Shalane Flanagan

Olympians at New York City Marathon reminded of Boston

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NEW YORK — Shalane Flanagan noticed the difference right away.

At Central Park, two men in navy blue jackets with “SECURITY” emblazoned on their backs guarded the doors. There was a metal detector. There were wands.

This was the entrance to the New York City Marathon media center Thursday, three days before the race.

“I can’t recall there being security like there is today,” Flanagan said once inside.

This year’s group of 45,000 runners will take part with the backdrop of tragedy Sunday. Superstorm Sandy canceled the New York City Marathon for the first time in its 42-year history a year ago. Controversially, the New York Road Runners did not decide to scrap the race until two days before.

The Boston Marathon bombings of April 15 put greater emphasis on security in the five-borough event.

Flanagan, 32, has run the New York City Marathon once, finishing second in 2010 in her 26.2-mile debut. The three-time Olympian will not contest Sunday’s race but is here for the Dash to the Finish Line 5K on Saturday.

She arrived for a media session on a soggy Thursday with Boston on her sleep-deprived mind. Flanagan grew up in the fishing and yachting town of Marblehead, Mass., a sub-90-minute run from Boston at her pace.

She stayed up to watch the Red Sox finish off the Cardinals in Game 6 to win the World Series at Fenway Park on Wednesday night.

Flanagan ran into another New Englander early Thursday — 1984 Olympic marathon champion Joan Benoit Samuelson of Maine. They talked about the finish line of the Boston Marathon, about how Red Sox fans descended on Boylston Street the previous night in celebration, some kissing the pavement.

Samuelson, wearing Boston red socks, was inducted into the New York Road Runners Hall of Fame on Thursday, along with 1972 Olympic marathon champion Frank Shorter, four-time New York City Marathon winner Bill Rodgers and Ted Corbitt, the New York Road Runners founder and an African-American distance running pioneer.

Flanagan and Samuelson also met in Boston on April 15, shortly after two homemade bombs went off near the finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 260.

Boston forms panel to look at 2024 Olympic bid

source: AP
Joan Benoit Samuelson threw out the first pitch at a Red Sox game two days before the Boston Marathon. She was at Fenway Park for Game 1 of the World Series. (AP)

Samuelson, 55, completed the Boston Marathon in 2 hours, 50 minutes, 29 seconds. She achieved her goal of running within 30 minutes of her winning time at the 1983 Boston Marathon, a then-world record 2:22.43.

That day six months ago, for the first time she could remember, she did not hear her name read over speakers as she crossed the finish line of a major race. The announcer had stepped away momentarily.

“It was eerily quiet,” Samuelson said. “Little did I know it was foreboding for what was to come.”

Two hours later, she was at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel, getting out of the shower and getting ready for lunch.

“I heard and felt the blast,” she said. “Initially, I thought it was a transformer. My husband knew right away it was a bomb.”

Samuelson said everybody was told to go to the third floor of the hotel. Her husband, Scott, thought it would be a better idea to go down to the lobby.

“The first person I saw was Shalane Flanagan running up to the third floor,” Samuelson said. “I said, ‘Shalane, we’re going to go down and not up.'”

Flanagan remembered, too.

“(Samuelson) was just clearly visibly upset,” said Flanagan, who also ran in Boston and took fourth in 2:27.08. “She’s really good at giving hugs. She gives a really good, mean hug. She just gave everyone a hug. I think both she and I ‑‑ I don’t know if it’s a New Englander thing, but we were both pretty pissed off that someone would ruin such a wonderful day.”

Samuelson ended up staying in the hotel as it was put on lockdown for a couple of hours. The cell phone service was spotty for a while. Samuelson called the scene surreal.

“All sorts of rumors,” she said. “We didn’t really know what was happening.”

Shorter, 66, said he was the last person out of the Fairmont Copley Plaza before they locked it down. He was covering the Boston Marathon for Universal Sports and en route to a TV truck (via shortcut) when the second bomb went off no more than 50 yards away.

“I walked by a medical tent where they were doing triage,” he said. “I was kind of in shock.”

New York Road Runners CEO Mary Wittenberg was also at the Boston Marathon, to watch the race.

“My last image of Boston was Joanie (Samuelson) crossing the finish line, so happy, running an amazing 2:50,” she said.

Wittenberg, 51, then boarded a train back to New York’s Penn Station. An hour into the trip, she received a text message from a friend.

“Our greatest nightmare — bombs at the finish line of Boston,” she said. “I can still feel it. Total sickness.”

That night, Wittenberg spoke to New York City Police Department commissioner Raymond Kelly. She met with the New York Road Runners staff the following morning.

“First about honoring and supporting and Boston,” she said, “then what measures should we take to what is already a safe and strong security plan to enhance it.”

The Road Runners hired an international firm, MSA Security, to conduct “a top-to-bottom analysis” of the organization’s existing security plan, she told The New York Times. They graded out well, but security will be increased Sunday.

Hundreds of police officers, police helicopters and police boats will line the course and watch from the sky and sea, according to The Associated Press. There will be plain-clothes officers and bomb-sniffing dogs, as usual, but also 100 new mobile security cameras the NYPD bought after Boston.

For the first time, an area near the Central Park finish will be fenced off with extra security to enter, according to the AP. All bags will be searched, according to The New York Times.

