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U.S. wild cards could end New York City Marathon drought

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A U.S. male or female runner hasn’t finished in the New York City Marathon top three in the last four editions, but Sunday’s race may be ripe for a change.

The international fields lack stars from the Olympics. Many sat out the fall season rather than attempting a pair of 26.2-mile races in a three-month stretch.

All six U.S. marathoners from Rio also chose the rest route, but the New York City fields include arguably the next-best Americans.

Molly Huddle tops that list. The two-time Olympian on the track is making the most anticipated American female marathon debut since Shalane Flanagan in 2010.

Huddle, 32, broke the American record in the 10,000m at the Rio Olympics, where she finished sixth. She took that mark from Flanagan, who broke the American 10,000m record at the Beijing Olympics (bronze medal) and made her marathon debut in New York City two years later, placing second.

No U.S. male or female runner recorded a New York City podium result since Flanagan in 2010.

Huddle’s chances to finish in the top three are complicated by the international women’s field of experienced marathoners. There’s a clear top tier of three or four women, three of whom have broken 2 hours, 20 minutes.

The fourth-fastest personal best in the field is 2:24:11. The fifth is 2:27:50, so if one of the top three or four underperforms, the door opens.

Kenyan Mary Keitany is looking to become the first men’s or women’s runner to win three straight New York City titles since Norwegian Grete Waitz took five straight from 1981-86.

Ethiopian Aselefech Mergia took second to Keitany last year. Another Ethiopian, Buzunesh Deba, has run the most recent sub-2:20 of the New York field, at the 2014 Boston Marathon.

Huddle said it’s not reasonable to expect her to win against that field. In fact, she would “love to be in the top five or six.”

“I will stick my nose in it, but I think there’s three or four 2:19 and under women,” Huddle said Thursday. “I’ll never put it out of my mind, but I don’t think it’s reasonable for me to be unhappy if I don’t win kind of thing.”

The third-place finisher in recent years ran the following times:

2013 — 2:27:47
2014 — 2:26:00
2015 — 2:25:50

Huddle isn’t the only intriguing U.S. woman making her marathon debut Sunday. Kim Conley, another two-time Olympian on the track, said she hopes to go sub-2:30.

Then there’s the complete wild card, Olympic triathlon champion Gwen Jorgensen, who has no idea what to expect.

Sara Hall is coming off a personal best at the London Marathon on April 24, a 2:30:06 on a faster course than New York City.

In the men’s race, three-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein contests his first marathon since he dropped out of the Olympic Trials around mile 20, the first time in 10 marathons that he failed to finish.

Ritzenhein was the fastest American at the 2015 Boston Marathon and has the fastest personal best of any active American, a 2:07:47 from Chicago 2012.

He ranks fifth in personal-best times among Sunday’s field.

In Ritzenhein’s favor: Only six in the field have gone 2:10 or faster (which Ritzenhein has done four times). Two out of that top group are on short rest after racing the Rio Olympic marathon on Aug. 21, and another is Abdi Abdirahman, whose only finished marathon since the 2012 Olympic Trials was a 2:16:06.

The four favorites:

Kenyan defending champion Stanley Biwott (DNF at Rio Olympics)
Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa (runner-up to Biwott in 2015)
Kenyan Lucas Rotich (sub-2:08 in 2014 and 2015; debuting in NYC)
Eritrea’s Ghirmay Ghebreslassie (fourth at Rio Olympics; 20 years old)

Ritzenhein’s downfall in recent years has been his health. The 34-year-old said on Thursday that he’s “fresh-ish” going into this race.

Like Huddle, a strong Ritzenhein is right in the podium mix, and especially if one or two of the international headliners has a bad day (which almost always happens). Unlike Huddle, Ritzenhein openly talked about a top-three on Thursday.

“I’d like to be on the podium and have a good chance to win it,” he said. “There’s some very good upfront runners in this race, but it’s also not quite as deep as some years either. I think getting on the podium might be easier than some other years, but winning is no easier than any other year.”

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Michael Phelps still has ‘no desire’ to come back

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Michael Phelps says he has “no desire” to return to competitive swimming, but he is eager to stay involved with the sport and cheer on those who follow in his enormous wake.

In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press while promoting a healthy pet food campaign, Phelps said he is excited about the birth of his second child and numerous opportunities away from the pool.

It was around this time four years ago when Phelps got serious about ending his first retirement, but he now seems content with his decision to step away again after the Rio Olympics.

His wife, Nicole, is about four months pregnant. The couple already has a 16-month-old son, Boomer.

“I’ve got no desire, no desire to come back,” the 32-year-old Phelps said flatly.

Phelps has attended a handful of swimming meets since the Rio Games, where the winningest athlete in Olympic history added to his already massive career haul by claiming five gold medals plus a silver. A few months ago, he conceded to the AP that he was eager to see how he would feel about a possible comeback after this year’s world championships in Budapest, Hungary.

Turns out, it had no impact.

Phelps said watching others compete “truly didn’t kick anything off or spike any more interest in coming out of retirement again.”

He is eager to follow the development of his heir apparent, Caeleb Dressel, who emerged as the sport’s newest star by winning seven gold medals at Budapest. The 21-year-old Floridian joined Phelps and Mark Spitz as the only swimmers to accomplish that feat at a major international meet.

“I’m happy Caeleb decided to go off this year instead of last year,” Phelps joked. “I’m kind of happy to see him swimming so well when I’m not there.”

With Dressel and Katie Ledecky now leading the American team, the U.S. is expected to remain the world’s dominant swimming country heading into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Even without Phelps.

“It’s time to kind of move on,” he said, “and watch other people come into their own.”

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Dutch cyclist returns from horrific Rio crash to win world title

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Dutch road cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten came back from this dramatic Rio Olympic crash to win her first world title on Tuesday, taking the time trial in Bergen, Norway.

“This one is really beautiful without the crash in Rio, but this makes the story really, really special,” an emotional van Vleuten said. “Actually, I still cannot believe it. … This season I’m surprising myself what I can do. To be world champion in the time trial, I never thought I’d be able of this.”

Van Vleuten, 34, covered the 13-mile course in 28 minutes, 50.35 seconds, topping countrywoman Anna ven der Breggen by 12 seconds.

Australian Katrin Garfoot took bronze, 19.02 seconds ahead of Chloe Dygert, a U.S. Olympic silver medalist in track cycling. American Amber Neben, the defending champion, was 11th.

Full results are here.

In Rio, van Vleuten suffered three small spine fractures and a concussion when her brakes appeared to lock, and she flipped over into a ditch during the road race. Van Vleuten was alone in the lead at the time with about seven miles to go of the 87-mile course.

She was eventually hospitalized in intensive care.

Van der Breggen went on to win the Olympic title.

Van Vleuten wasn’t out long. She raced at last October’s world championships, placing a career-high fifth in the time trial. She then won La Course in France, a two-day race, in July.

“To be an athlete is to have really ups and downs,” van Vleuten said Tuesday. “Sometimes really downs, but the downs make the ups even more beautiful, I think.”

Van Vleuten’s first celebratory act Tuesday was to climb past two barriers and into her mother’s arms.

“Last year my mum watched the Rio race on television, it was her birthday and she was with lots of my family, so it was a really hard day for her,” Van Vleuten said in a news conference, according to Cyclingnews.com. “My father died in 2008, and so it was really special to have her here and celebrate the good things of cycling together. We’ve dealt with bad things together in the past, so it’s important to be really happy and proud to celebrate and to also remember my father.”

The world championships continue Wednesday with the men’s time trial at 7 a.m. ET on the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBCSports.com/live.

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