HIGHLIGHTS: Record win for Jepchirchir in World Half Marathon; King streak reaches 18 straight races in ISL opener; just two fighting for Giro d’Italia title

Three more national titles for Olympic and World Breaststroke champ Lilly King (USA) (Photo: USA Swimming)

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(● For our 526-event International Sports Calendar from October 2020 to June 2021, by date and by sport, click here! ●)

Headline results of noteworthy competitions around the world:

Athletics ● Cold and wind made no difference to Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir, who collected her second World Half Marathon Championships gold medal in Gdynia, Poland on Saturday, breaking her own mark for the best in a women’s-only race.

The four-lap course has some difficult twists that resulted in several falls, including among the leaders at the 18 km mark. After the lead pack of seven had reached 15 km in 46:24, Ababel Yeshaneh (ETH) and Kenya’s Joyciline Jepkosgei fell and lost contact, then Ethiopia’s Zeineba Yimer and Turkey’s Yasemin Can also fell back.

That left Ethiopian-born Melat Yisak Kejeta (now running for Germany), Jepchirchir and Ethiopia’s Yalemzerf Yehualaw in the lead and with 1,000 m remaining, were clearly going to be the medalists. Jepchirchir had the fastest finishing sprint and ran to a 1:05:16 victory, bettering her women’s-only world mark of 1:05:34 from the Prague Half in September. It’s her second title, also having won in 2016.

Kejeta, 28, won her first international medal and improved her lifetime best in the event from 1:08:11 to 1:05:18 (!), while Yehualaw, just 21, clocked a lifetime best of 1:05:19 for the bronze medal.

Yimer recovered to get fourth in 1:05:39, with Yeshaneh fifth in 1:05:41 and Jepkosgei sixth in 1:05:58. Pretty good running in 46-degree (F) weather!

Although a women’s-only race record, Jepchirchir’s time ranks as the no. 15 performance in history; Jepchirchir herself has run 1:05:06 in Ras Al Khaimah (UAE).

The men’s race confirmed that Uganda’s “other” breakout 5,000 m star – Jacob Kiplimo, who has run 12:48.63 this season, no. 3 on the world list, at age 19 – is the real deal. He won with a race record of 58:49 – the second-fastest time of the year – with Kibiwott Kandie (KEN) second in 58:54 and Ethiopian Amedework Walelegn third in 59:08.

There were 11 running together entering the fourth and final lap of the course. With 3 km to go, it was Kiplimo and Kandie together at the front and they dueled to the finish, with Kiplimo winning by five seconds. Behind Walelegn was world 5,000 m recordman Joshua Cheptegei in a lifetime best of 59:21, one of a remarkable 10 men who broke 60 minutes!

Owing to the coronavirus, neither the U.S. or Canada sent a team to Gdynia, although teams from Mexico and several Central American and South American nations did compete.

Badminton ● The pandemic kept some of the top stars away, but the Denmark Open was a stirring success in Odense nonetheless, in the first BWF World Tour event since March.

The home favorites came through in the men’s Singles, with an all-Denmark final as Anders Antonsen – ranked third worldwide – defeated 17th-ranked Rasmus Gemke in the final, 18-21, 21-19, 21-12.

The women’s final saw Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara (rank: 4) won her first final in the last eight tries (!) with a 21-19, 21-17 victory over reigning Olympic champ (no. 6) Carolina Marin (ESP).

The Doubles crowns went to Britain’s Marcus Ellis and Chris Langridge for the men, in three sets over Russia’s Vladimir Ivanov and Ivan Sozonov; to top-seeded Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota in an all-Japan women’s final over Mayu Matsutomo and Wakana Nagahara and to Germans Mark Lamsfuss and Isabel Herttrich, in three sets over Chris and Gabrielle Adcock (GBR).

Canoe-Kayak ● Competition returned to the ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup with competition in Ljubljana (SLO).

The K-1 finals were held on Saturday, with Swede Isak Ohrstrom completing the course in 73.39, stunning home favorite – and 11-time World Cup winner – Peter Kauzer (73.89) and Brazil’s Pedro Goncalves (74.32). It’s the first-ever Slalom World Cup gold for Sweden. Americans Michal Smolen and Josh Joseph were ninth and 10th.

The women’s K-1 gold and silver went to French cousins Romane and Camille Priget, who finished in 83.98 (no penalties) and 85.86 (two penalties). Sixteen-year-old Evy Leibfarth of the U.S. continued to impress with another World Cup medal, a bronze, in 85.99 (two penalties).

