At Ironman Worlds, Kristian Blummenfelt eyes an all-time sports feat

Kristian Blummenfelt
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Norwegian Kristian Blummenfelt bids for one of the most ambitious doubles in sport.at the 140.6-mile Ironman World Championships on Saturday.

Blummenfelt, 28, will try to become the first triathlete to win an Olympic gold medal and an Ironman world title in the same year span. The first Ironman World Championships to be held outside of Hawaii — in St. George, Utah, to be exact — stream live on Peacock starting at 8 a.m. ET.

The Kentucky Derby on Saturday evening (on NBC) will showcase the most exciting two minutes in sports. Earlier in the afternoon, the most grueling eight hours in sports will finish.

The Olympic triathlon distance is 32 miles, taking an hour and 45 minutes. The Ironman is a separate beast. Fractionally, the difference is comparable to a 10,000m track race versus a marathon.

German Jan Frodeno is the lone triathlete to win Olympic gold (2008) and an Ironman title (2015, 2016, 2019) over the course of a career. He followed the traditional trajectory of a longer transition up to the Ironman distance, debuting almost a year after his last elite Olympic-distance race and taking another year after that to win the famed Kona world title.

Blummenfelt, after winning Olympic gold on July 26, made his Ironman debut on Nov. 21. And in that first 140.6-miler, he clocked the fastest time in history over the Ironman distance: 7 hours, 21 minutes, 12 seconds, despite having diarrhea for three days leading into the race and taking two bathroom breaks during the marathon run.

It was 6 minutes, 41 seconds swifter than Frodeno’s record from last July.

There is debate whether Blummenfelt’s time should be considered a world record. There was a strong swim current benefitting the Cozumel competitors. Blummenfelt, who said the swim is the weakest part of his race, completed his 2.4 miles in the water six minutes faster than Frodeno did in his previous record.

The Ironman brand doesn’t use the term “world record” anyway due to the variance of courses around the world, plus the seasonal changes in conditions within each course.

Blummenfelt stresses that championships are more important than times, but when pressed, he considered that Cozumel effort as the fastest Ironman in history.

“It’s not like the swim was down a river. It was in the ocean. and the fact that the condition was great, there’s nothing I can do about it,” he said this week. “And as long as it’s an Ironman-branded race, and it’s approved before the race to be an Ironman race, it’s nothing I can do.”

Blummenfelt dropped to 10th place in a half Ironman in Dubai in March.

But his chances of winning in St. George — on a hilly course unlikely to produce record times — are boosted by the absences of Frodeno (Achilles) and another German, two-time Ironman world champion Patrick Lange (shoulder). Then on Friday, fellow Norwegian Gustav Iden, the half Ironman world champion, reportedly withdrew due to illness. As did Brit Alistair Brownlee, the 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medalist.

“Kristian is actually the favorite,” Iden, whose 70.3 world title came at St. George last September (where Blummenfelt was 26th, hopes punctured by a flat tire), reportedly said Thursday. “I’m giving out the percentages to everyone, and I think I gave Kristian a 30 percent chance of winning.”

Asked what makes all of this possible — Olympic gold medal, followed four months later with an Ironman distance record and now, potentially, an Ironman world title — Blummenfelt points first to genetics: a larger lung capacity than the average human, and a bigger heart. His highest recorded VO2 max — a way to measure aerobic fitness — was “just about 90,” putting him among the top endurance athletes in history (including several fellow Norwegians, cross-country skiers or cyclists).

Blummenfelt also noted the well-publicized advances in scientific testing and data collection — including feces — that helped Norway, the world’s best winter sports nation, become a force in men’s triathlon over the last several years.

“That makes it easy to turn around the energy system to be fine-tuned for longer distances,” he said.

Blummenfelt first felt the itch of ambition as a young swimmer in fjord-surrounded Bergen.

“Bergen is a city of rain,” he said. “We have not good ski conditions, and it’s on the West Coast, so it’s not much winter sports in the city.”

He trained in the same pool as Alexander Dale Oen, who was nine years older and in 2008 won Norway’s first Olympic swimming medal.

“The fact that one day, I could see him on TV at the Olympic Games, and then two weeks later, he’s joining us for training camp, the connection made it easier to believe that I can get there, too,” Blummenfelt said of Dale Oen, who died suddenly while at an Arizona training camp in April 2012.

