Shalane Flanagan

Boston Marathon women’s preview

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The most anticipated U.S. marathon in recent history has put more attention on one elite runner than any other.

That would be the woman with the 16th fastest personal best in the elite field of 21. Shalane Flanagan‘s story must be about more than hours, minutes and seconds, and it is, just as is this year’s Boston Marathon.

She was born in Boulder, Colo., but grew up in Marblehead, Mass., 16 miles northeast of Boston. Her personal connection to this race is well documented.

“I’ve never felt my running take on a more personal meaning than it will to prepare for this year’s race,” Flanagan said. “It’s hard to express what it means to return this particular year to the place where I grew up and compete. In one word, I guess it would be ‘pride.'”

Flanagan is one of the U.S.’ greatest all-time distance runners. She is the only American woman to win an Olympic medal on the track in a distance greater than 400m since 1992 (10,000m bronze in Beijing 2008).

Only 1984 Olympic marathon champion Joan Benoit Samuelson and 2004 Olympic marathon bronze medalist Deena Kastor are higher than Flanagan among Americans on the IAAF’s all-time list (which doesn’t count Boston times due to its point-to-point, downhill course).

Flanagan finished fourth in her Boston Marathon debut last year. Come Monday, she is not favored to be the first American victor since 1985, but her objective is clear.

“It’s my ultimate dream and goal to win the Boston Marathon,” Flanagan said on “60 Minutes.” “I am all in.”

The field includes three women who have Boston Marathon titles — Kenyans Rita Jeptoo (2006, 2013), Sharon Cherop (2012) and Caroline Kilel (2011).

Jeptoo, 33, has a fantastic chance to win her third title. She went seven years between major marathon victories from 2006 to 2013 but claimed not only Boston but also Chicago (in a personal best time) last year. She was the fastest women’s marathoner in 2013.

She could be challenged hardest by top Ethiopian hope Mare Dibaba, whose only World Marathon Major experience was taking 23rd at the 2012 Olympics. But Dibaba, 24, has the fastest personal best in the field, 5 seconds better than Jeptoo. She was 8 seconds slower than Jeptoo at a half marathon on Valentine’s Day.

Several more Kenyans are in the hunt. Also, don’t forget about Desiree Linden, who set the American course record for Boston in 2011, when she finished two seconds behind the winner.

Men’s Preview: Two-man race? | TV, race schedules

Full women’s elite field:

Name Personal Best Time Country
Mare Dibaba 2:19:52 (Dubai, 2012) Ethiopia
Rita Jeptoo 2:19:57 (Chicago, 2013) Kenya
Jemima Jelagat Sumgong 2:20:48 (Chicago, 2013) Kenya
Meselech Melkamu 2:21:01 (Frankfurt) CR Kenya
Eunice Kirwa 2:21:41 (Amsterdam, 2012) Kenya
Sharon Cherop 2:22:28 (Berlin, 2013) Kenya
Caroline Kilel 2:22:34 (Frankfurt, 2013) Kenya
Desiree Linden 2:22:38 (Boston, 2011) U.S.
Flomena Chepchichir 2:23:00 (Frankfurt, 2013) Kenya
Buzunesh Deba 2:23:19 (New York, 2011) Ethiopia
Tatiana Petrova Arkhipova 2:23:29 (London, 2012) Russia
Aleksandra Duliba 2:23:44 (Chicago, 2013) Belarus
Yeshi Esayias 2:24:06 (Frankfurt, 2013) Ethiopia
Philes Ongori 2:24:20 (Rotterdam, 2011) Kenya
Belaynesh Oljira 2:25:01 (Dubai, 2013) Ethiopia
Shalane Flanagan 2:25:38 (Houston, 2012) U.S.
Lanni Marchant 2:28:00 (Toronto, 2013) Canada
Serena Burla 2:28:01 (Amsterdam, 2013) U.S.
Noriko Higuchi 2:28:49 (Tokyo, 2011) Japan
Adriana Nelson 2:28:52 (London, 2008) U.S.
Adriana Aparecida da Silva 2:29:17 (Tokyo, 2012) Brazil

Four-time Olympic medalist returns to run Boston Marathon again

WATCH LIVE: Possible Olympic final preview in FIVB World Tour Finals — 2:30 p.m. ET

Alison, Bruno
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The World champions will play beach volleyball’s hottest team Sunday in an intriguing FIVB Word Tour Finals championship match and possible Olympic final preview, live on NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra.

