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

U.S. figure skating could have its best world team since 2006

Nathan Chen performs during the men's free skate competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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KANSAS CITY — U.S. figure skating has a shot at medals in three of four disciplines at the world championships in Helsinki in two months, which hasn’t happened in 11 years.

Before this year, the U.S. men and U.S. women hadn’t boasted simultaneous medal contenders in a decade. Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek spent the 2010 Olympic cycle in the world elite, while the U.S. women faded. After they stopped competing, Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold moved into the women’s medal field while the U.S. searched for a new leading man.

He’s arrived. Nathan Chen confirmed he is one of the world’s best male skaters by landing a record seven quadruple jumps between two programs at Sprint Center this past week.

The 17-year-old already made the podium in an event that featured the world’s best, earning silver at the Grand Prix Final in December. Chen struggled with his short-program jumps at the Grand Prix Final and attempted one fewer quad overall yet still outscored everybody but Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu.

Of all of the U.S. medal hopes at worlds, Chen may face the stiffest trio of challengers. Not only is there Hanyu, but also two-time reigning world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, plus Japan’s Shoma Uno, all of whom rank higher than Chen in best total scores in international competition this season.

MORE: Chen believes Olympic gold is possible after U.S. title

Wagner, who shares a coach with Chen, did not have her best nationals. She finished second to surprise winner Karen Chen (no relation to Nathan), who has yet to factor internationally.

But Wagner said before and after the U.S. Championships that her focus was to peak for the world championships. The goal for nationals was to make the world team, which required not winning but finishing in the top three. Mission accomplished.

The concern with Wagner is that she hasn’t produced a world medal-caliber result yet this season. Her best score from the fall ranks her sixth among women going to worlds. But Wagner has shown in the last few seasons that she can pull it together for major events. There’s her 2016 World Championships silver medal, plus her three straight Grand Prix Final medals from 2012-14.

At worlds, Wagner will have to deal with a Russian trio capable of sweeping the podium, three strong Japanese skaters, plus the revelation of this season, Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond.

VIDEO: Wagner passed Puffs in emotional press conference moment

The U.S.’ strongest discipline continues to be ice dance. Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates finished second and third at the 2016 World Championships. They went one-two at the U.S. Championships this past week.

But two ice dance medals don’t appear to be in the cards in Helsinki. That’s because Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who earned gold and silver at the last two Olympics, came back this season after a two-year break.

Virtue and Moir broke international scoring records in the fall, sweeping their four starts. The two-time reigning world champions, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, also beat the U.S. couples at the Grand Prix Final.

The Shibutani siblings and Chock and Bates have never finished ahead of Virtue and Moir in competition. Neither has bettered the French since the December 2014 Grand Prix Final, either.

But all it takes is one dance medal, plus Chen and Wagner at their best in Helsinki, and the U.S. could go into the Olympic year in its best place since 2006.

MORE: Gracie Gold comments on split from coach Frank Carroll

Laurie Hernandez discusses life after Rio, new book on TODAY (video)

Laurie Hernandez
TODAY
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Laurie Hernandez‘s book, “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond,” is out Tuesday, and the Olympic champion gymnast stopped by TODAY on Monday to discuss its contents and life post-Rio.

An excerpt on Hernandez’s experience in Rio and the story of her floor-exercise wink to judges, is here.

On TODAY, Hernandez discussed another interesting anecdote from the book about tissues.

“Before Olympic Trials, we went out to eat, and I had a little breakdown because practice was really rough, and my routines weren’t coming the way I wanted them to,” she said. “This poor waitress kept bringing me over piles of tissues. … We were leaving, and my sister [Jelysa] told my dad, I’m going to save these tissues. I’m going to give them to her when she makes the team. I’m thinking to myself, you guys are crazy, this is not going to happen.”

Hernandez went on to finish second to Simone Biles at the Olympic Trials and make the five-woman Olympic team as the first U.S. female Olympian born in the 2000s.

The family celebrated the achievement, where Jelysa handed the tissues to Hernandez in a bag.

“Even when you fell, you couldn’t believe in yourself, we were there for you,” Jelysa told her.

“So it was a really defining moment,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez is away from gymnastics while promoting her book and touring with “Dancing with the Stars,” but she is expected to return to the sport at some point.

MORE: Hernandez explains 2017 goals: First date, driver’s license, Law & Order