Self-sufficient Nathan Chen an easy winner at Skate Canada despite absence of coach at his side

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Nathan Chen has gotten used to training without his coach nearby, having done it during his freshman and sophomore years at Yale while Rafael Arutunian was 3,000 miles away in California.

But Saturday’s free skate at Skate Canada in Vancouver was the first time he had competed without Arutunian at his side in a significant competition during the 10 years they have worked together. With Chen on leave from Yale since May 2020, he and Arutunian had been together virtually every day since.

“He trains all of us to be pretty self-sufficient,” Chen said. “So whether he is there or not, we kind of know what we need to do.”

Chen said his winning performance was “not particularly” affected because Arutunian had to watch from the stands rather than the boards after the coach’s accreditation had been revoked for his inadvertent violation of Covid-19 protocols related to the bubble at the event.

“In this case, what went down was appropriate,” Chen said. “It was reasonable to adhere to the bubble protocol to keep us all safe.

“That being said, I’m glad he was still able to be in the arena and that he was able to give me a quick call before I stepped on the ice.”

With a 12-point lead after the short program and, as the final skater of an event where the other 11 men went from sloppy to just plain bad, Chen wisely chose a safe, workmanlike, unremarkable program layout to win the event by nearly 50 points.

After placing just third in Skate America last week, his first defeat since the 2018 Olympics, this victory assured Chen one of the six places in the early December Grand Prix Final.

He wound up with 307.18 points, a score only he and two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan ever have topped. Jason Brown of the United States was second at 259.55, with senior international Grand Prix rookie Evgeny Semenenko third at 256.01.

None of the men did a free skate without a negative grade of execution. Chen and, ironically, last place free skate finisher Keiji Tanaka of Japan were the only ones with fewer than two negative GOEs.

Chen’s mistake was a sloppy execution of what was to be a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination. His wonky landing on the first jump forced him to turn the second into a double.

He did four quads but chose to omit the lutz, the hardest quad a man or woman ever has done, after landing it cleanly in Friday’s short program to exorcise any demons that might have gotten into his head after falling on that jump in his previous two short programs at individual events. Three of the four quads in this free skate came in combinations.

“I definitely had better outings here than I did at Skate America. So I think this is a step forward, and as always with competitions, I want to push myself a little bit forward, a little bit forward, even if it means taking out an element to be a little cleaner,” Chen said.

Chen also indicated his choice of jumps also owed to his “dealing with a little bit of a hip thing.” The medalists’ press conference ended before he could be asked for specifics.

Chen’s longtime nemesis jump, the triple axel, has been one of his biggest assets so far this season. Saturday’s, done in the bonus period, produced his highest score ever for the solo element. One of his other three this season ranks 10th on his all-time list.

“Sometimes people don’t understand the pressure of every single element when you are doing such difficult jumps, whether it’s two quads in the short program or more in the free skate,” Arutunian said via telephone Saturday afternoon.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

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

Kenenisa Bekele
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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.”

LONDON MARATHON: Results

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:

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

Kipchoge
Two Olympic medals
Two World Championship medals (one gold)

But Kipchoge can make a strong case on the pavement:

Bekele
Second-fastest marathoner in history
Two World Marathon Major victories

Kipchoge
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
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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.

LONDON MARATHON: Results

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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