Boston Marathon spotlight on Eliud Kipchoge, U.S. Olympic team contenders

Eliud Kipchoge

The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual 26.2-mile race, and Monday’s elite contests are its most anticipated in recent memory.

Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge, a two-time Olympic marathon champion and world record holder, toes the start line in Hopkinton for the first time on Patriots’ Day morning.

Kipchoge, 38, eschewed his usual April routine of entering the London Marathon to chase a goal of becoming the first runner to win all six annual World Marathon Majors.

He already checked off four of them over an 11-year marathon career that’s included an unprecedented 15 wins in 17 races: Berlin (where last September he lowered his world record to 2 hours, 1 minute, 9 seconds), Chicago (where he won his first major marathon in 2014, his last time racing anywhere in the U.S.), London and Tokyo.

All that’s remaining are Boston and New York City, the latter a November marathon that Kipchoge has attended but never raced.

Boston may be Kipchoge’s toughest test yet given his age, an unfamiliar and hilly course and the challengers. Supporting stars Evans Chebet and Benson Kipruto, Kenyan training partners, are arguably the world’s second- and third-best marathoners.

Chebet, 34, won Boston and New York City in 2022. Kipruto, 32, won Boston in 2021 and Chicago in 2022.

All signs point to Kipchoge leading Kenya’s three-man team for the 2024 Olympic marathon in Paris, where he could become the first person to win three gold medals in the event.

The U.S. Olympic marathon teams of three men and three women will be decided at next February’s trials in Orlando. The Boston fields include the most top Americans of any spring marathon.

Conner Mantz and Scott Fauble are the only Americans to break 2:09 since the start of 2022. They share similar stories.

Both abandoned the American distance-running tradition that stipulates moving up to the marathon only after a long track career. Mantz, 26, and Fauble, 31, each made their 26.2-mile debut at age 25, one year after placing fifth and fourth in Olympic Trials 10,000m finals, respectively.

Mantz may be the early Olympic Trials favorite, solely because of what he did in his marathon debut in Chicago last October. He was the top American man in seventh, running the fastest marathon of any American in 2022 and becoming the seventh-fastest American in history.

Fauble is the most consistent American man, when factoring in four-time Olympian Galen Rupp‘s injury struggles (Rupp hasn’t entered a spring marathon). The burrito aficionado has been one of the six fastest U.S. male marathoners in five of the last six years but was 12th at the 2020 Olympic Trials.

The two fastest U.S. women in history — Emily Sisson and Keira D’Amato — both chose the April 23 London Marathon over Boston, then scratched with minor injuries.

Those two aside, it’s likely that the top U.S. woman in Boston on Monday, from a deep group, will be a favorite to make the Olympic team.

Sara Hall, who turns 40 on Saturday, was the third-fastest U.S. female marathoner last year behind Sisson and D’Amato. She would be the oldest U.S. Olympic female runner in history, according to Hall has competed in six different Olympic Trials events — the first in 2004 — spanning the 1500m, 5000m, 10,000m, 3000m steeplechase and the marathon. She has never made an Olympic team.

Emma Bates was the fourth-fastest U.S. woman last year (and the fastest in 2021, a year after placing seventh at the Tokyo Olympic Trials). At 30, she is younger than Sisson, D’Amato and Hall, plus makes her Boston debut on Monday.

Aliphine Tuliamuk, the surprise Tokyo Olympic Trials winner, also races Boston for the first time. Last November, she was the top American in New York City in seventh place, a result all the more impressive given an ankle injury limited her to a seven-week build-up. It was her first marathon since dropping out halfway through the Olympics with a hip injury, seven months after childbirth.

Then there is 39-year-old Des Linden, a 2012 and 2016 Olympian and 2018 Boston Marathon champ. Since placing fourth at the February 2020 Olympic Trials, Linden finished 16th, 13th and 16th in three marathons with a best time of 2:28.47, making her the 24th-fastest American woman in this Olympic cycle.

It’s likely that most U.S. Olympic team contenders will race a fall marathon, but at least until then, Monday’s results will be the single biggest indicator of trials prospects.

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At the French Open, a Ukrainian mom makes her comeback

Elina Svitolina French Open

Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, once the world’s third-ranked tennis player, is into the French Open third round in her first major tournament since childbirth.

Svitolina, 28, swept 2022 French Open semifinalist Martina Trevisan of Italy, then beat Australian qualifier Storm Hunter 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 to reach the last 32 at Roland Garros. She next plays 56th-ranked Russian Anna Blinkova, who took out the top French player, fifth seed Caroline Garcia, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 on her ninth match point.

