Olympians at New York City Marathon reminded of Boston

Shalane Flanagan
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NEW YORK — Shalane Flanagan noticed the difference right away.

At Central Park, two men in navy blue jackets with “SECURITY” emblazoned on their backs guarded the doors. There was a metal detector. There were wands.

This was the entrance to the New York City Marathon media center Thursday, three days before the race.

“I can’t recall there being security like there is today,” Flanagan said once inside.

This year’s group of 45,000 runners will take part with the backdrop of tragedy Sunday. Superstorm Sandy canceled the New York City Marathon for the first time in its 42-year history a year ago. Controversially, the New York Road Runners did not decide to scrap the race until two days before.

The Boston Marathon bombings of April 15 put greater emphasis on security in the five-borough event.

Flanagan, 32, has run the New York City Marathon once, finishing second in 2010 in her 26.2-mile debut. The three-time Olympian will not contest Sunday’s race but is here for the Dash to the Finish Line 5K on Saturday.

She arrived for a media session on a soggy Thursday with Boston on her sleep-deprived mind. Flanagan grew up in the fishing and yachting town of Marblehead, Mass., a sub-90-minute run from Boston at her pace.

She stayed up to watch the Red Sox finish off the Cardinals in Game 6 to win the World Series at Fenway Park on Wednesday night.

Flanagan ran into another New Englander early Thursday — 1984 Olympic marathon champion Joan Benoit Samuelson of Maine. They talked about the finish line of the Boston Marathon, about how Red Sox fans descended on Boylston Street the previous night in celebration, some kissing the pavement.

Samuelson, wearing Boston red socks, was inducted into the New York Road Runners Hall of Fame on Thursday, along with 1972 Olympic marathon champion Frank Shorter, four-time New York City Marathon winner Bill Rodgers and Ted Corbitt, the New York Road Runners founder and an African-American distance running pioneer.

Flanagan and Samuelson also met in Boston on April 15, shortly after two homemade bombs went off near the finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 260.

Boston forms panel to look at 2024 Olympic bid

source: AP
Joan Benoit Samuelson threw out the first pitch at a Red Sox game two days before the Boston Marathon. She was at Fenway Park for Game 1 of the World Series. (AP)

Samuelson, 55, completed the Boston Marathon in 2 hours, 50 minutes, 29 seconds. She achieved her goal of running within 30 minutes of her winning time at the 1983 Boston Marathon, a then-world record 2:22.43.

That day six months ago, for the first time she could remember, she did not hear her name read over speakers as she crossed the finish line of a major race. The announcer had stepped away momentarily.

“It was eerily quiet,” Samuelson said. “Little did I know it was foreboding for what was to come.”

Two hours later, she was at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel, getting out of the shower and getting ready for lunch.

“I heard and felt the blast,” she said. “Initially, I thought it was a transformer. My husband knew right away it was a bomb.”

Samuelson said everybody was told to go to the third floor of the hotel. Her husband, Scott, thought it would be a better idea to go down to the lobby.

“The first person I saw was Shalane Flanagan running up to the third floor,” Samuelson said. “I said, ‘Shalane, we’re going to go down and not up.'”

Flanagan remembered, too.

“(Samuelson) was just clearly visibly upset,” said Flanagan, who also ran in Boston and took fourth in 2:27.08. “She’s really good at giving hugs. She gives a really good, mean hug. She just gave everyone a hug. I think both she and I ‑‑ I don’t know if it’s a New Englander thing, but we were both pretty pissed off that someone would ruin such a wonderful day.”

Samuelson ended up staying in the hotel as it was put on lockdown for a couple of hours. The cell phone service was spotty for a while. Samuelson called the scene surreal.

“All sorts of rumors,” she said. “We didn’t really know what was happening.”

Shorter, 66, said he was the last person out of the Fairmont Copley Plaza before they locked it down. He was covering the Boston Marathon for Universal Sports and en route to a TV truck (via shortcut) when the second bomb went off no more than 50 yards away.

“I walked by a medical tent where they were doing triage,” he said. “I was kind of in shock.”

