Tokyo Paralympics: Athlete storylines with six months to go

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The Tokyo Paralympics open on Aug. 24. A scattering of U.S. athlete and sports storylines with six months to go …

Crossover stars in triathlon
The U.S. was the most successful nation in triathlon’s Paralympic debut in Rio. That included a medals sweep from Allysa Seely, Hailey Danisewicz and Melissa Stockwell. Seely, the gold medalist, continued to excel, taking world championships silver medals in 2017 and 2019 and gold in 2018 as part of an undefeated season. Three more decorated athletes could make Paralympic triathlon debuts in Tokyo — five-time swimming gold medalist Brad Snyder, ice hockey champion Josh Sweeney and biathlon and cross-country skiing gold medalist Kendall Gretsch.

Speed and endurance
The U.S., second in track and field medals at the 2016 Paralympics, could return medal prospects across the distance spectrum, from three Rio 100m gold medalists (David Brown with guide runner Jerome Avery, Gianfranco Iannotta and Deja Young) to two of the world’s most decorated marathoners (Tatyana McFadden and Daniel Romanchuk). The pandemic forced Brown, the first totally blind athlete to break 11 seconds in the 100m, and Avery to be separated for their longest stretch since partnering up in 2014. In October, Romanchuk clocked the fastest wheelchair marathon in history — 1 hour, 13 minutes, 57 seconds — in a straight line adjacent to Central Illinois corn and soybean fields.

23 and counting
In swimming, the roster could include the second-most-decorated U.S. Paralympian in history. Jessica Long won the first of her 23 medals at age 12 in 2004. If Long reproduces her medal output from 2008, 2012 or 2016, she will have more hardware than former training group partner Michael Phelps (28 medals). Long, featured in a Super Bowl commercial, has a ways to go to reel in the most decorated U.S. Paralympian in history: retired swimmer Trischa Zorn, who won 55 medals from 1980 through 2004.

ON HER TURF: Long eyes fifth — but not last — Paralympics in Tokyo

Turning silver into gold
In team sports, the most gripping story may be that of the U.S. men’s rugby squad. It took bronze in 2012, followed by a 59-58, double-overtime defeat in the Rio final. Chuck Aoki, the top U.S. scorer in that loss to Australia, has ties to the host nation. His father’s family immigrated to the U.S. from Japan in the early 1900s. In the world rankings, the U.S. is second, just ahead of world champion Japan and trailing the Aussies.

Master of all trades
The U.S. earned 18 cycling medals in Rio, trailing only Great Britain, but one of its stars didn’t make the podium. Oksana Masters, already a medalist in rowing and cross-country skiing, placed fourth in the road race and fifth in the time trial. She switched back to winter sports, earning five medals between biathlon and cross-country skiing in PyeongChang, weeks after breaking an elbow. The next year could be historic for Masters, bidding in Tokyo to earn that elusive cycling medal and make a Paralympic podium in a fourth different sport, then potentially switching back to the snow for the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.

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

Kenenisa Bekele

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.”


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:

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

Two Olympic medals
Two World Championship medals (one gold)

But Kipchoge can make a strong case on the pavement:

Second-fastest marathoner in history
Two World Marathon Major victories

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

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.


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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