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

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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 

Several women’s players spurn worlds inquiry from USA Hockey

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As sports organizations and notable hockey figures express support of the U.S. women’s team, several players say they rejected overtures from USA Hockey to serve as replacements for the upcoming world championships.

Two players told The Associated Press on Friday that USA Hockey reached out to them to gauge their interest for the worlds, which begin next week in Plymouth, Michigan.

Brittany Ott, a goaltender for the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League, and Annie Pankowski, a junior forward at the University of Wisconsin, said the email from USA Hockey was not an invitation but rather an inquiry about their availability.

“I responded to that email and I said I’m not willing,” Pankowski said.

A third player, goalie Lauren Dahm, told the AP on Saturday she also turned down an invitation. Dahm plays for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League Boston Blades.

The U.S. team has said it plans to boycott the worlds over a wage dispute with USA Hockey, which confirmed Thursday it would begin reaching out to potential replacement players. Several players posted messages on social media saying they support the national team and would decline or have declined any outreach from USA Hockey.

“From a personal standpoint I have never been invited to a USA Hockey series or camp or anything like that and I would honestly love to be invited to something like that,” Ott said by phone. “However at the current time, this is a fight that I believe in and I’m definitely going to stand up and help fight as much as I can.”

Many players posted a version of a Jerry Rice quote on Twitter on Friday: “Today I will do what others won’t so tomorrow I can do what others can’t. I said no to USAH & will not play in the 2017WC.” Not all players who tweeted that message were asked by USA Hockey if they could play.

On Saturday, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith joined the chorus of support for the players, saying on Twitter the organization stands behind their pursuit of fairness and equality.

“These women understand inequality when they see it and are expressing their right to be treated fairly as athletes and workers,” Smith tweeted. “Of course, they have the NFLPA’s support in daring to withhold their services until a fair agreement is reached.”

Philadelphia Flyers coach Dave Hakstol posted his support on Twitter, calling players competitors and role models.

On Friday, the NHL Players’ Association and Major League Baseball players posted messages of support. The NHLPA posted on Twitter that it supports players and panned USA Hockey’s bid to stock the team with replacements, adding that the decision “would only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”

The MLBPA encouraged all female hockey players to stand united behind their national team colleagues.

Players are seeking a four-year contract that includes payments outside the six-month Olympic period. The sides met for 10-plus hours Monday, but players have called USA Hockey’s counterproposal “disappointing.”

USA Hockey said Thursday its priority was to have all the players selected for the national team on the ice March 31 when the tournament begins. But the organization added that it informed players’ representatives it would begin reaching out to potential replacements with the tournament coming up.

Star national team forward Hilary Knight said last week she wished USA Hockey luck putting together a suitable team of replacements to defend the gold medal because the player pool was united in the dispute. Ott and Pankowski said they had not heard from any players expressing a willingness to play in worlds.

“It’s a very unified front,” Ott said. “It’s a tight-knit community that we have in women’s hockey here. This is definitely a big opportunity for us to make a big change and have a big impact on our sport and have it grow. We’re all standing together.”

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World Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

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Volosozhar and Trankov couldn’t do it. Neither did Shen and Zhao. Nor Gordeeva and Grinkov.

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford can win a third straight pairs world title next week, a feat not seen since Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev of the Soviet Union won six in a row from 1973 through 1978.

But they don’t feel like favorites.

“We’re coming in a little more under the radar,” Radford said.

They lost their two most recent international competitions — third at the Grand Prix Final in December; second at the Four Continents Championships in February.

Duhamel and Radford are seeded fifth by best international scores this season going into the world championships in Helsinki (broadcast schedule here).

“Sometimes it feels like worlds last year was so long ago,” Radford said.

Last year in Boston, Duhamel and Radford had the performance of their seven-year partnership in the world championships free skate. They tallied a personal-best 153.81 points, more than seven points clear of their previous best.

It was easily enough to overtake Chinese short-program leaders Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who were relegated to silver behind the Canadians for a second straight year.

This season, Duhamel and Radford haven’t come within 13 points of their 2016 World Championships total. Duhamel went through “an unforeseeable circumstance” in her personal life in November that she chooses not to reveal.

They implemented the throw triple Axel, but Duhamel fell three times in a four-event stretch this fall. They lost by nearly 13 points at December’s Grand Prix Final, which ended with a Duhamel backstage meltdown.

“We never fell like that at home [in practice],” Duhamel said on the IceTalk podcast. “It started to shake us up a little bit.”

They replaced the throw triple Axel in their program. Without it in February, both skaters had trouble with jumps at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue and finished nearly 13 points behind Sui and Han.

“We kind of went back to square one, to the drawing board after Four Continents, reassessing what’s gone on this season, why are we underperforming, why are we not succeeding in competition the way we are training,” Duhamel said.

They made program changes, notably on their throw and jump entrances and overhauling the footwork in their short program.

Duhamel adopted a rescue dog from South Korea. Radford, who had surgery over the summer to remove a cyst from his ankle bone, leaned on a sports psychologist.

“I personally feel a lot more relaxed and seemless,” Radford said. “That feeling has come a little bit later this season.”

Five pairs could take gold in Helsinki in perhaps the most wide-open event.

Germans Aliona Savchenko and (French-born) Bruno Massot won both of their fall Grand Prix events but missed the Grand Prix Final after she tore an ankle ligament. They returned to take silver at the European Championships in January with the best score of their two-year partnership.

Young Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov stepped up to win the Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, and then the European Championships. But free-skate struggles have dogged them this season.

Another Russian pair, Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, are perhaps the biggest wild card. They missed the fall season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury, but then beat Tarasova and Morozov in their season debut at the Russian Championships. Stolbova fell on their throw triple flip in both programs at the European Championships in January, and they finished fourth.

Then there are Sui and Han, looking to break through for a first senior world title in their sixth try (though Sui is just 21 years old, and Han 24). They missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at Four Continents and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

U.S. pairs Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier have both missed significant time due to injury in the last two years. They are behind the top pairs from Canada, China and Russia.

The U.S. hasn’t put a pair in the world championships top five since 2006, and that doesn’t figure to change next week.

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NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.