New York Road Runners CEO Mary Wittenberg was also at the Boston Marathon, to watch the race.

“My last image of Boston was Joanie (Samuelson) crossing the finish line, so happy, running an amazing 2:50,” she said.

Wittenberg, 51, then boarded a train back to New York’s Penn Station. An hour into the trip, she received a text message from a friend.

“Our greatest nightmare — bombs at the finish line of Boston,” she said. “I can still feel it. Total sickness.”

That night, Wittenberg spoke to New York City Police Department commissioner Raymond Kelly. She met with the New York Road Runners staff the following morning.

“First about honoring and supporting and Boston,” she said, “then what measures should we take to what is already a safe and strong security plan to enhance it.”

The Road Runners hired an international firm, MSA Security, to conduct “a top-to-bottom analysis” of the organization’s existing security plan, she told The New York Times. They graded out well, but security will be increased Sunday.

Hundreds of police officers, police helicopters and police boats will line the course and watch from the sky and sea, according to The Associated Press. There will be plain-clothes officers and bomb-sniffing dogs, as usual, but also 100 new mobile security cameras the NYPD bought after Boston.

For the first time, an area near the Central Park finish will be fenced off with extra security to enter, according to the AP. All bags will be searched, according to The New York Times.

Also, a special yellow line in honor of Boston will be painted on the pavement near the finish, accompanying the normal blue line.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever been so looking forward to welcoming back runners from around the world, New Yorkers to the streets and other people watching as part of this nation and worldwide,” Wittenberg said. “The meaning is just on so many levels. We really need to get back to a really good day.”

Kenyan women eye marathon world record 

Germany opens bobsled worlds with double gold; Kaillie Humphries gets silver

Laura Nolte Bobsled
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Germans Laura Nolte and Johannes Lochner dethroned the reigning Olympic and world champions to open the world bobsled championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, this weekend.

Nolte, the Olympic two-woman champion driver, won the four-run monobob by four tenths of a second over American Kaillie Humphries, who won the first world title in the event in 2021 and the first Olympic title in the event in 2022. Another German, Lisa Buckwitz, took bronze.

In the two-man, Lochner became the first driver to beat countryman Francesco Friedrich in an Olympic or world championships event since 2016, ending Friedrich’s record 12-event streak at global championships between two-man and four-man.

Friedrich, defeated by 49 hundredths, saw his streak of seven consecutive world two-man titles also snapped.

Lochner, 32, won his first outright global title after seven Olympic or world silvers, plus a shared four-man gold with Friedrich in 2017.

Swiss Michael Vogt drove to bronze, one hundredth behind Friedrich. Geoff Gadbois and Martin Christofferson filled the top American sled in 18th.

Americans Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton were the last non-Germans to win a world two-man title in 2012.

Bobsled worlds finish next weekend with the two-woman and four-man events.

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Novak Djokovic wins 10th Australian Open, ties Rafael Nadal for most men’s Slam titles

Novak Djokovic Australian Open
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic climbed into the Rod Laver Arena stands to celebrate his 10th Australian Open championship and record-tying 22nd Grand Slam title Sunday and, after jumping and pumping his fists with his team, he collapsed onto his back, crying.

When he returned to the playing surface, Djokovic sat on his sideline bench, buried his face in a white towel and sobbed some more.

This trip to Australia was far more successful than that of a year ago, when he was deported from the country because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19. And Djokovic accomplished all he could have possibly wanted in his return: He resumed his winning ways at Melbourne Park and made it back to the top of tennis, declaring: “This probably is the, I would say, biggest victory of my life.”

Only briefly challenged in the final, Djokovic was simply better at the most crucial moments and beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5). As a bonus, Djokovic will vault from No. 5 to No. 1 in the ATP rankings, a spot he already has held for more weeks than any other man.

“I want to say this has been one of the most challenging tournaments I’ve ever played in my life, considering the circumstances. Not playing last year; coming back this year,” Djokovic said, wearing a zip-up white jacket with a “22” on his chest. “And I want to thank all the people that made me feel welcome, made me feel comfortable, to be in Melbourne, to be in Australia.”

