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Meb Keflezighi set for final marathon where it all began

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NEW YORK (AP) — He’ll wear the familiar “MEB” bib one final time at the New York City Marathon.

Meb Keflezighi, the face of American long-distance running, wraps up his marathon career where it began in 2002 on the multicultural streets of New York. An immigrant of war-torn Eritrea who became a U.S. citizen in 1998, he’ll be cheered by thousands of spectators and some 70 relatives and friends.

He vowed to never run the grueling 26.2 miles again after going out fast and hitting the wall at mile 21 in his first NYC Marathon. But 26 marathons later, he’s retiring at age 42 after Sunday’s race, capping a career as the only person to win an Olympic medal and New York and Boston titles.

“It’s very emotional coming back,” Keflezighi said. “I’m excited, but at the same time it’s bittersweet. It will be a sigh of relief when I get to the finish line.”

In 2009, Keflezighi became the first American male runner since Alberto Salazar in 1982 to win the NYC marathon.

His most dramatic win came at the 2014 Boston Marathon, crossing the finish line with fists pumps and the names of three victims of the bombings and a slain police officer written on his bib.

As a spectator in 2013, he stood in Copley Plaza to greet finishers and left only a short time before the bomb attack injured hundreds.

He kissed the pavement after a Boston Strong and personal-best time of 2 hours, 8 minutes, 37 seconds.

Keflezighi also won silver at the 2004 Athens Olympics, the first U.S. man since Frank Shorter in 1976 to win a marathon medal.

“Meb is the premier American distance runner of this generation,” said George Hirsch, who with Fred Lebow started the NYC Marathon in 1976 to celebrate the bicentennial. “We have to really go back a long way to Frank and Bill [Rodgers] and Joanie [Benoit Samuelson] and Alberto.

“That was a golden age of American distance running when we literally had Olympic champions in the marathon and runners ranked No. 1 in the world.”

Keflezighi says his parents and siblings could have stayed in Italy after escaping East Africa. But they traveled to the United States, settling in San Diego.

Keflezighi arrived at 12 in 1987, trading a likely future as a child soldier in his native country for good grades, a track scholarship at UCLA and transformation from miler to Olympic marathoner.

His athletic journey began when junior high school gym teacher Dick Lord suggested students run a mile around the playground, and young Meb gave an eye-opening performance.

“People give you confidence,” he said, mentioning college coach Don Larsen. “They kind of see something that you didn’t see. At end of the day, I squeezed everything there is to squeeze out of it.”

In his NYC Marathon debut 15 years ago, Keflezighi thought he could win and made a move on First Avenue in 39-degree weather.

“I told my coach it’s my first and last marathon,” he said. “I got my Ph.D. that day, what to do and what not to do.”

His parents will be in New York again Sunday. He posted two photos on Twitter, showing his parents and several siblings upon their arrival in the U.S. in 1987 and a more recent photo. The caption reads, “Where did your family immigrate from?”

“This country is built on immigrants, unless you’re Native American,” Keflezighi said. “Whether it was 30 years ago like myself or 50 years ago or 100 years ago or someone who just came here last week.”

His father cleaned floors, drove a taxi and helped them learn English while his mother raised 10 children.

“That’s why my parents got here, by hard work and perseverance. We could have been in Italy forever, it was peace and tranquility,” he said. “But the land of opportunity lies in the United States.

“All my brothers and sisters graduated from medical school, engineering, MBA or law. All those things because the great United States gave us opportunities. I maxed out my potential in terms of running. But all my siblings also reached great things to be a positive contributor to society.”

He says he’ll spend more time with his wife, Yordanos, and three young daughters, run some half-marathons, coach and work with his MEB Foundation. It stands for “Maintaining Excellent Balance” and promotes healthy living and motivation for youth.

NYC Marathon officials say they’ll retire the “MEB” bib, the last time a pro athlete wears a first name. Always an ambassador of the sport, Keflezighi plans to return to the finish line Sunday and greet the last stragglers in the dark at Central Park.

