Eliud Kipchoge, Brigid Kosgei take world record resumes into a very different London Marathon

Eliud Kipchoge, Brigid Kosgei
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For marathoners, race day is the completion of a months-long journey of training.

So, when world-record holders Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei of Kenya tackle the London Marathon on Sunday (2 a.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold), it will be the end of a most unusual season.

Kipchoge, a normally calm, philosophical speaker, likened the onset of the coronavirus pandemic to “an electric shock” in his training stable.

“It was really difficult for us athletes, especially in Kenya, and maybe Africa in general,” he said Wednesday. “For the last 17 years, personally, I’ve been with the whole team, training with more than six people to 10 to 20 every year, year-round.”

Runners adjusted to working out in isolation. Some skipped workouts.

“Our training was hindered,” said fellow Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich, the fourth-fastest female marathoner in history and challenger to Kosgei on Sunday. “Everyone go to his home to train alone.”

Given that, Kosgei refused to predict or even tease that she could challenge her world record set at the Chicago Marathon last October — a 2:14:04, taking 81 seconds off Paula Radcliffe‘s 16-year-old mark.

“Due to this pandemic, I cannot say I will run this and this,” said Kosgei, a 26-year-old mother of twins. “Most of the coronavirus affect us so that we didn’t do a lot of training enough like last year.”

The women’s elite race also includes four-time Olympic track medalist Vivian Cheruiyot.

The men’s race lost significance with Friday’s withdrawal of Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele with a calf injury.

Bekele clocked 2:01:41 to win the 2019 Berlin Marathon, missing Kipchoge’s world record by two seconds. Now, the top competition to spoil Kipchoge’s record of 11 wins in 12 marathons are the second-, third- and fourth-place finishers from London last year — Ethiopians Mosinet Geremew, Mule Washihun and Shura Kitata.

Kipchoge is so dominant that he may well be racing the clock over any person. In his last 26.2-miler last October, he became the first person to break two hours, doing so in a non-record-eligible event in Vienna.

The question for Sunday: Is his world record of 2:01:39 from Berlin in 2018 in play on a different London course?

Traditionally, runners wind around the River Thames and produce some of the faster times of the six World Marathon Majors. Kipchoge’s course record is 2:02:37.

This year, they’re in “a secure biosphere” and will complete 19 loops of St. James’s Park without the usual spectator crowds before finishing at the usual line at The Mall.

“It’s really difficult to say it’s really fast or not,” Bekele said of the course before withdrawing. “It’s never easy to run on curves for such a long way. You can lose some speed sometimes.”

Kipchoge said his running group recently recongregated, “and training actually was good.” He remarked Wednesday the exact time span since he last raced — 11 months, 18 days.

Kipchoge, who burst onto the scene by winning the 2003 World 5000m title at age 18, isn’t outwardly putting pressure on himself to produce another historic performance in a first-of-its-kind marathon.

“I have shown the way, to many athletes, that to run under two hours is possible,” he said. “So I have done my part as far as the sport of athletics is concerned.”

MORE: With major marathons canceled, Emily Sisson chose a virtual one

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Ironman Kona World Championships return for first time in three years, live on Peacock

Ironman Kona World Championship
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The Ironman Kona World Championships return after a three-year hiatus with a new format, live on Peacock on Thursday and Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.

The Ironman, held annually in Hawaii since 1978, and in Kailua-Kona since 1981, was not held in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The world championships made a one-time-only stop in St. George, Utah, on May 7 to make up for the 2021 cancellation. The winners were Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, the Tokyo Olympic triathlon champion, and Swiss Daniela Ryf, who bagged her fifth Ironman world title.

Both are entered in Kailua-Kona, where the races are now split between two days — Thursday for the women and Saturday for the men.

An Ironman includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon — totaling 140.6 miles of racing. It takes top triathletes eight hours to complete. Very arguably, it crowns the world’s fittest man and woman.

WATCH LIVE: Ironman Kona, Thursday, 12 p.m. ET — STREAM LINK

Ryf, 35 and a 2008 and 2012 Olympian, can tie retired countrywoman Natascha Badmann for second place on the women’s list at six Ironman world titles. Only Zimbabwean-turned-American Paula Newby-Fraser has more with eight.

The field also includes German Anne Haug, the 2019 Kona champ and only woman other than Ryf to win since 2015. Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay, the Kona runner-up in 2017, 2018 and 2019, returns after missing the St. George event due to a stress fracture in her hip.

Blummenfelt, 28 and in his Kona debut, will try to become the youngest male champion in Kona since German Normann Stadler in 2005. His top challengers include countryman Gustav Iden, the two-time reigning Half Ironman world champion, and German Patrick Lange, the 2017 and 2018 Ironman Kona winner.

Also racing Saturday is Dallas Clark, a retired All-Pro NFL tight end with the Indianapolis Colts, and Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 champion who completed the 2011 Kona Ironman in 12 hours, 52 minutes, 40 seconds.

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Joan Benoit Samuelson, Olympic marathon champ in 1984, runs London Marathon at 65

Joan Benoit Samuelson
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Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion in 1984, ran her first 26.2-mile race in three years at Sunday’s London Marathon and won her age group.

Benoit Samuelson, 65, clocked 3 hours, 20 minutes, 20 seconds to top the women’s 65-69 age group by 7 minutes, 52 seconds. She took pleasure in being joined in the race by daughter Abby, who crossed in 2:58:19.

“She may have beaten me with my replacement knee, but everybody said I wouldn’t do it! I will never say never,” Benoit Samuelson said, according to race organizers. “I am a grandmother now to Charlotte, and it’s my goal to run 5K with her.”

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Benoit Samuelson raced the 1987 Boston Marathon while three months pregnant with Abby. Before that, she won the first Olympic women’s marathon at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, plus the Boston Marathon in 1979 and 1983 and the Chicago Marathon in 1985.

Her personal best — 2:21:21 — still holds up. She ranks sixth in U.S. women’s history.

Benoit Samuelson plans to race the Tokyo Marathon to complete her set of doing all six annual World Marathon Majors. The others are Berlin, Boston, Chicago and New York City.

“I’m happy to finish this race and make it to Tokyo, but I did it today on a wing and a prayer,” she said, according to organizers. “I’m blessed to have longevity in this sport. It doesn’t owe me anything, but I feel I owe my sport.”

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