track and field

Eliud Kipchoge, Kenenisa Bekele
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Eliud Kipchoge, Kenenisa Bekele set London Marathon duel of fastest men in history

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Eliud Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele will go head-to-head at the London Marathon on April 26, marking the first time in five years that the world’s top two ranked marathoners will toe the start line in the same 26.2-mile race.

The Kenyan Kipchoge, who set the world record of 2:01:39 at the 2018 Berlin Marathon, and the Ethiopian Bekele, who clocked 2:01:41 in Berlin last September, are the only men to ever break 2:02 in a marathon. Kipchoge also clocked 1:59:40 at a non-record-eligible event in Vienna on Oct. 12 instead of racing a fall marathon.

Bekele’s addition to the London field was announced Thursday night, a month after Kipchoge was confirmed. It also includes the third- and fourth-fastest men in history — Ethiopians Birhanu Legese and Mosinet Geremew.

“I am looking forward to racing against Eliud once again,” Bekele said in a press release. “We have had many great battles over the years on the track, roads and cross-country. He is a special athlete who proved that again with his magnificent achievements last year.”

Kipchoge has won 11 of 12 marathons since moving to road racing after failing to make Kenya’s 2012 Olympic track team. Bekele, the more accomplished track athlete with Olympic golds and world records at 5000m and 10,000m, has been a roller-coaster road runner.

Bekele owns two of the seven fastest marathons in history, recorded three years apart in Berlin. In between, he failed to finish two marathons and, in his last London start in 2018, clocked a pedestrian 2:08:53 for sixth place.

That was more than four minutes behind Kipchoge, who is undefeated in four London starts and has beaten by Bekele by at least 100 seconds in all four of their head-to-head marathons.

“I feel like my win in Berlin proved that I am still capable of winning the biggest races in the world and in world-class times,” Bekele said. “I am really looking forward to what I can do in London.”

London could be a preview of the Tokyo Olympics. Kipchoge is expected to headline the Kenyan team that may be named before the spring marathon season. Bekele was controversially left off Ethiopia’s team four years ago.

The London Marathon has historically been the world’s second-fastest record-eligible marathon behind Berlin. Kipchoge owns the course record of 2:02:37.

The last time the world’s top-ranked marathoners (on record-eligible courses) entered the same 26.2-mile race the 2015 London Marathon, pitting then-world-record holder Dennis Kimetto against Emmanuel Mutai. Kipchoge won.

The last time the world’s top-ranked marathoners (on any course) entered the same 26.2-mile race was the 2009 Berlin Marathon, pitting then-world-record holder Haile Gebrselassie against Duncan Kibet. Gebrselassie won.

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Wilson Kipsang, former marathon world-record holder, banned in doping case

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Wilson Kipsang, a former marathon world-record holder and Olympic bronze medalist, was provisionally suspended for whereabouts failures and tampering, according to doping officials.

The ban came from the Athletics Integrity Unit, track and field’s doping watchdog organization. Athletes must provide doping officials with locations to be available for out-of-competition testing, and missed tests can be tantamount to failed tests.

“At this point it is only an accusation,” a management group saying it represents Kipsang posted on social media. “We emphasize that there is no case of use of doping. No prohibited substance was found … and does not concern tampering with a doping test itself. Pending the case and our own investigation we will not communicate anything more about it.”

Kipsang, a 37-year-old Kenyan, won major marathons in New York City, London, Berlin and Tokyo between 2012 and 2017.

He lowered the world record to 2:03:23 at the 2013 Berlin Marathon, a mark that stood for one year until countryman Dennis Kimetto took it to 2:02:57 in Berlin. Another Kenyan, Eliud Kipchoge, lowered it to 2:01:39 at the 2018 Berlin Marathon.

Kipsang, the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist, last won a top-level marathon in Tokyo in 2017. He was third at the 2018 Berlin Marathon and 12th at his last marathon in London last April.

Kipsang is the latest Kenyan distance-running star to receive a doping-related ban.

Rita Jeptoo had Boston and Chicago Marathon titles stripped, and Jemima Sumgong was banned after winning the Rio Olympic marathon after both tested positive for EPO. Asbel Kiprop, a 2008 Olympic 1500m champion and a three-time world champ, was banned four years after testing positive for EPO in November 2017.

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Allyson Felix: Everything is on the table in 2020

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It was about this time last year that Allyson Felix received her first post-pregnancy workout instruction from longtime coach Bobby Kersee: a 30-minute power walk on a treadmill at the local fitness center.

It was a struggle for Felix, the most decorated female Olympic track and field athlete in history with nine medals and six golds. She questioned whether returning to form was realistic after an emergency C-section at 32 weeks with severe preeclampsia. Camryn, born at 3 pounds, 7 ounces, spent her first 29 days in the NICU.

The treadmill walk was “humbling, and it was hard and I was discouraged,” she said, “but it was the starting point.”

Five months later, Felix lined up for her first race as a mom. She distinctly remembers the announcer’s introduction at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. After reeling off accolades, the booming voice over the sound system crescendoed, “But her greatest victory came in November, the birth of daughter Camryn.”

“This moment that I wasn’t expecting,” Felix said. “So much love from everybody, and it was just really cool to be known as Camryn’s mom.”

She went on to finish sixth in the 400m at USATF Outdoors, qualifying for a record-breaking ninth world championships team (solely in relays this time).

At worlds in early autumn, she earned her 12th and 13th titles, breaking a record she shared with Usain Bolt. Felix’s split of 49.8 seconds in the 4x400m preliminary round was the fastest of the 64 women across all heats (which didn’t include any of the top five women from the individual 400m).

“I don’t think I was ever really in shape last season,” Felix said. “Well, I know I wasn’t because Bobby told me.”

Felix’s journey is expected to resume later this winter during the indoor season, then ramp up to June’s Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore. She can join Gail Devers as the only U.S. sprinters to compete at five Olympics.

Felix is not limiting herself to the 400m, the lone distance she contested on the oval last season. She was known as a 200m sprinter for the first decade of her career, plus earned two Olympic titles in the 4x100m.

She said in November that — if healthy — there’s no reason not to enter the 200m at trials given the first round is four days after the 400m final. If Felix makes the Olympic team in both sprints, she will choose between them.

“Everything’s on the table this year,” Felix said. “This year, I’m going to be getting back to sprinting. I think that’s really key for me to be myself, and that’s something that I didn’t even get to touch last year.”

Felix, the 2012 Olympic 200m champion and a two-time silver medalist at the distance, nearly made the Rio Olympic team in both the 200m and the 400m. She came .01 of a second shy in the 200m at trials, three months after partially tearing two ligaments in her right ankle landing on a medicine ball.

Felix has said nothing went to plan in 2016. From the injury to being edged out by a diving Shaunae Miller-Uibo in the Olympic 400m final to the oddity of re-running the 4x100m preliminary heats after a collision.

She thinks about Rio a lot. She thinks about Tokyo a lot, a chance to have her last Games be on her terms. Those terms changed since she became a mom, fighting for pregnancy protection in athlete contracts and raising awareness of racial disparities and social determinants in the maternal mortality crisis.

“When I think about legacy, I think before, I was always concerned with medals, and times. That’s what I wanted to leave behind,” she said. “In the space that I am now, I want to leave this world better than I found it. I want to have an impact on things like maternal rights, on issues of the sport, on change.”

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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