Ryan Hall

Ryan Hall returns to marathon racing in Boston, by way of Ethiopia

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BOSTON — The fastest U.S. marathon runner ever,* missing from 26.2-mile competition for nearly two years, his future questioned, found himself at a place called Yaya Village last month.

Ryan Hall trained for the Boston Marathon, essentially his comeback race, “buried in the sticks” in the Ethiopian countryside.

“A running monastery, very tranquil, very peaceful,” Hall said. “And the hardest training I’ve ever done in my life.”

Hall is arguably the top U.S. men’s hope in Monday’s race, his first Boston Marathon since he finished fourth in 2 hours, 4 minutes, 58 seconds in 2011, the fastest marathon ever by an American. The time does not count as an official American record, though, because of Boston’s point-to-point, downhill course.

Hall then took second at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in January 2012 to earn a trip to London. He hasn’t finished a marathon since. If that month in Ethiopia was the hardest training in his life, the two years prior may have been the most trying.

He dropped out of the 2012 Olympic marathon near mile 11 with a right hamstring injury.

“I’ve never DNF’d a race before, so this is a first for me,” Hall said in London. “Not finishing a race is not an option unless I think I’m going to do serious damage to my career.”

Hall withdrew from the 2012 New York City Marathon, before Hurricane Sandy canceled it, due to injuries that included plantar fasciitis and tightness in his legs.

Hall withdrew from the 2013 Boston Marathon due to a quadriceps strain.

Hall withdrew from the 2013 New York City Marathon due to a hip injury.

Hall came out of the stretch the better for it, calling it the best two years of his career, though he doesn’t want to relive it.

“I feel like I’m kind of failing my way to the top,” Hall, 31, said. “I see it as part of the process. I wouldn’t trade from 2012 to now. I don’t think I would have gotten to where I’m going to get to if I hadn’t gone through those two years. I’m grateful for them.”

Boston Marathon: The Boylston Street pre-race scene

Hall said he started up again “from ground zero” in December, after health issues cut short a training trip to Kenya in the fall.

The climb took him 9,000 feet above sea level in March to Yaya Village, a resort seven miles north of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. His wife, fellow runner Sara Hall, visited Ethiopia last fall and raved about it. They went to Yaya together in March.

Yaya was founded in 2009 by a group that included marathon legend Haile Gebreselassie and bills itself as “a runners paradise above the clouds.”

Hall saw something different. An image burned in his brain from his month in Ethiopia was of women his grandmother’s age carrying loads of firewood up the same mountain on which he trained.

Hall said a local coach told him the women trek 30km. He estimated they’d earn about $5 U.S. Dollars for their journey.

“I’ll never forget the look in their eyes when you drive past,” Hall said. “The best image I’ve seen of what true strength is. It wasn’t like the Hollywood glamour type strength. It was like I’m going to make this no matter what.”

That rolled into Hall’s learning experience there, both mental and physical. He got an up-close view of an Ethiopian’s way of life. An East African has won every Boston Marathon since 2002 and all but one since 1991.

“They’re accustomed to suffering,” Hall said. “That’s what makes them so good.”

His training runs included going downhill for 10km and then uphill for 20km. He ate injera and drank macchiatos.

“I’ve never seen so much growth in my training in such a short time,” Hall said. “It makes you tough as nails.”

Home in Flagstaff, Hall prepared for Boston on a special treadmill that mimics Boston’s hilly course, rising and falling with accompanying video. He flew into Boston on Thursday, sat at a table near the finish line at a Copley Plaza hotel on Friday and made two short statements two years in the making.

“I’m feeling great,” he said. “Ready to go.”

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Ashley Wagner tops Skate America short program

ST PAUL, MN - JANUARY 21: Ashley Wagner competes in the Ladies' Short Program at the 2016 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championship on January 21, 2016 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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Ashley Wagner picked up from where she left off last season, topping the Skate America short program Friday night.

Wagner, the world championships silver medalist, tallied 69.50 points in the Grand Prix opener, landing all of her jumps in Hoffman Estates, Ill. She leads Japan’s Mai Mihara, who scored 65.75.

“There were a couple of things that weren’t quite perfect,” Wagner told media.

U.S. champion Gracie Gold fell on a triple flip. She’s in third place with 64.87. Full results are here.

“I had a hiccup on the triple flip,” Gold said. “Overall, it felt really good.”

Japan’s Mao Asada, a three-time world champion, was fifth after performing a triple-double jump combination rather than a triple-triple.

The free skate is Saturday, live on NBC and the NBC Sports app at 4:30 p.m. ET (full broadcast schedule here).

The last U.S. woman to win Skate America was Wagner in 2012.

Wagner and Gold are competing in their first full individual competitions since April’s world championships, when Gold fell from first after the short program to finish fourth.

Wagner climbed from fourth after the worlds short program to finish second and end a 10-year U.S. women’s podium drought at the Olympics and world championships.

MORE: Scott Hamilton diagnosed with brain tumor for third time

Scott Hamilton diagnosed with brain tumor for third time

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 03:  Former figure skater and Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton onstage during A Capitol Fourth - Rehearsals at U.S. Capitol, West Lawn, on July 3, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Capital Concerts)
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Olympic figure skating champion Scott Hamilton said he was diagnosed with a benign pituitary brain tumor for a third time.

Hamilton, who took gold in Sarajevo in 1984, underwent chemotherapy to treat testicular cancer in 1997 and was twice previously diagnosed with brain tumors and had surgery, in 2004 and 2010.

“I didn’t have any symptoms, I just went in for my normal check-up, and they found the beginnings of the brain tumor coming back,” the 58-year-old Hamilton said. “I have a unique hobby of collecting life-threatening illness. … It’s six years later, and it decided that it wanted an encore.”

From People magazine:

Hamilton learned of the tumor at a routine check-up and is currently exploring all his treatment options before symptoms begin presenting.

“I’ll tell anybody that will listen: If you’re ever facing anything, get as many diagnoses as you possibly can,” he says. “The more you truly understand what you’re up against, the better decision you’re going to make.”

Hamilton was in New York on Friday to promote U.S. Figure Skating’s “Get Up” campaign.

“It’s all about shrugging it off, whatever’s going on, whether it be bullying at school, whether it be a setback in health, you just get up,” Hamilton said. “Not only to bring the young people that love skating together, but to bring the broader population into the fold.”

Hamilton said that surviving cancer was the moment in his life that he most associated with the “Get Up” campaign.

“Chemotherapy for months was devastating, but it’s endurable,” Hamilton said. “I don’t want to scare anybody from being treated for cancer, because I’m here, 20 years later, but the surgery afterwards was 38 staples, and I’m a little person. Getting up, getting back on the ice and performing again, quickly, was kind of my ‘Get Up’ moment.”

MORE: 2016-17 figure skating season broadcast schedule