Meb Keflezighi

Meb Keflezighi stuns to win Boston Marathon (video)

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BOSTON — Meb Keflezighi left a spectator grandstand at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon about five minutes before the first bomb went off.

“All of a sudden, I heard something,” said Keflezighi, who had withdrawn from the race 10 days before with a calf injury but went to the world’s oldest annual marathon as a fan. “I didn’t think it was a big deal.”

He heard another sound about 12 seconds later and was shoved into a Copley Plaza hotel near the Boylston Street finish line. What he heard were two bombs that killed three people and injured more than 260.

“We started crying because we knew how many people were there,” Keflezighi said.

Keflezighi cried again at the Boston Marathon on Monday.

“Tears of joy,” he said.

Keflezighi, 38 and the oldest elite runner in the field by three years, became the first U.S. man to win the Boston Marathon since 1983 in a shocking upset.

Keflezighi moved his sunglasses to the top of his head and raised his arms as he crossed the finish line to win by 11 seconds over Kenyan Wilson Chebet. He cried and was draped in an American flag on Boylston Street afterward. He ran with the names of the three who died from the bombings, plus a police officer killed by the suspects days later, written on the corners of his racing bib.

“This is beyond running,” Keflezighi said just outside the finish.

“Boston Strong. Meb Strong,” he said. “I was going to give everything I had for the people.”

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Keflezighi was born in Eritrea, but his story is quintessential, polite American, from his pleased-to-meet-you smile to his colorful Skechers shoes. He came to the U.S. as a refugee from the war-torn African nation, after a brief stint in Italy, in 1987. The story is documented in his autobiography, “Run to Overcome,” a phrase that also defined the Patriots’ Day race and the last year in Boston.

“It gave me hope,” Keflezighi said of his upbringing.

Keflezighi, who won in 2:08:37, a personal record, texted Olympic teammate Ryan Hall after last year’s bombings and said they had to run Boston the next year. Hall, slowed by injuries the last two years, finished his first marathon since the 2012 Olympics in 2:17:50, 20th place.

source: AP
Meb Keflezighi became the first American to win the Boston Marathon, New York City Marathon and an Olympic medal. (AP)

“The bomb happened, and every day since, I said I want to come back and win it,” Keflezighi said. “Beyond words.”

Keflezighi won the 2004 Olympic marathon silver medal and the 2009 New York City Marathon.

But he was doubted last week and for the last several months, coming into his first start in Boston since finishing fifth in 2010.

A reporter asked him in a press conference if he would retire if he crossed the finish line first in Boston. It wasn’t an absurd question, but perhaps the most startling point of it was the suggestion he could have won.

Keflezighi was a disappointing 23rd at November’s New York City Marathon and 10th at his warm-up race, the NYC Half Marathon, on March 16.

It’s been a trying few years for Keflezighi after winning New York in 2009. He was dropped by Nike in 2011, and went seven months without a shoe contract before Skechers.

“I’d be mistaken if I said I didn’t consider retiring,” he said.

He now has 11 sponsors.

He felt slighted before the 2012 Olympic marathon when he wasn’t among 10 men introduced in a front row before the race as contenders. He was the only man in the field of more than 100 with an Olympic medal already to his name.

Keflezighi finished fourth in London, a minute and a half outside of a medal. Injured last year and slow in his last two New York races, Keflezighi came to Boston with three goals, from at best winning to at worst running a personal best.

So he set out hard.

“I can’t run a personal best from behind,” he said. “I can’t win a race from behind. That’s what I kept thinking to myself.”

Keflezighi took off from the start in Hopkinton and led with Kenyan-born American Josphat Boit by 30 seconds at the halfway mark. He said he didn’t see his half marathon split (1:04:21).

Keflezighi pulled away from Boit between the 15th and 19th miles, opening up a one-minute lead. Then he struggled.

The margin dropped to about eight seconds at the 25-mile mark. But he summoned the kind of energy that’s helped him remain an elite marathoner for the last decade.

“You can’t touch the heart,” Keflezighi said. “Every day you’ve got to work hard and make it happen.”

He credited the crowd, which officials prepared to be one million strong through eight cities and towns, twice the usual amount. Go Meb, they said. You can pull it off, Meb. You’ve got this, Meb.

“I used them to propel me forward,” Keflezighi said.

He ran a personal best by 31 seconds.