Slovenian Luka Bozic won Sunday’s C-1 men’s final, his second World Cup C-1 win, timing 78.17, well clear of France’s Nicolas Gestin (79.81) and Jules Bernandet (80.24).

Brazil’s Pan American Games champion Ana Satila won the women’s C-1, her first in this discipline. Despite two penalties, she finished at 93.64 seconds, ahead of Lucie Prioux (FRA: 95.37, with two penalties) and the ever-present Leibfarth, who had no penalties and finished in 96.76.

Leibfarth won two World Cup medals last season, including a bronze in C-1 and a silver in Extreme K-1 and now has two in the first of two World Cups in 2020! Despite her youth, she appears to be a real contender for Tokyo in 2021; the last American Olympic Slalom medalist was in 2004, when Rebecca Giddens won a K-1 silver.

Cycling ● The second week of the Giro d’Italia has been completed and the race has settled down to essentially a duel between Portugal’s Joao Almeida and Dutch rider Wilco Kelderman. The weekend’s races re-shaped the race and essentially eliminated everyone else.

Thursday’s hilly 12th stage was won by Ecuador’s Jhonatan Narvaez, his first victory in a UCI World Tour race, who ran away to a 1:08 margin over Mark Padun (UKR) and 6:50 over Simon Clarke (AUS). Americans Joey Rosskopf and Brandon McNulty were fourth and sixth.

Friday’s race looked like a sprinter’s special, but the two late, hard climbs left the stage to the stars, with Italy’s Diego Ulissi just ahead of race leader Almeida, with the first 20 finishers given the same time of 4:22:18 for the 192 km route.

Then came the individual time trial on Saturday. The stage itself was once again a showcase for Italian star Filippo Ganna, who won his third stage of this year’s Giro to go along with his world road race title. He finished the 34.1 km route in 42:40, well clear of Australia’s Rohan Dennis (+26 seconds) and McNulty (+1:09).

But behind them the leaderboard blew up. While Almeida finished sixth (-1:31) and Kelderman was ninth (-1:47), the other contenders broke. Spain’s Pedro Bilbao was 22nd, some 2:53 back of Ganna and Italian hope Vincenzo Nibali – a two-time winner – was 23rd (-2:54). Now only Kelderman was within a minute (-0:56) of Almeida.

Sunday’s brutal four-climb stage that finished 1,288 m up the Piancavallo was a victory for Britain’s Tao Geohagen Hart, who won in 4:58:52 over the 185 km route, but also for Kelderman, who was just two seconds back at the finish, ahead of Jai Hindley (AUS: -0:04). With Almeida finishing fourth, but 37 seconds behind the leader, Kelderman – aided by a six-second finishing bonus for second place – closed from 56 seconds down after the time trial to just 15 seconds back with six stages remaining. Both Hindley and Geohagen Hart moved up seven spots on the leaderboard and stand 3-4 now, some 2:56 and 2:57 behind the leader.

After Monday’s off day, the race will conclude a hilly stage on Tuesday, followed by major mountain stages – four climbs each – on Wednesday and Thursday, a flat stage on Friday and then one more mountain stage on Saturday before a final time trial finishing in Milan next Sunday.

The 104th Ronde van Vlaanderen – Tour of Flanders – was a sprint to the finish between Dutch star Mathieu van der Poel and Belgian rival Wout van Aert. After 243.3 km from Antwerp to Oudenaarde, it came down to whether van Aert’s surge to the line was enough, but van der Poel’s throw of his bike at the line proved to be enough for the win, in 5:43:17. Dane Alexander Kristoff won the second-group sprint and claimed the bronze medal for the second straight year.

The women’s race had much less drama, as Chantal van der Broek-Blaak broke away with 19 km remaining and no one could match on the way to a win by 1:01 in the 135.6 km women’s race (3:29:57). Countrywoman Amy Pieters was second, outlasting Belgium’s Lotte Kopecky at the finish.

Coming Tuesday (20th) is the start of the final Grand Tour of the season, the 75th Vuelta a Espana, in the most condensed major-event schedule in cycling history. Prior champions Alejandro Valverde (ESP: won in 2009), four-time Tour de France champ Chris Froome (GBR: won in 2017) and defending champ Primoz Roglic (SLO) are expected to be among the contenders.

