French Open pushed back one week

French Open
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PARIS — For the second year in a row, the traditional French Open schedule is being disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The clay-court Grand Slam tennis tournament said Thursday it will push back the start of this season’s event by one week because of surging virus cases in France.

“This postponement will give us a little more time to improve the health situation and should allow us to optimize our chances of welcoming spectators at Roland Garros,” said Gilles Moretton, the president of the French tennis federation. “Whether for the fans, the players or the atmosphere, crowd presence is essential to the tournament, the first international sporting event of the spring.”

The French Open was scheduled to start on May 23, but first-round matches will now get underway on May 30.

Last year’s tournament was pushed back to September because of the pandemic, with crowds limited to 1,000 per day.

The delay will have a knock-on effect on the grass-court season, but not Wimbledon.

Tennis authorities lengthened the gap between the French Open final and the start of Wimbledon to three weeks in 2015, giving players extra time to get used to the fastest surface in the game. But because of the delay announced Thursday, the season will be reduced to two weeks plus Wimbledon.

“All four Grand Slam tournaments are united in their view on the importance of a meaningful build-up to every Grand Slam … However, given the considerable challenges ahead of the FFT in staging Roland Garros, and to avoid further impact on the rest of the calendar, the grass court season will be reduced by one week in 2021,” the Grand Slam board said in a statement.

Wimbledon was canceled last year because of the pandemic, the first time since World War II that the oldest Grand Slam tennis tournament wasn’t played.

The move to delay this year’s French Open came as hospitals in the country approach saturation from virus cases. To slow down the pace of infections, new nationwide restrictions have been enforced, including a three-week school closure, a month-long domestic travel ban and the closing of non-essential shops.

The French tennis federation said the decision was taken in order to maximize chances the event will be played “in front of as many spectators as possible” in a safe environment.

Ugo Valensi, the executive director of the Grand Slam board, said the organization supports the delay. But French tennis player Alize Cornet slammed Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu for the decision.

“Our sport minister is a disaster,” Cornet said, speaking to Tennis Channel. “It’s a pretty selfish decision, to be honest. Because the calendar is going to suffer from this postponement. I understand it’s not an easy time for the tournament but we have to think about the players and the calendar.”

This year’s Australian Open was delayed by three weeks because of the virus, and quarantine restrictions affected the preparations of several players.

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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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