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 

Haven Denney, Brandon Frazier win U.S. pairs title after year off

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier perform in the championship pairs short program during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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KANSAS CITY — Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier returned from a year off to win their first U.S. pairs title on Saturday, despite an error-prone free skate and against a field lacking any previous U.S. champion teams.

Denney and Frazier jumped from second after the short program to total 188.32 points and win by 2.04 over Sochi Olympian Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran. Denney and Frazier’s total score was 23.33 points fewer than last year’s winning score.

Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc, who led by 3.96 after the short program, had a strong free skate going until a fall on their throw triple Lutz and finished third Saturday.

Full results are here.

Denney and Frazier were the top U.S. pair in the fall international season by 16 points, taking a silver medal at Skate America.

But Denney struggled on landings in the short program, her right leg wrapped after blowing out her right knee in spring 2015 that caused them to miss the entire 2015-16 season. They also had multiple jumping errors in their free skate, but, unlike the rest of the top five, stayed on their feet Saturday.

“We’re trying harder elements, harder jumps, bigger throws, bigger twists,” Frazier said. “What you see is a couple of ups and downs. This is all building for the next season.”

The U.S. will send two pairs to the world championships in Helsinki in two months, but not definitively the top two finishers from Saturday. The world championships pairs teams will be named Sunday.

Denney and Frazier finished 12th at the 2015 Worlds, after placing second at that year’s U.S. Championships. Castelli and Tran, in their second year as a pair, have no worlds experience together and are ineligible for the 2018 Olympics. Tran, born in Canada, is not a U.S. citizen.

Pairs is the U.S.’ weakest discipline. The last U.S. pair to earn an Olympic or world medal was Kyoka Ina and John Zimmerman at the 2002 Worlds. Eight different pairs have won the last nine U.S. titles.

In 2016, the U.S. pairs finished ninth and 13th at worlds, but both of those teams are out due to injuries.

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, the top U.S. pair in international competition in recent seasons, has been out of competition all season due to her September stomach surgery. They have returned to full training.

The Knierims filed a petition to be named to the world championships team, which is selected on a discretionary basis on results from the U.S. Championships and other recent competitions.

“Whatever they decide,” Tran said of a U.S. Figure Skating selection committee, “we’re all for that.”

The 2016 U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea withdrew before the free skate Saturday after Kayne suffered a concussion in a short-program fall. They placed fifth in the short program.

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday night with the women’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

VIDEO: Tara Lipinski reflects on 1997 U.S. title at age 14

U.S. Championships Pairs
GOLD: Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier — 188.32
SILVER: Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran — 186.28
BRONZE: Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc — 184.41

4. Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay — 173.50
5. Jessica Pfund/Joshua Santillan — 168.90

Tara Lipinski reflects on winning 1997 U.S. title at age 14

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Tara Lipinski says she can remember everything about the 1997 U.S. Championships, when she became the youngest national champion at age 14.

The victory 20 years ago helped catapult her to become the youngest individual Winter Olympic champion of all time a year later.

“It changed my life in that moment [in 1997],” said Lipinski, now an NBC Olympics analyst. “That was when you talk about peaking at the right time. I knew when I stepped off the ice as a national champion, I can be Olympic champion.”

In 1996, Lipinski finished third at age 13 at the U.S. Championships behind Michelle Kwan, who won the first of her nine U.S. titles. Lipinski then struggled at the world championships, taking 15th, while Kwan won.

So Lipinski was certainly not the favorite going into the 1997 U.S. Championships in Nashville.

But she delivered an unforgettable performance, landing seven triple jumps in her free skate, including the first triple loop-triple loop combination, to surpass the short program leader Kwan, who fell twice in her free skate.

“I always got very nervous,” Lipinski said. “Now to be a broadcaster on live television, I always wonder, why do I pick these professions where there’s a lot of pressure? It’s because I love it, and I thrive under it. Looking back then, it was interesting to look back and remember how nervous I was and then that relief and that pure joy. Then realizing what happened in the next year, and how I was able to get to the point that I did still gives me chills. I have to sort of pinch myself.”

For perspective on how long ago that victory was, check out this story from the Chicago Tribune:

Within an hour of Tara Lipinski’s victory at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Saturday night, a “media alert” was on the information table in the press room at the Nashville Arena to announce Lipinski’s site on the Internet.

“Visit America’s hottest sensation at `www.TaraLipinski.com’ ” said the press release from the skater’s agency, Edge Marketing. “Visitors can dive inside Tara’s life by checking out her biography, famiily life stories and other fun facts about Tara (i.e., which of Tara’s talents might pose a threat to Martha Stewart?).”

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