-fastest marathoner in history
Two World Marathon Major victories

Kipchoge
Four of the five best marathon times in history
Two-time Olympic marathon champion
12 World Marathon Major victories

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Yalemzerf Yehualaw, Amos Kipruto win London Marathon

Yalemzerf Yehualaw
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Ethiopian Yalemzerf Yehualaw became the youngest female runner to win the London Marathon, while Kenyan Amos Kipruto earned the biggest victory of his career in the men’s race.

Yehualaw, 23, clocked 2:17:26, prevailing by 41 seconds over 2021 London champ Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya.

Yehualaw tripped and fell over a speed bump around the 20-mile mark. She quickly rejoined the lead pack, then pulled away from Jepkosgei by running the 24th mile in a reported 4:43, which converts to 2:03:30 marathon pace; the women’s world record is 2:14:04.

Yehualaw and Jepkosgei were pre-race favorites after world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya withdrew Monday with a right hamstring injury.

On April 24, Yehualaw ran the fastest women’s debut marathon in history, a 2:17:23 to win in Hamburg, Germany.

She has joined the elite tier of female marathoners, a group led by Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir, the reigning Olympic, New York City and Boston champion. Another Ethiopian staked a claim last week when Tigist Assefa won Berlin in 2:15:37, shattering Yehualaw’s national record.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion in 1984, finished Sunday’s race in 3:20:20 at age 65.

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Kipruto, 30, won the men’s race in 2:04:39. He broke free from the leading group in the 25th mile and crossed the finish line 33 seconds ahead of Ethiopian Leul Gebresilase, who said he had hamstring problems.

Kipruto, one of the pre-race favorites, had never won a major marathon but did finish second behind world record holder Eliud Kipchoge in Tokyo (2022) and Berlin (2018) and third at the world championships (2019) and Tokyo (2018).

Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest marathoner in history, was fifth after being dropped in the 21st mile. His 2:05:53 was the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. Bekele ran his personal best at the 2019 Berlin Marathon — 2:01:41 — and has not run within four minutes of that time since.

The major marathon season continues next Sunday with the Chicago Marathon, headlined by a women’s field that includes Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich and American Emily Sisson.

London returns next year to its traditional April place after being pushed to October the last three years due to the pandemic.

MORE: Bekele looks ahead to Kipchoge chase after London Marathon

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