Svitolina’s husband, French player Gael Monfils, finished his first-round five-set win after midnight on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. She watched that match on a computer before going to sleep ahead of her 11 a.m. start Wednesday.

“This morning, he told me, ‘I’m coming to your match, so make it worth it,'” she joked on Tennis Channel. “I was like, OK, no pressure.

“I don’t know what he’s doing here now. He should be resting.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Svitolina made at least one major quarterfinal every year from 2017 through 2021, including the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2019. She married Monfils one week before the Tokyo Olympics, then won a singles bronze medal.

Svitolina played her last match before maternity leave on March 24, 2022, one month after Russia invaded her country. She gave birth to daughter Skai on Oct. 15.

Svitolina returned to competition in April. Last week, she won the tournament preceding the French Open, sweeping Blinkova to improve to 17-3 in her career in finals. She’s playing on a protected ranking of 27th after her year absence and, now, on a seven-match win streak.

“It was always in my head the plan to come back, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself, because obviously with the war going on, with the pregnancy, you never know how complicated it will go,” she said. “I’m as strong as I was before, maybe even stronger, because I feel that I can handle the work that I do off the court, and match by match I’m getting better. Also mentally, because mental can influence your physicality, as well.”

Svitolina said she’s motivated by goals to attain before she retires from the sport and to help Ukraine, such as donating her prize money from last week’s title in Strasbourg.

“These moments bring joy to people of Ukraine, to the kids as well, the kids who loved to play tennis before the war, and now maybe they don’t have the opportunity,” she said. “But these moments that can motivate them to look on the bright side and see these good moments and enjoy themselves as much as they can in this horrible situation.”

Svitolina was born in Odesa and has lived in Kharkiv, two cities that have been attacked by Russia.

“I talk a lot with my friends, with my family back in Ukraine, and it’s a horrible thing, but they are used to it now,” she said. “They are used to the alarms that are on. As soon as they hear something, they go to the bomb shelters. Sleepless nights. You know, it’s a terrible thing, but they tell me that now it’s a part of their life, which is very, very sad.”

Svitolina noted that she plays with a flag next to her name — unlike the Russians and Belarusians, who are allowed to play as neutral athletes.

“When I step on the court, I just try to think about the fighting spirit that all of us Ukrainians have and how Ukrainians are fighting for their values, for their freedom in Ukraine,” she said, “and me, I’m fighting here on my own front line.”

Svitolina said that she’s noticed “a lot of rubbish” concerning how tennis is reacting to the war.

“We have to focus on what the main point of what is going on,” she said. “Ukrainian people need help and need support. We are focusing on so many things like empty words, empty things that are not helping the situation, not helping anything.

“I want to invite everyone to focus on helping Ukrainians. That’s the main point of this, to help kids, to help women who lost their husbands because they are at the war, and they are fighting for Ukraine.

“You can donate. Couple of dollars might help and save lives. Or donate your time to something to help people.”

Also Wednesday, 108th-ranked Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis ousted three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 in four and a half hours. Wawrinka’s exit leaves Novak Djokovic as the lone man in the draw who has won the French Open and Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz as the lone men left who have won any major.

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Marcell Jacobs still sidelined, misses another race with Fred Kerley

Marcell Jacobs

Olympic 100m champion Marcell Jacobs of Italy will miss another scheduled clash with world 100m champion Fred Kerley, withdrawing from Friday’s Diamond League meet in Florence.

Jacobs, 28, has not recovered from the nerve pain that forced him out of last Sunday’s Diamond League meet in Rabat, Morocco, according to Italy’s track and field federation.

In his absence, Kerley’s top competition will be fellow American Trayvon Bromell, the world bronze medalist, and Kenyan Ferdinand Omanyala, the world’s fastest man this year at 9.84 seconds. Kerley beat both of them in Rabat.

The Florence Diamond League airs live on Peacock on Friday from 2-4 p.m. ET.

Jacobs has withdrawn from six scheduled head-to-heads with Kerley dating to May 2022 due to a series of health issues since that surprise gold in Tokyo.

Kerley, primarily a 400m sprinter until the Tokyo Olympic year, became the world’s fastest man in Jacobs’ absence. He ran a personal best 9.76 seconds, the world’s best time of 2022, at last June’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Then he led a U.S. sweep of the medals at July’s worlds.

Jacobs’ next scheduled race is a 100m at the Paris Diamond League on June 9. Kerley is not in that field, but world 200m champion Noah Lyles is.

The last time the reigning Olympic and world men’s 100m champions met in a 100m was the 2012 London Olympic final between Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. From 2013 to 2017, Bolt held both titles, then retired in 2017 while remaining reigning Olympic champion until Jacobs’ win in Tokyo, where Kerley took silver.

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