Asked about his place among U.S. distance greats, he mentioned 1972 Olympic marathon champion Frank Shorter, three-time New York City Marathon champion Alberto Salazar and four-time Boston Marathon champion Bill Rodgers.

“To have that in one person … I’m delighted to have that career,” said Keflezighi, the first American man to win an Olympic medal and both the New York City and Boston Marathons. “I always say 99.9 of my career was fulfilled. Today, 110 percent.”

Keflezighi, who won $150,000 for his victory Monday, announced before the Boston Marathon he would donate $10,000 to the Martin W. Richard Charitable Foundation. Martin was the 8-year-old boy who died in last year’s bombings. Keflezighi met his dad at a charity event.

Keflezighi has personal evidence of what it was like in Boston on April 15, 2013. He took photos of finishers from his grandstand seat before the bombing and posted them on YouTube.

He cherished his post-race experience this year, walking through the medical tent. He received high fives. Thanks, from Boston. Thanks, from America.

“The scene was different last year,” Keflezighi said, wearing a golden wreath atop his bald head. “As an athlete, we have dreams. Today, the dream and the reality meet.”

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Lin Dan, badminton legend, retires: ‘It is very difficult to say goodbye’

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Lin Dan, arguably the greatest badminton player in history, announced retirement Saturday, citing “pain and injuries” in bowing out a year before the postponed Tokyo Olympics.

“I have been with the national team from 2000 to 2020, and it is very difficult to say goodbye,” 36-year-old Lin wrote to his four million Weibo fans, according to Badminton World Federation (BWF) translation. “Pain and injuries no longer allow me to fight with my teammates. I have gratitude, a heavy heart and unwillingness.”

Lin, nicknamed “Super Dan,” won Olympic singles titles in 2008 and 2012, plus five individual world titles. It’s the greatest resume for any badminton player from China, which owns twice as many medals as any other nation in the sport that debuted at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

He competed at the last four Olympics, won the sport’s Super Grand Slam (nine major titles) and had his own wax figure at Madame Tussauds in Shanghai.

Lin’s outbursts on and off the court led to some calling him the John McEnroe of badminton, but he is revered. In 2015, he was the second athlete on Forbes China‘s most popular celebrities list behind tennis player Li Na.

Lin’s pursuit of a fifth Olympics in Tokyo was looking out of reach. He dropped to No. 26 in the Olympic qualifying rankings, trailing four countrymen, including No. 5 Chen Long (Rio Olympic champion) and No. 11 Shi Yuqi (2018 World silver medalist). A nation can qualify a maximum of two individual players per gender for the Games.

“From where came his mastery? In short, his prowess was essentially due to the completeness of his game – in skill, physical ability and mental strength,” the BWF wrote in a press release. “Such was his craft that even well into his 30s, normally considered an advanced age for men’s singles, he could outplay younger and fitter opponents.”

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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MyKayla Skinner’s motivation for Tokyo: her Rio Olympic experience

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MyKayla Skinner remembers the little room at the SAP Center in San Jose. She remembers the wait, somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes.

After the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics Trials, the competitors (14 total performed) assembled while a selection committee convened in another space.

The committee finalized the five-woman Olympic team (plus three alternates), marched into the athletes’ room and delivered the verdict.

“They say the first four names, and then there’s that one spot left,” Skinner recalled. “I’m like, is it going to be me? You’re so tense just waiting there. All of us holding each other’s hands in the room. We’re all sitting there. It’s just, like, frozen dead silent. Then they say that fifth spot.”

Skinner doesn’t remember who was the fifth name. Just that it wasn’t her.

“I just broke down crying,” she said in a recent interview. “All that hard work I put in still wasn’t good enough. Even though it was. It’s just who they needed for the team.”

Skinner placed fourth in the all-around at those Olympic Trials, the highest finisher who was not named to the Olympic team. She was one of three alternates. If the Olympic team was chosen by all-around standings, a selection committee would not be necessary. Instead, gymnasts are puzzle pieces, chosen as who best fits the Olympic format: three gymnasts per apparatus in the team final and up to two per nation per individual final.

Skinner’s mind raced while she waited for the committee’s decision. She eventually settled on a gut feeling, that she would not make the team.

“I thought that it should be enough, but at the same I didn’t think that it would be,” said Lisa Spini, Skinner’s coach at Desert Lights Gymnastics in Chandler, Arizona. “I thought the team was already decided before the Olympic Trials.”