The first Mountain Bike Downhill World Cup races of 2020 got started in Maribor (SLO), with French riders taking three of the four races.

In the men’s races, it was a sweep for 2014 World Junior Champion Loris Vergier (FRA). On Saturday, he led through most of the checkpoints and finishing in 3:07.933 over the 2.018 km course in cool and cloudy conditions at the top of a French sweep, ahead of Remi Thiron (3:10.555) and Thibaut Daprela (3:10.902). On Sunday, he defeated four-time World Champion Loic Bruni, 3:07.771-3:07.828, with Britain’s Matt Walker third in 3:08.174.

France’s Marine Cabirou, the 2019 Worlds bronze winner, led from start to finish in the first women’s race in 3:43.595, ahead of 2019 World Champion Myriam Nicole (FRA: 3:49.710) and Tracey Hannah (AUS: 3:50.774). On Sunday, German Nina Hoffmann as the strongest in the second half of the race and won in 3:38.602, well clear of Cabirou (3:40.501) and Eleonora Farina (ITA: 3:42.814).

Skiing ● The FIS Alpine World Cup season opener took place as scheduled on Soelden (AUT), with Giant Slaloms for women and men on the Rettenbach Glacier.

Saturday’s women’s race was a 1-2 for Italy, with Marta Bassano, 24, scoring the second World Cup win of her career over reigning World Cup overall (and Giant Slalom) champion Federica Brignone. They were 1-2 over the first run and were 0.34 clear of their closest competitors and ended on the top two steps of the podium. Slovenia’s Petra Vlhova, expected to contend for the win, was only 10th after the first run, but had the fastest second run to move up to the bronze medal. In the absence of the injured Mikaela Shiffrin, the top American finisher was Paula Moltzan in 10th.

On Sunday, Norway’s Lucas Braathen, 20, stole the show with his first World Cup victory, coming from fifth to first on the second run. He managed the second-fastest second run to edge Swiss Marco Odermatt – who had the fastest second run – by just 0.05, 2:14.41-2:14.46. Swiss Gino Caviezel scored the bronze, his first World Cup medal. Tommy Ford was the top U.S. finisher in 22nd.

The Alpine World Cup is on break now until mid-November.

Swimming ● The first weekend of the compressed ISL season got underway on Friday with the first of 10 total quadrangular matches among the 10 teams at the Duna Arena in Budapest, Hungary.

The long competitive layoff did not appear to hurt the swimmers much and three American Short-Course (25 m pool) records were set, all on Friday:

Women/50 m Back: 25.74, Olivia Smoliga (old, 25.88, Smoliga, 2018)
Women/50 m Breast: 28.86, Lilly King (old, 28.90, King, 2019)
Women/200 m Medley: 2:04.06, Melanie Margalis (old, 2:04.18, Margalis, 2019)

King established herself as the star of the show, winning her three individual events – the 50, 100 and 200 m Breaststrokes – but then also taking all three rounds of the Skins races in the 50 m Breast.

Over two seasons of the ISL, King is undefeated, winning the 50-100-200 m Breast events in all four meets last season, all three in this first match and all three Skins races. That’s 18-for-18! She was the top scorer in the match with 87.5 points.

Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom won four events, including the 50 and 100 m Freestyles, the 100 m Fly and the 100 m Medley and was second in the 50 m Fly. American sprinter Caeleb Dressel won the 100 m Free, 50 m Fly and the 100 m Medley, and claimed second in the 50 m Free and 100 m Fly.

Reigning Olympic 100/200 m Backstroke champ Ryan Murphy of the U.S. won the 50 and 100 m Back events, was second in the 200 m Back and then won all three rounds of the 50 m Back Skins races for three event wins.

In the team scoring, the Cali Condors won by 567-463 over defending champions Energy Standard (Paris), the first loss for the reigning champs. The L.A. Current was third (420) and the New York Breakers (266) finished fourth. (Match 1 results here).

On Sunday’s first day of the second match, Germany’s Christian Diener was the only double winner in the individual events, winning the 50 and 200 m Backstrokes. Turkey’s Emre Sakci, the 2019 European Short-Course Champs silver medalist in the 50 m Breast, took down the 2016 Olympic 100 m Breast champ Adam Peaty (GBR) in the 50 m Breast, 25.74-26.06, moving Sakci to no. 9 on the all-time list.

The second match will finish on Monday, and will be shown in the U.S. on the CBS Sports Network.