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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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U.S. men look to fill Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte void at swim worlds

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With Michael Phelps retired and Ryan Lochte suspended, the superstars at the world swimming championships clearly lie on the women’s side.

But the men’s events will include world-record chasers, a stinging rivalry and, perhaps, the emergence of Phelps and Lochte’s successor as leading U.S. man.

Caeleb Dressel came through in Rio under arguably the most pressure of any swimmer, starting off the U.S. 4x100m freestyle relay team in his very first Olympic splash with a personal-best time.

Dressel, a 20-year-old who nearly quit swimming three years ago as the No. 1 recruit in the nation, has nine events to choose from at worlds in Budapest starting Sunday.

He qualified in four individual events — 50m and 100m butterflies and freestyles — and is eligible for all five relays (two mixed-gender).

In the last 15 years, only two U.S. men have raced in four individual events at a single Olympics or world championships — Phelps and Lochte.

Dressel is in the medal mix in all of his individual events, ranking No. 1 in the world this year in the 100m fly, No. 3 in the 50m free, No. 4 in the 100m free and No. 5 in the 50m fly. He is also almost guaranteed medals in any relays that he enters given the unmatched U.S. depth.

Dressel has never been to a worlds and raced just one individual event in Rio. He’s the potential breakout star on a U.S. team, surrounded by more proven names.

SWIMMING WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Event Schedule

Ryan Murphy, who swam for the same Jacksonville, Fla., club team as Dressel, swept the backstrokes in Rio and broke the 100m back world record leading off the medley relay. That dominance has not quite carried over so far in 2017. Murphy ranks third in the world in the 100m and 200m backs this year.

Chase Kalisz, a longtime Phelps training partner in Baltimore, has followed up his Rio Olympic 400m individual medley silver medal well this year. He chopped two seconds off his personal best in the 200m IM and goes into Budapest ranked No. 1 in the world in the 400m IM by nearly a half-second.

The U.S. boasts more medal threats including Nathan Adrian (sprint freestyles), Townley Haas (200m free), Cody Miller and Kevin Cordes (breaststrokes), but nobody is a clear favorite.

The surest bets are world-record holders Adam Peaty and Ippei Watanabe in the breaststrokes and Italian Gregorio Paltrinieri in the 1500m free. Paltrinieri could challenge a five-year-old world record held by Sun Yang.

Speaking of Sun, the mercurial Chinese superstar is set to renew his rivalry with Australian Mack Horton. In Rio, Horton memorably called Sun “a drug cheat,” in reference to Sun’s three-month suspension in 2014 for using a banned stimulant.

Horton then went out and beat Sun in the 400m freestyle, dethroning the Olympic and world champion. Horton and Sun could face off in four individual events in Budapest.

Key men’s finals:

Sunday, July 23
400m freestyle — Sun has been two seconds faster than Horton this year
4x100m freestyle relay — Olympic silver medalist France won’t defend world title; U.S. favored

Monday, July 24
100m breaststroke — Peaty has the eight fastest times ever and fastest by .95 this year

Tuesday, July 25
200m freestyle — Haas the only man within .64 of Sun in 2017
100m backstroke — Rio silver medalist Xu Jiayu was .01 shy of Murphy’s WR in April

Wednesday, July 26
200m butterfly — Japan and Hungary lead the post-Phelps-era world; Chad le Clos ranks 8th in 2017
800m freestyle — Italian Gabriele Detti fastest in 2017 by six seconds, but slower than Sun’s winning times in 2011, 2013, 2015

Thursday, July 27
200m individual medley — Phelps, Lochte won the last 12 Olympic/world titles
100m freestyle — Reigning Olympic and world champions’ absences open door for Adrian, Dressel

Friday, July 28
200m backstroke — U.S. won 14 of the last 15 Olympic/world titles, including Murphy in Rio
200m breaststroke — Watanabe broke WR in January; surprise Olympic champ Dmitriy Balandin ranks No. 127 this year
4x200m freestyle relay — U.S., without Lochte, Phelps, looks to take world title back from Great Britain

Saturday, July 29
50m freestyle — Reigning Olympic and world champions’ absences open door for Adrian, Dressel
100m butterfly — Joseph Schooling eyes Phelps’ WR, but Dressel ranks No. 1 in 2017

Sunday, July 30
400m individual medley — Kalisz ranks No. 1 in 2017, but time is .94 slower than Kosuke Hagino in Rio
1500m freestyle — Sun holds WR of 14:31 but hasn’t broken 14:55 since 2014
4x100m medley relay — Great Britain will lean on Peaty to challenge U.S.