Spini said it was her toughest night as a gymnastics coach.

“Being an alternate is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in gymnastics,” said Skinner, who traveled to Brazil and, with fellow alternates Ashton Locklear and Ragan Smith, trained separately from the Olympic team. “The whole time I was in Rio, I probably cried every single night

“The Olympics should be something so special, but I feel like it was definitely miserable at times. It was really hard to enjoy being an alternate. With this comeback, that has pushed me so hard just because I was so close.”

You may have read about Skinner back in the spring, after the Tokyo Olympics were postponed to 2021.

It’s a devastating delay for a female gymnast, whose peak often lasts for one Olympic cycle (sometimes even shorter). Skinner is an exception, excelling for the better part of a decade on different levels.

She made her first world championships team in 2014. After Rio, she matriculated at the University of Utah, where she was twice an NCAA all-around runner-up and hit an NCAA record 161 straight routines without a fall. In 2019, she decided to come back to international competition — for an Olympic run — with one year left of NCAA gymnastics.

She is 23, the oldest of the 16-woman U.S. national team. She is trying to become the oldest woman to make a U.S. Olympic gymnastics team since 2004. And the first with NCAA experience to do so since Alicia Sacramone in 2008.

“The reason why a lot of college gymnasts couldn’t come back and do it is they’ve been so injured over the years,” Spini said. “Their body wouldn’t hold up. She’s been really lucky that way.”

Skinner could have easily followed the path of so many other stars who signaled the end of an elite career by going to college, where training and routines are less demanding.

She questioned herself often after the Tokyo postponement whether it was worth it to return to elite training. The Olympic team event roster size has been cut from five to four. Simone Biles is an overwhelming favorite to earn one spot. In the face of those odds, Skinner can’t shake a memory from Rio.

“I just go back to the moment of when I was sitting in the stands,” watching the Final Five earn gold, Skinner said. “I was so close to making the team. This has been my dream ever since I went to Desert Lights when I was 12.”

Skinner’s comeback is already a success. Last year, on three months of elite training, she placed eighth at the U.S. Championships. She was convinced to accept an invitation to the world championships selection camp, where six women would make the traveling team (one later named an alternate).

Like in 2016, Skinner placed fourth in the all-around competition before the roster was chosen.

Again, the gymnasts gathered for the announcement. This time, Skinner made the cut as the sixth woman named. Biles, the other 20-something at the camp and a friend, jumped in excitement.

The team traveled to Germany in late September. After training, one woman had to be designated the alternate. High performance team coordinator Tom Forster took Skinner aside one day on the way to lunch. She knew what was coming and broke down in tears, flashing back to 2016.

“Simone was like, hey, let’s go to the bathroom. She helped talk me through it and helped me calm down and definitely made me a feel a lot better,” said Skinner, who supported Biles and the U.S. team that competed in Stuttgart. She then wed Jonas Harmer in November and decided what must be done to make the Olympic team.

“We’re going to try to add in some big skills, which will put her difficulty level, probably, second only to Simone,” Spini said.

Skinner is documenting her last year-plus in elite gymnastics on a YouTube channel with 29,000 subscribers. She has been fortunate during the coronavirus pandemic to train at her gym if no more than 10 people were present. Many other gymnasts — and athletes across Olympic sports — spent weeks or months out of their facilities.

“I definitely don’t think I would have been able to have that much time off,” she said. “That’s really hard with gymnastics because you feel like, you take two days off, and it’s like you had a year off.”

One day this spring, Skinner’s mom called, in tears, fearing for her life with an illness that turned out to be the coronavirus. Both of her parents, in their 60s, had it and briefly lost their senses of taste. Her mom had breathing problems, but they recovered.

One night last month, Skinner had a dream about next year’s Olympic Trials. The Final Five all came back to compete, and Skinner was again named an alternate. She woke up. Skinner doesn’t know how she would handle that kind of disappointment in real life, again.

“So it’s kind of scary,” she said. Then Skinner thinks back to Rio, and that burning she felt while watching the Final Five win gold medals.

“This is what I’m supposed to do. This is what I’m meant to do is elite gymnastics,” said Skinner, who was born via life-threatening, early-labor C-section, needing to be revived by doctors. “I think it’s cool that I can have this opportunity to go and push myself one last time so I can reach that end goal.”

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