It was also in 2008 that a swim coach suggested Blummenfelt try a sprint triathlon. He soon became, at 15, the oldest member of the start-up national team.

Norway had no Olympic triathletes. His initial plan was to make his Olympic debut in several years in 2016, then win it in 2020. He even guaranteed gold in Tokyo back in 2018, when he had yet to win a top-level World Series race.

Then, in a sponsor video published in July 2020, Blummenfelt set out his ultimate challenge: win the Olympics, the World Series season title, Kona and one other Ironman all in one year. He checked off the first two last summer.

For Blummenfelt, the one-time change of venue from Kona to St. George doesn’t minimize the prestige of the world championships, which are taking place for the first time since 2019.

“Of course, Kona is something very historical, unique and something great we have in triathlon,” he said. “But I think when we are finally now back again, with a world championship, we have to embrace the race.”

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2023 World Alpine Skiing Championships TV, live stream schedule

2023 World Alpine Skiing Championships FIS
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Every race of the world Alpine skiing championships airs live on Peacock from Feb. 6-19.

France hosts the biennial worlds in Meribel and Courchevel — six women’s races, six men’s races and one mixed-gender team event.

Mikaela Shiffrin is the headliner, in the midst of her most successful season in four years with a tour-leading 11 World Cup wins in 23 starts. Shiffrin is up to 85 career World Cup victories, one shy of Ingemar Stenmark‘s record accumulated over the 1970s and ’80s.

World championships races do not count in the World Cup tally.

Shiffrin is expected to race at least four times at worlds, starting with Monday’s combined. She earned a medal in 11 of her 13 career world championships races, including each of the last 10 dating to 2015.

Shiffrin won at least one race at each of the last five world championships (nobody has gold from six different worlds). Her six total golds and 11 total medals are American records. At this edition, she can become the most decorated skier in modern world championships history from any nation.

She enters one medal shy of the record for most individual world championships medals since World War II (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt) and four medals shy of the all-time record. (Worlds were held annually in the 1930s, albeit with fewer races.)

She is also one gold medal shy of the post-World War II individual record shared by Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson.

The other favorites at these worlds include Italian Sofia Goggia, the world’s top female downhiller this season, and the two leading men: Swiss Marco Odermatt (No. 1 in super-G and giant slalom) and Norwegian Aleksander Aamodt Kilde (No. 1 in downhill).

2023 World Alpine Skiing Championships Broadcast Schedule

Date Event Time (ET) Platform
Mon., Feb. 6 Women’s Combined Super-G Run 5 a.m. Peacock
Women’s Combined Slalom Run 8:30 a.m. Peacock
Tues., Feb. 7 Men’s Combined Super-G Run 5 a.m. Peacock
Men’s Combined Slalom Run 8:30 a.m. Peacock
Wed., Feb. 8 Women’s Super-G 5:30 a.m. Peacock
Thu., Feb. 9 Men’s Super-G 5:30 a.m. Peacock
Sat., Feb. 11 Women’s Downhill 5 a.m. Peacock
Highlights 2:30 p.m.* NBC, Peacock
Sun., Feb. 12 Men’s Downhill 5 a.m Peacock
Highlights 3 p.m.* NBC, Peacock
Tue., Feb. 14 Team Parallel 6:15 a.m. Peacock
Men’s/Women’s Parallel Qualifying 11 a.m. Peacock
Wed., Feb. 15 Men’s/Women’s Parallel 6 a.m. Peacock
Thu., Feb. 16 Women’s Giant Slalom Run 1 4 a.m. Peacock
Women’s Giant Slalom Run 2 7:30 a.m. Peacock
Fri., Feb. 17 Men’s Giant Slalom Run 1 4 a.m. Peacock
Men’s Giant Slalom Run 2 7:30 a.m. Peacock
Sat., Feb. 18 Women’s Slalom Run 1 4 a.m. Peacock
Women’s Slalom Run 2 7:30 a.m. Peacock
Highlights 2:30 p.m.* NBC, Peacock
Sun., Feb. 19 Men’s Slalom Run 1 4 a.m. Peacock
Men’s Slalom Run 2 7:30 a.m. Peacock
Highlights 3 p.m.* NBC, Peacock

*Delayed broadcast
*All NBC coverage streams on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app for subscribers.

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Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here with redactions.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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