The 35-year-old from Serbia stretched his unbeaten streak in Melbourne to 28 matches, the longest run there in the Open era, which dates to 1968. He adds trophy No. 10 to the seven from Wimbledon, three from the U.S. Open — where he also was absent last year because of no coronavirus shots — and two from the French Open, to match rival Rafael Nadal for the most by a man.

Only two women — Margaret Court, with 24, and Serena Williams, with 23 — are ahead of him.

This was also the 93rd ATP tour-level title for Djokovic, breaking a tie with Nadal for the fourth-most.

“I would like to thank you for pushing our sport so far,” Tsitsipas told Djokovic.

Djokovic was participating in his 33rd major final, Tsitsipas in his second — and the 24-year-old from Greece also lost the other, at the 2021 French Open, to Djokovic.

On a cool evening under a cloud-filled sky, and with a soundtrack of chants from supporters of both men prompting repeated pleas for quiet from the chair umpire, Djokovic was superior throughout, especially so in the two tiebreakers.

He took a 4-1 lead in the first, then reeled off the last three points. He led 5-0 in the closing tiebreaker and, when it finished, he pointed to his temple before screaming, a prelude to all of the tears.

“Very emotional for us. Very emotional for him,” said Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic. “It’s a great achievement. It was a really tough three weeks for him. He managed to overcome everything.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Tsitsipas was willing to engage in the kind of leg-wearying, lung-searing back-and-forths upon which Djokovic has built his superlative career. How did that work out? Of points lasting at least five strokes, Djokovic won 43, Tsitsipas 30.

Then again, on those rare occasions that Tsitsipas did charge the net, Djokovic often conjured up a passing shot that was too tough to handle.

It’s not as though Tsitsipas played all that poorly, other than a rash of early miscues that seemed to be more a product of tension than anything.

It’s that Djokovic was too unyielding. Too accurate with his strokes, making merely 22 unforced errors, 20 fewer than his foe. Too speedy and flexible chasing shots (other than on one second-set point, when, running to his left, Djokovic took a tumble).

“I did everything possible,” said Tsitsipas, who also would have moved to No. 1 with a victory, replacing Carlos Alcaraz, who sat out the Australian Open with a leg injury.

Perhaps. Yet Djokovic pushes and pushes and pushes some more, until it’s the opponent who is something less than perfect on one swing, either missing or providing an opening to pounce.

That’s what happened when Tsitsipas held his first break point — which was also a set point — while ahead 5-4 in the second and Djokovic serving at 30-40. Might this be a fulcrum? Might Djokovic relent? Might Tsitsipas surge?

Uh, no.

A 15-stroke point concluded with Djokovic smacking a cross-court forehand winner that felt like a statement. Two misses by Tsitsipas followed: A backhand long, a forehand wide. Those felt like capitulation. Even when Tsitsipas actually did break in the third, Djokovic broke right back.

There has been more than forehands and backhands on Djokovic’s mind over the past two weeks.

There was the not-so-small matter of last year’s legal saga — he has alternately acknowledged the whole thing served as a form of motivation but also said the other day, “I’m over it” — and curiosity about the sort of reception he would get when allowed to enter Australia because pandemic restrictions were eased.

He heard a ton of loud support, but also dealt with some persistent heckling while competing, including applause after faults Sunday.

There was the sore left hamstring that has been heavily bandaged for every match — until the final, that is, when only a single piece of beige athletic tape was visible.

And then there was the complicated matter of his father, Srdjan, being filmed with a group of people with Russian flags — one with an image of Vladimir Putin — after Djokovic’s quarterfinal. The tournament banned spectators from carrying flags of Russia or Belarus, saying they would cause disruption because of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Djokovic and his father said it was a misunderstanding; Srdjan thought he was with Serbian fans.

Still, Srdjan Djokovic did not attend his son’s semifinal or the final.

No matter any of it, Djokovic excelled as he so often has.

“He is the greatest,” Tsitsipas said, “that has ever held a tennis racket.”

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