Meb Keflezighi
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Meb Keflezighi brought back to marathon running by special email

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BOSTON — As a hurting Meb Keflezighi hit the halfway point of the 2017 Boston Marathon, and the leaders pulled away, the 41-year-old started thinking he made a mistake by not retiring after the Rio Olympics.

“A year ago, if you asked me if I would do the Boston Marathon [again], I wouldn’t have said that,” he said Friday.

Yet the 2014 Boston champ joined the elite runners at the pre-race press conference three days before he runs his 27th marathon. Keflezighi will not try to keep pace with them on Monday (8:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold).

Instead, the 122nd Boston Marathon will be Keflezighi’s first 26.2 miler in a non-competitive capacity.

Keflezighi is starting a second marathon phase as a charity runner. He’s representing the Martin Richard Foundation, in honor of the youngest victim of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

He plans to enter the New York City Marathon for Team for Kids in November and, if the cause is right, more marathons in future years. Maybe even one in the name of his own Meb Foundation.

“I still love running,” Keflezighi said. “I don’t miss the pain.”

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Keflezighi always planned to continue running, even pacing races up to half marathons, but nothing longer than that. He was satisfied with 13th- and 11th-place finishes in Boston and New York City last year to complete a career that also included a 2004 Olympic silver medal (among four Olympic teams overall) and the 2009 NYC Marathon title.

Then his brother received an email from Bill Richard, whose 8-year-old son died in the 2013 twin bombings on Boylston Street. Keflezighi met Bill and his wife, Denise, before the 2014 Boston Marathon. He gave them a hug, prayed for them and said, if there’s anything you ever need, please reach out to me.

Bill remembered. The email to Keflezighi’s agent and brother, Merhawi, before the New York City Marathon last fall asked if Keflezighi would be interested in running for the Martin Richard Foundation.

“I know Meb is a man of his word,” Bill wrote, according to Keflezighi. “I don’t want to control him, but he said this, so can he do it?”

If it was a 5K or 10K, Keflezighi would have accepted immediately. But he needed some time to consider another marathon. Ultimately, he signed up. Keflezighi said his longest training run was only 17 miles. His goal is to break three hours.

“I’m counting on my 120,000 miles that I’ve done over the years and my talent to get me through this one,” he said.

Keflezighi hopes to have the opportunity to enjoy the world’s oldest annual marathon in a way he didn’t as an elite racer. Maybe stop at the Scream Tunnel to hug Wellesley College students.

“I was planning on taking my phone and taking pictures,” Keflezighi said, “but with the [forecasted] rain I probably won’t do it.”

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Female runners with high testosterone face new restriction

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Female runners with high testosterone must reduce those levels or will not be allowed in international races between 400m and the mile, according to an IAAF rule starting Nov. 1.

Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya, who was gender tested in 2009, is expected to be affected, according to South Africa’s Olympic Committee.

“Our evidence and data show that testosterone, either naturally produced or artificially inserted into the body, provides significant performance advantages in female athletes,” IAAF president Seb Coe said in a press release. “The revised rules are not about cheating, no athlete with a DSD [difference of sexual development] has cheated, they are about leveling the playing field to ensure fair and meaningful competition.”

The IAAF, after funding a study along with the World Anti-Doping Agency, said research showed the following natural testosterone levels:

Most women: .12-1.79 nanomoles per liter in blood
Normal men after puberty: 7.7-29.4 nmol/L

The IAAF rule forces all women who race the 400m through mile and who are androgen-sensitive to restrict their ratio to below five. It said women who have “a difference of sexual development” can have natural testosterone levels beyond the normal male range.

The IAAF and WADA-funded study found that women with high testosterone have up to a 4.5 percent advantage over their competition on the track.

Research showed 7.1 of every 1,000 elite female track and field athletes have elevated testosterone, most of which were runners in events between 400m and the mile.

“The treatment to reduce testosterone levels is a hormone supplement similar to the contraceptive pill taken by millions of women around the world,” an IAAF doctor said in the release. “No athlete will be forced to undergo surgery.”

The IAAF had gender-verification testing in place until 2011, when it was replaced with a test for abnormally high levels of natural testosterone. Under that rule, female athletes with a ratio of 10 nmol/L or higher could only compete against women if they had an operation or took hormones to reduce their testosterone level.

In July 2015, the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) suspended the IAAF’s regulation, ruling that it lacked sufficient scientific backing and was therefore unjustifiably discriminatory.

The gender-testing issue was raised in 2009, when Semenya won the world 800m title by nearly 2.5 seconds at age 18. Word leaked that track officials mandated she undergo sex testing.

Semenya was not cleared to run for 11 months and came back to earn silver at the 2011 Worlds and 2012 Olympics, while the testosterone-limiting rule was in effect, behind Russian Maria Savinova, who has since been stripped of her golds for doping.

Semenya then had a lull in performance after the London Games while the testosterone-limiting rule was still in effect. After CAS suspended the rule in 2015, Semenya peaked again in 2016, going undefeated in 800m races, twice breaking the national record and comfortably winning Olympic gold.

Semenya has never spoken publicly in detail about her situation. It has never been publicly verified that Semenya’s body naturally produces abnormally high levels of testosterone or that she ever took hormone suppressants.

An image with the sentence, “How beautiful it is to stay silent when someone expects you to be enraged,” was posted on Semenya’s social media Wednesday after reports were first published about the new rule.

Her default position is generally to talk only about her running, but she spoke out against her critics in a speech after accepting South Africa’s Sportswoman of the Year in November 2016.

“They say she talks like a man, she walks like a man, she runs like a man,” Semenya said, before finishing off the series with an Afrikaans word that loosely translates to “Get lost.”

South Africa’s Olympic Committee president Gideon Sam said Thursday his organization was “disappointed by the IAAF ruling.”

“Especially given that Caster’s name is again being dragged through the publicity mill,” he said in a press release. “We are concerned that the decisions have been approved without taking into account all factors into consideration, as these factors have not been properly nor fully ventilated. We wish to place on record that Caster Semenya has never engaged in any performance-enhancing activities and any enhanced testosterone levels are due solely to her genetic make-up.”

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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Olympic pairs champions take indefinite break

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Aljona Savchenko, the Olympic pairs champion with Bruno Massot, said they are taking an indefinite break from competition, according to German press agency DPA.

Savchenko and Massot will perform in ice shows next fall and winter, which could preclude them from competing in major events like the Grand Prix season (late October to early December) and the European Championships in January.

The German pair followed their title in PyeongChang with a world title last month, breaking a four-year-old world-record score and winning by the largest margin (20.31 points) in pairs at an Olympics or worlds since the 6.0 system was replaced 14 years ago.

Savchenko, 34 and a five-time Olympian, became the oldest Olympic pairs gold medalist. She then claimed her 11th world medal — tying the female record held by Norwegian singles legend Sonja Henie — and sixth world title — tying Soviet Alexander Zaitsev for second on the all-time pairs list, four behind Irina Rodnina.

The French-born Massot, 29, competed in his first Olympics in PyeongChang and earned his first world title. Savchenko’s previous five world titles came with now-retired Robin Szolkowy.

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