Brazilians Alison Cerutti and Bruno Schmidt established themselves as beach volleyball’s best team by winning every international tournament they entered this July and August, including the World Championship.

But the U.S. pair of Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena has been the talk of the sport since partnering in July for the first time since separating in 2005. The duo has only entered five FIVB World Tour events this year, but they have made four finals.

“We don’t consider them to be a new team,” Bruno said. “They already play together so well.”

WATCH LIVE: FIVB World Tour Finals — 2:30 p.m. ET

There are many similarities between the pairs.

Alison and Dalhausser are both intimidating blockers. Dalhausser has been named the FIVB World Tour’s best blocker six times, while Alison was recognized in 2011.

In fact, Lucena called Alison “a thicker version of Phil.” Alison, who is known as “Mammoth,” has 35 pounds on Dalhausser, the “Thin Beast.”

Bruno and Lucena are speedy defensive specialists. Dalhausser called Bruno, nephew of Olympic basketball’s all-time leading scorer Oscar Schmidt, the world’s best defender.

“Bruno might be better than me,” Lucena said, laughing, “but I am taller.”

Both Bruno and Lucena are listed at 6-foot-1.

Dalhausser also compared to Lucena to Todd Rogers, his 2008 Olympic gold medal partner. Dalhausser described Lucena as “more explosive” than Rogers, who was named the FIVB World Tour’s best defensive player three times.

“Todd was super competitive, and Nick is the same way,” Dalhausser said.

Alison and Bruno and Dalhausser and Lucena split their first two meetings (not counting a recent exhibition on a helipad). They’ve played 209 points. Alison and Bruno have won 104. Dalhausser and Lucena have won 105.

Alison and Bruno won the first clash, 21–16, 20–22, 15–13 in the World Series of Beach Volleyball final in Long Beach, Calif., on Aug. 23.

Then Dalhausser and Lucena won Wednesday, 18-21, 21-16, 15-11 in a pool-play match that Lucena called “the most competitive match we’ve played.”

Dalhausser and Lucena, who are both from Florida, are counting on the heat to be a third teammate in Fort Lauderdale.

“We have to wear out the big guy,” Dalhausser said, referring to Alison. “We hope it’s 150 degrees, and we will serve him every time.”

The winning team will receive $100,000. It is the biggest international first-place monetary prize ever.

“They are the best team in the world,” Lucena said. “We want to change that and show what we can do.”

On the women’s side, Brazilians Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes and Germans Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst advanced to Sunday’s final, which will be live on Universal Sports Network at 1:00 p.m. ET. Larissa and Talita have won 10 of the 15 international events they’ve played since debuting in July 2014.

Three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings missed the World Tour Finals due to season-ending right shoulder surgery. Her partner, Olympic silver medalist April Ross, teamed with Lauren Fendrick this past week, and they lost in the quarterfinals.

MORE BEACH VOLLEYBALL: ‘Mammoth,’ ‘Magician,’ bring Brazil back atop beach volleyball

Usain Bolt returns to Oktoberfest, with Olympic Alpine skier

Usain Bolt
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Usain Bolt drank, danced and sang at Oktoberfest on Saturday, partying at the Munich festival for (at least) a third straight year.

This time, Bolt brought Germany’s best Alpine skier with him — World Championships slalom medalist Felix Neureuther. Bolt also brought Dr. Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt, the man who has helped the six-time Olympic champion sprinter get over recent injuries.

Here’s video of Bolt and Neureuther sharing a microphone to join in on a group song.

Here are Bolt’s highlights from past Oktoberfests: 2014 | 2013.

Bolt has been enjoying his offseason, having also partied with Lil Wayne in south Florida the previous weekend.

MORE USAIN BOLT: Watch Bolt lose at the Athens 2004 Olympics