Boston Marathon preview: Can Meb Keflezighi repeat?

Meb Keflezighi
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On paper, an American has a decent shot at the top three in the Boston Marathon on Monday. Perhaps even a win.

That’s Shalane Flanagan, who has the fifth-fastest personal best over 26.2 miles among the women’s field — behind four Ethiopians.

As for defending men’s champion Meb Keflezighi? He’s got the 13th-fastest personal best in the men’s field, which includes a former world record holder and the 2013 Boston Marathon winner.

He’s actually ranked higher on the men’s elite start list than last year (when he had the 15th-fastest personal best). Keflezighi is the only man in the top 15 born in the 1970s. He was born in 1975.

“Last year, nobody had good chances for me to win,” Keflezighi told reporters in Boston on Friday. “I think the chances are higher, at least according to others, this year than it was last year.”

Keflezighi will line up in Hopkinton on Monday morning with a chance to become the first U.S. man to repeat as Boston champ since Bill Rodgers won three straight from 1978-80 (Universal Sports, 8:30 a.m. ET, elite women at 9:32, elite men at 10).

The 2004 Olympic silver medalist has said his goal is to finish in the top three or run a personal best. He did both last year, though Boston times don’t count toward official personal bests due to the net downhill, point-to-point course.

Keflezighi can race with no pressure, given he’s already won this race and is not expected to prevail Monday.

But he also has factors working against him. He’s one year older, to turn 40 in May. And the top East Africans likely won’t let him get away with last year’s strategy, breaking around the eight-mile mark. They’ll stay with him this time.

So, Keflezighi will likely relinquish his title as reigning Boston champion on Monday.

Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa is favored to take the crown, given he’s finished first or second in every major race he’s finished the last two years, including winning Boston in 2013.

The very best Kenyans — world record holder Dennis Kimetto, No. 2 all time Emmanuel Mutai and New York City Marathon winner Wilson Kipsang — are not in the field.

“I don’t want the year to be over,” Keflezighi said with a laugh in Boston on Friday. “The greatest of all the marathons.”

An Ethiopian will also likely win the women’s race. The four fastest elites are from that nation, led by Mare Dibaba and Buzunesh Deba, runners-up to Kenyan Rita Jeptoo at the 2014 Chicago Marathon and 2014 Boston Marathon, respectively.

Jeptoo, the 2013 and 2014 Boston winner, is not going for a threepeat Monday because she tested positive for EPO in September and was suspended for two years.

Flanagan, 33 and the 2008 Olympic 10,000m bronze medalist, finished seventh in Boston last year in 2:22:02, which was 3:36 faster than her personal best going in.

Flanagan went another 48 seconds faster at the Berlin Marathon on Sept. 28, placing third. Now, her personal best is within 1:22 of the top-ranked woman in the field, Dibaba.

A U.S. woman hasn’t won Boston in 30 years.

“I feel really optimistic and excited about this year, just because we don’t have [Jeptoo] in the race,” Flanagan told media in Boston on Friday. “That makes me feel like the possibilities are open and endless for anyone. It’s not like decided before the race who’s going to win.”

St. Louis Marathon disqualifies woman who crossed finish line first

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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