Also, a special yellow line in honor of Boston will be painted on the pavement near the finish, accompanying the normal blue line.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever been so looking forward to welcoming back runners from around the world, New Yorkers to the streets and other people watching as part of this nation and worldwide,” Wittenberg said. “The meaning is just on so many levels. We really need to get back to a really good day.”

Kenyan women eye marathon world record 

Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross win World Series of Beach Volleyball

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Rio bronze medalists Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross bounced back from an Olympic upset to win the biggest annual tournament in the U.S. on Sunday.

Walsh Jennings and Ross captured the Asics World Series of Beach Volleyball title in Long Beach, Calif., for the second time in three years. They beat Spanish pair Liliana Fernández and Elsa Baquerizo 21-16, 21-16 in the final.

“We love those girls so much, they are dear friends of ours,” Walsh Jennings said. “We wanted to beat them down.”

Absent from Long Beach were Olympic gold medalists Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany and silver medalists Ágatha and Bárbara of Brazil.

Walsh Jennings and Ross, who lost to Ágatha and Bárbara in the Olympic semifinals, dropped a total of two sets in seven undefeated matches this past week.

They earned their fifth international title of the year after winning none in 2015, last season shortened by Walsh Jennings’ fifth right shoulder surgery.

In the men’s final, Brazil’s No. 2 pair, Pedro and Evandro, beat top U.S. pair Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena 19-21, 21-17, 15-9.

Olympic champions Alison and Bruno of Brazil did not compete in Long Beach.

The beach volleyball season continues with the FIVB World Tour Finals in Toronto in two weeks.

MORE: Tough for Misty May-Treanor to watch Kerri Walsh Jennings in Rio

Monica Puig’s unlikely Olympic tennis gold reminded her of ‘Miracle’ scene

Monica Puig
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NEW YORK (AP) — Monica Puig gazed out at her fellow Puerto Ricans jamming the parade route, and in their eyes she saw hope.

They hailed her with “a sense of satisfaction,” she recalled Saturday, “and a sense of belief that things are going to get better.”

Throughout her stunning run to the Olympic tennis gold medal, Puig embraced the symbolism of each upset victory. An economic crisis is devastating the island of her birth, and she appreciated that if she could prove the impossible is possible, that message would reverberate far beyond sports.

“If Puerto Rico channels that same energy and belief that things will get better and working for the better of the island, the better of the community, things will improve,” Puig said four days after the U.S. territory honored its Olympic team and, above all, its first gold medalist.

“I really hope I gave them a lot of confidence moving forward,” she added, “that things will actually get better.”

The world’s 34th-ranked women’s tennis player met with a roomful of reporters Saturday, exactly two weeks after she beat Australian Open champ Angelique Kerber in three sets in the final in Rio de Janeiro. Poised and philosophical in ways that bely her age, the 22-year-old realizes some people deem her gold medal “a fluke.”

After all, Puig has never made it past the round of 16 at a major. And at the U.S. Open, which starts Monday, she’s never advanced beyond the second round. Puig is already bracing herself for the reality that her run at Flushing Meadows could fall well short of what took place in Rio.

“I’m 22 years old. There’s still a long way for me to go, a long stretch of career,” she said. “If anything happens, any kind of slip-up, it’s not really going to be a big deal, because I have a process and I have a long-term view of where I want to go.”

Which isn’t to say she expects a slip-up.

“I know that the Olympics wasn’t a fluke for me, because I have worked very hard to get to where I am,” Puig said. “I know the hours and the tears and the sweat and everything that’s been put into my practices. It’s been very difficult for me.

“But that moment, nobody will be able to take away.”

Even she considers that Olympic moment to be like something out of a movie script. When spectators chanted “Si se puede!” (“Yes you can!” in Spanish) during the final against the second-ranked Kerber, Puig flashed back to a scene from the film “Miracle” about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team.

With fans roaring “U-S-A!” coach Herb Brooks tells his players: “Listen to them. That’s what you’ve done.” As Puig said Saturday, “I needed to listen to the crowd.”

Her gold might not have been quite as unlikely as the Miracle on Ice, but it wasn’t too far off. The night after her victory, Puig slept with the medal on her nightstand, waking up every few hours to make sure it was real. She still feels the need to check up on it during the day.

“I see the videos and I’m like, ‘Did this really just happen?'” Puig said.

When they showed the clip of her medal ceremony when she was honored in Puerto Rico, she started crying again. Through it all, she insisted Saturday, she felt she kept her focus, knowing the U.S. Open was looming.

After Rio, Puig spent some time with her family in Miami, where she lives. Then it was on to the island “where the big party was waiting.” It’s been hard to squeeze in sleep and alone time and practice — all the things she needs to recover from one big event and prepare for another.

Puig faces 60th-ranked Zheng Saisai, who upset Agnieszka Radwanska at the Olympics, in the first round Monday. She originally wasn’t seeded at Flushing Meadows, which meant she could have faced a top player in her opening match, but she moved up to the final seed when Sloane Stephens withdrew because of an injury Friday.

It’s the first time Puig has been seeded at a major, and in what was a breakthrough season even before her golden moment, she’s starting to grow comfortable with those sorts of roles.

“I feel like I finally understand what I’m doing when it comes to tennis,” she said.

MORE: U.S. goes one-two in Olympic mixed doubles