Boston Marathon’s thrilling women’s finish celebrates historic anniversary

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As Kenyan Evans Chebet crossed the finish line to win the Boston Marathon men’s race, it was clear that the story of the day was unfolding four miles behind him.

In the women’s race that started eight minutes after the men, fellow Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir, the Olympic gold medalist, and Ethiopian Ababel Yeshaneh were about to drop Kenyan Joyciline Jepkosgei, the world No. 2 female marathoner last year.

For the next nine minutes, Jepchirchir and Yeshaneh ran side by side. They bumped into and jawed at each other multiple times.

Yeshaneh finally took the front. Then Jerpchirchir countered and the see-sawing began. In the last mile, they exchanged the lead six times.

Jepchirchir moved ahead for good with the Boylston Street finish line in sight. She crossed it in 2 hours, 21 minutes, 1 seconds — just four seconds ahead of Yeshaneh.

It was a duel for the ages, one that cemented Jepchirchir as the world’s top female marathoner. And it came on the 50th anniversary of the first official women’s race in Boston, the world’s oldest annual marathon dating to 1897.

BOSTON MARATHON: Results | More on thrilling women’s finish

“When you see the end, and when you see the tape for the finish, that’s where the strength comes,” Jepchirchir, a 28-year-old mom, said on USA Network.

Already the only person to win the Olympic and New York City Marathons in a career, Jepchirchir has now won arguably the three most prestigious marathons in a span of eight months.

She grew up racing on the track, running two to three miles to and from school each day, in a family of farmers who grew tea and maize.

She won the world half marathon championship in 2016, then had daughter Natalia in October 2017 and came back to earn her first marathon victory in December 2019.

“I remember when my daughter, Natalia, was 6 months old, when I started training, sometimes I would wake up to change early to go for training, then she also wakes up … so I’d stay and breast feed first,” Jepchirchir said before Boston, according to Olympics.com. “It wasn’t easy, but I worked extra hard to shed off the extra weight and return to my normal shape. Also having a baby motivated me in some way. I worked even harder knowing someone is depending on me.”

She was originally left off the Kenyan Olympic team in January 2020, then won the December 2020 Valencia Marathon in the world’s best time for the year (2:17:16), beginning what is now a five-marathon win streak.

Kenyan Mary Ngugi was third Monday. The top American was Nell Rojas in 10th. Des Linden, the last American runner to win Boston in 2018, was 13th.

“I’m towards the end of my marathon career, and with the last few years nothing major going on or major events, it’s easy to be like, What’s the point? This isn’t really that fun,” said Linden, a 38-year-old who hasn’t decided if she will compete through the 2024 Olympics. “A day like today reignites the fire and the passion.

“If they keep inviting me [to Boston], I’ll keep showing up.”

Olympic bronze medalist Molly Seidel dropped out around the 16th mile with hip pain.

Chebet clocked 2:06:51 for his first major marathon victory, leading the first Kenyan men’s podium sweep in Boston since 2012. The 2019 Boston winner Lawrence Cherono was second, 30 seconds behind, followed by Benson Kipruto, who won Boston last year when it was held in October.

“At the beginning I was not confident, I didn’t know I would come out as the winner,” Chebet said. “I observed that my counterparts were nowhere close to me and that gave me the motivation and determination to hit it off and be the winner.”

Chebet had the second-fastest personal best of arguably the deepest Boston field ever, a 2:03:00 from winning the 2020 Valencia Marathon. The farmer from the Kalenjin tribe beat nine major marathon champions on Monday.

Scott Fauble was the top U.S. man in seventh in a personal-best 2:08:52, the second-fastest marathon for an American since the start of 2020.

Boston was held on its traditional Patriots’ Day date for the first time since 2019. The race was held virtually in 2020 and moved to October in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This year’s Boston fields were arguably the best ever, thanks in large part to the other major spring marathon, London, being pushed back to October for a third consecutive year due to the pandemic.

American Daniel Romanchuk won the men’s wheelchair race in 1:26:58 after defending champion Marcel Hug of Switzerland withdrew before the morning start.

Swiss Manuela Schär earned her fourth women’s wheelchair title in the last five Boston Marathons.

The next major marathon is at the world track and field championships in Eugene, Oregon, in July. The U.S. qualifiers include two-time Olympic medalist Galen Rupp, Seidel, Emma Bates and Sara Hall.

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IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

Thomas Bach
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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

Alyssa Thomas
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If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with more established players — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

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