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MORE: Michael Phelps not itching to return like in 2013

Katie Ledecky eyes more history as women to star at swimming worlds

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The year after the Olympics isn’t always known for it, but there should be fireworks in the women’s events at the world swimming championships in Budapest next week.

Katie Ledecky could match Missy Franklin‘s record of six gold medals at a single worlds by swimming one more event than she did at the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics. Judging by Ledecky’s times at the U.S. Championships last month, the rising Stanford sophomore is in her usual dominant form.

Hungarian Katinka Hosszu, swimming in front of her home fans, could try to equal Ledecky with four individual golds in backstrokes and individual medleys.

Swede Sarah Sjostrom could do the same in the 50m and 100m butterflies and freestyles, where world records are under threat.

Ledecky, Hosszu and Sjostrom are all bidding to become the first women to three-peat in an individual event at worlds.

Then there’s the return of the greatest rivalry in swimming. After their memorable Rio duel, King and Yulia Efimova rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world this year in all three breaststrokes.

Spain’s Mireia Belmonte and American Leah Smith have never won an individual world title, but they could be the busiest swimmers of all next week.

Belmonte could race 7,4000 total meters if she makes every event final. Smith could get up to 7,000 meters. Both would outdistance Ledecky and Hosszu in mileage.

SWIMMING WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Event Schedule

The women’s program could have been even more loaded if not for two notable absences. Australian Cate Campbell, the 100m freestyle world-record holder, is sitting out world champs.

Australia beat the U.S. in the 4x100m free relay at the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics, but without Campbell, the Americans are about even with the Aussies. Ledecky’s bid for six golds could hang on this race on the opening night.

Ledecky also greatly benefits from Sjostrom’s decision to skip the 200m freestyle. In Rio, Sjostrom was the closest swimmer to Ledecky in her individual events, coming .35 shy in the 200m free while outsplitting Ledecky in the final 50 meters.

Key women’s finals:

Sunday, July 23
400m freestyle — Ledecky hasn’t lost a 400m free since the 2012 Olympic Trials
4x100m freestyle relay — Showdown with Campbell-less Australia crucial for Ledecky’s six-gold bid

Monday, July 24
100m butterfly — Sjostrom’s only competition is her world record of 55.48
200m individual medley — Nobody has been within a second of Hosszu this year

Tuesday, July 25
100m backstroke — Kylie Masse was .09 off the longest-standing women’s swimming world record at Canadian Champs
1500m freestyle — Ledecky is 25 seconds faster than anyone else this year
100m breaststroke — Efimova is .13 faster than King this year

Wednesday, July 26
200m freestyle — Ledecky’s toughest individual event made easier by Sjostrom’s absence

Thursday, July 27
200m butterfly — Olympic champ Belmonte eyes first world title; Nos. 2, 3, 4 from Rio absent
4x200m freestyle relay — China is strong, but Ledecky is the U.S.’ ace in the hole

Friday, July 28
100m freestyle — Heavy favorite Sjostrom .02 off the world record in June
200m breaststroke — Efimova is two seconds faster than second-ranked King this year

Saturday, July 29
200m backstroke — Kathleen Baker can inherit throne from retired Maya DiRado 
800m freestyle — Likely Ledecky’s sixth and final event, could match Franklin’s gold record

Sunday, July 30
50m freestyle — No. of sub-24-second times this year — Sjostrom: 6; Rest of World: 0
400m individual medley — Hosszu, after breaking WR by two seconds in Rio, slower this year
4x100m medley relay — U.S. should gap Australia, China on breaststroke leg

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MORE: Michael Phelps not itching to return like in 2013

*Correction: The integrity of a Lilly King quote attributed to Agence France-Presse in earlier version of this story has been called into question and was removed.