Triathletes Taylor Knibb, Morgan Pearson qualify for U.S. Olympic team

Taylor Knibb
World Triathlon
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Taylor Knibb and Morgan Pearson qualified for the U.S. Olympic triathlon team with podium finishes at a World Series event in Yokohama, Japan, on Saturday.

Knibb, at 23 set to become the youngest U.S. Olympic triathlete since the sport was added in 2000, led an American one-two in the women’s race with Summer Rappaport, who in 2019 became the first U.S. triathlete to qualify for Tokyo.

“I wasn’t really thinking about [the Olympics],” Knibb said, according to USA Triathlon. “I was just trying to get to the finish line.”

Knibb and Rappaport will be joined on the Olympic team by one more woman, a committee discretionary selection. A prime candidate is Katie Zaferes, the discretionary selection in 2016 who was the top American in the World Series in 2017, 2018 and 2019, winning the world title in 2019.

Zaferes was 22nd on Saturday, behind countrywomen Taylor Spivey (fourth) and Kirsten Kasper (14th), competing a little more than a month after her father’s death.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Olympics across all sports

Knibb won world junior titles in 2016 and 2017 and the 2018 Under-23 World Championships. She also ran and swam for Cornell, graduating in 2020. On the top World Series level, she became the youngest medalist in 2017 and on Saturday notched her first victory.

Later Saturday, Pearson finished third in the men’s race to become the third American man to make a World Series podium. It came in just his 11th World Series start since becoming an elite triathlete in 2017 and after he took March off due to the death of older brother Andrew.

“He gave me the boost I needed today, and I was just thinking about him,” Pearson said, according to USA Triathlon. “Hopefully when I’m at the Olympics, he’ll be there with me.”

Up to two more U.S. men can be named to the Olympic team via discretionary selection if the U.S. has men ranked in the world top 30 come June 14. In addition to Pearson (No. 16), Matt McElroy is currently ranked 19th and Eli Hemming 28th.

Pearson, 27, grew up a swimmer and ocean lifeguard and ran track and cross-country at Colorado. He was brought into the sport by USA Triathlon’s Collegiate Recruitment Program, which identifies top NCAA swimmers and runners who have triathlon potential. Program alums include Rio Olympic champion Gwen Jorgensen and former college steeplechaser Zaferes.

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Valencia Marathon produces historic times in men’s, women’s races

2022 Valencia Marathon
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Kenyan Kelvin Kiptum and Ethiopian Amane Beriso won the Valencia Marathon and became the third-fastest man and woman in history, respectively.

Kiptum, a 23-year-old in his marathon debut, won the men’s race in 2 hours, 1 minute, 53 seconds. The only men to ever run faster over 26.2 miles are legends: Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge (2:01:09 world record, plus a 2:01:39) and Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele (2:01:41).

Kipchoge made his marathon debut at age 28, and Bekele at 31.

Beriso, a 31-year-old whose personal best was 2:20:48 from January 2016, stunned the women’s field Sunday by running 2:14:58. The only women to have run faster: Kenyans Brigid Kosgei (2:14:04) and Ruth Chepngetich (2:14:18).

Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey finished second in 2:16:49, the fastest-ever time for a woman in her marathon debut. Gidey is the world record holder at 5000m and 10,000m.

Valencia is arguably the top annual marathon outside of the six World Marathon Majors. The next major marathon is Tokyo on March 5.

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Aleksander Aamodt Kilde wins Beaver Creek downhill

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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde won his second straight World Cup downhill race to start the season, despite feeling under the weather.

Although dealing with an illness all week in training, Kilde powered through the challenging Birds of Prey course Saturday in a time of 1 minute, 42.09 seconds. It was enough to hold off Marco Odermatt of Switzerland by 0.06 seconds. James Crawford of Canada was third to earn his second career World Cup podium finish.

Kilde also won the opening downhill last weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta.

“It’s been a tough week,” Kilde said after the race. “I caught the flu in Lake Louise after a very, very nice weekend. It really hit me hard. Then I got a couple of days to rest and take it easy. … I felt OK. Still feeling it a little bit in my system.”

The Beaver Creek crew members had the course in solid shape a day after a downhill race was canceled due to high wind and snowfall.

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Kilde reached speeds around 75 mph in picking up his eighth World Cup downhill victory. That tied him with Kjetil Jansrud for the third-most downhill wins in the World Cup discipline among Norwegian men. The total trails only Aksel Lund Svindal (14) and Lasse Kjus (10).

“I found a really, really good set-up with my equipment and also with my skiing,” Kilde explained. “I believe in myself. I trust in myself. I have a good game plan. When I stand on the start, I don’t dwell on anything. I know that this plan is what I do and when I do that it’s going to be fast.”

Odermatt has been on the podium in all four World Cup races this season as he tries to defend his overall World Cup title. The 25-year-old finished third in the opening downhill of the season last weekend. He’s also won a giant slalom race and a super-G.

Ryan Cochran-Siegle wound up in seventh place for the top American finish. He was ninth in the downhill in Lake Louise.

“It’s been solid,” Cochran-Siegle said of his strides in the discipline. “A couple of little things here and there that pushed me off that top three. You have to ski with a lot of intensity and ski without abandon, in a sense. Today was a good step.”

Switzerland’s Beat Feuz, who won the Olympic downhill gold medal at the Beijing Games last February, tied for ninth.

The Beaver Creek stop on the circuit comes to a close Sunday with a super-G race. Odermatt will be the favorite after holding off Kilde in the opening super-G last weekend.

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