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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Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

Teri McKeever

Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

Diana Taurasi

Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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