“They’re going to have tears in their eyes when he drops a medal around their necks,” Hirsch said.

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VIDEO: Galen Rupp ends U.S. drought in Chicago

Skylar Diggins-Smith has the opportunity to fill USA Basketball’s need

Skylar Diggins
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Skylar Diggins-Smith said making the U.S. Olympic team is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is her second chance.

An ACL tear derailed her Rio 2016 hopes. That happened in a WNBA game on June 28, 2015.

Though Diggins-Smith was among 25 Olympic finalists named in January 2016, she didn’t return to game action until that May, four weeks after the 12-woman Olympic team was chosen.

The 27-year-old guard said she’s played for USA Basketball for 12 years, since before her standout Notre Dame career that led to her current stint with the Dallas Wings (formerly Tulsa Shock).

“This is the most clear my mind has been,” with USA Basketball, Diggins-Smith said from training camp in Seattle on Tuesday, ahead of a Thursday exhibition against China at Key Arena (10 p.m. ET, usab.com/live).

Signs point to Diggins-Smith making her major international tournament debut at September’s FIBA World Cup, the quadrennial world championship event.

Though Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi‘s surprising returns crowd the backcourt, the other Olympic gold medalist guard, Lindsay Whalen, retired from the national team.

Diggins-Smith’s play last season, her first full campaign back from the ACL tear, boosts her case. She made the All-WNBA First Team.

She also made the first team in 2014. That year, Diggins-Smith was among the final cuts for the world championship team less than a week before the tournament.

“Every time I come to USA Basketball, I think you have a tendency to kind of overthink,” Diggins-Smith said Tuesday. “You just want to do the right thing, don’t really want to make mistakes. … You want to do the right thing, and you press a little bit.”

USA Basketball has stressed finding its next stalwart point guard following five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards, three-time Olympian Dawn Staley (now the U.S. head coach) and the 37-year-old Bird, eyeing her fifth Olympics in 2020.

“Give me three guards that have separated themselves from everyone else in the WNBA to put themselves at the same level as Sue, Diana, Lindsay Whalen,” then-U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said after the Olympic team was named in April 2016. “You really start to look around and, you go, that is a huge question that has to be answered.”

“Obviously, there’s a need,” Staley said in February, listing point guards other than Bird at that camp.

The first name Staley mentioned was Diggins-Smith, for what it’s worth.

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MORE: Candace Parker finished with USA Basketball

USA Track and Field to honor 1968 Olympic team on 50th anniversary

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USA Track and Field begins a campaign this week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Olympic team.

Members of the Mexico City Games team, one of the greatest track and field teams in history, will be honored at high-profile events the remainder of the year.

The campaign, “1968-2018: Celebrating Athletic Achievement and Courage,” culminates with a “Night of Legends” reunion in December at the USATF Annual Meeting in Columbus, Ohio, also attended by current U.S. stars.

The 1968 Olympic team is most remembered for Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who took gold and bronze in the 200m and were sent home after raising their black-gloved fists in a human rights salute during the national anthem.

The team also included gold medalists Bob Beamon (long jump), Dick Fosbury (high jump), Al Oerter (discus), Wyomia Tyus and Jim Hines (100m), Lee Evans (400m), Madeline Manning Mims (800m), Willie Davenport (110m hurdles), Bob Seagren (pole vault), Randy Matson (shot put), Bill Toomey (decathlon) and the men’s and women’s 4x100m and men’s 4x400m.

“The legacy of the greatest track & field team to ever be assembled is still felt 50 years later,” USATF CEO Max Siegel said in a press release. “These Olympians persevered through athletic challenges and social injustices, maintaining their composure and dignity when others may have fallen. It is USATF’s honor to pay homage to their achievements and bring the team together for an epic celebration at our Annual Meeting.”

U.S. track and field athletes will compete at two meets on NBC Sports and NBC Sports Gold this weekend — the Drake Relays and Penn Relays.

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WATCH: NBC Olympics documentary on 1968 Olympics