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U.S. wild cards could end New York City Marathon drought

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A U.S. male or female runner hasn’t finished in the New York City Marathon top three in the last four editions, but Sunday’s race may be ripe for a change.

The international fields lack stars from the Olympics. Many sat out the fall season rather than attempting a pair of 26.2-mile races in a three-month stretch.

All six U.S. marathoners from Rio also chose the rest route, but the New York City fields include arguably the next-best Americans.

Molly Huddle tops that list. The two-time Olympian on the track is making the most anticipated American female marathon debut since Shalane Flanagan in 2010.

Huddle, 32, broke the American record in the 10,000m at the Rio Olympics, where she finished sixth. She took that mark from Flanagan, who broke the American 10,000m record at the Beijing Olympics (bronze medal) and made her marathon debut in New York City two years later, placing second.

No U.S. male or female runner recorded a New York City podium result since Flanagan in 2010.

Huddle’s chances to finish in the top three are complicated by the international women’s field of experienced marathoners. There’s a clear top tier of three or four women, three of whom have broken 2 hours, 20 minutes.

The fourth-fastest personal best in the field is 2:24:11. The fifth is 2:27:50, so if one of the top three or four underperforms, the door opens.

Kenyan Mary Keitany is looking to become the first men’s or women’s runner to win three straight New York City titles since Norwegian Grete Waitz took five straight from 1981-86.

Ethiopian Aselefech Mergia took second to Keitany last year. Another Ethiopian, Buzunesh Deba, has run the most recent sub-2:20 of the New York field, at the 2014 Boston Marathon.

Huddle said it’s not reasonable to expect her to win against that field. In fact, she would “love to be in the top five or six.”

“I will stick my nose in it, but I think there’s three or four 2:19 and under women,” Huddle said Thursday. “I’ll never put it out of my mind, but I don’t think it’s reasonable for me to be unhappy if I don’t win kind of thing.”

The third-place finisher in recent years ran the following times:

2013 — 2:27:47
2014 — 2:26:00
2015 — 2:25:50

Huddle isn’t the only intriguing U.S. woman making her marathon debut Sunday. Kim Conley, another two-time Olympian on the track, said she hopes to go sub-2:30.

Then there’s the complete wild card, Olympic triathlon champion Gwen Jorgensen, who has no idea what to expect.

Sara Hall is coming off a personal best at the London Marathon on April 24, a 2:30:06 on a faster course than New York City.

In the men’s race, three-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein contests his first marathon since he dropped out of the Olympic Trials around mile 20, the first time in 10 marathons that he failed to finish.

Ritzenhein was the fastest American at the 2015 Boston Marathon and has the fastest personal best of any active American, a 2:07:47 from Chicago 2012.

He ranks fifth in personal-best times among Sunday’s field.

In Ritzenhein’s favor: Only six in the field have gone 2:10 or faster (which Ritzenhein has done four times). Two out of that top group are on short rest after racing the Rio Olympic marathon on Aug. 21, and another is Abdi Abdirahman, whose only finished marathon since the 2012 Olympic Trials was a 2:16:06.

The four favorites:

Kenyan defending champion Stanley Biwott (DNF at Rio Olympics)
Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa (runner-up to Biwott in 2015)
Kenyan Lucas Rotich (sub-2:08 in 2014 and 2015; debuting in NYC)
Eritrea’s Ghirmay Ghebreslassie (fourth at Rio Olympics; 20 years old)

Ritzenhein’s downfall in recent years has been his health. The 34-year-old said on Thursday that he’s “fresh-ish” going into this race.

Like Huddle, a strong Ritzenhein is right in the podium mix, and especially if one or two of the international headliners has a bad day (which almost always happens). Unlike Huddle, Ritzenhein openly talked about a top-three on Thursday.

“I’d like to be on the podium and have a good chance to win it,” he said. “There’s some very good upfront runners in this race, but it’s also not quite as deep as some years either. I think getting on the podium might be easier than some other years, but winning is no easier than any other year.”

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Katie Ledecky swims fastest at U.S. Open from B final

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For what must have been the first time in seven years, Katie Ledecky failed to qualify for an A final in one of her primary events on Friday morning. No matter, she swam the fastest 200m freestyle at the U.S. Open from the B final at night.

Ledecky, owner of 20 combined Olympic and world titles, clocked 1:56.24 to win the B final by nearly three seconds in Atlanta. In the very next race, American record holder Allison Schmitt touched first in the A final in 1:56.47.

Full results are here. The final day of the meet airs live on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Ledecky has rarely lost domestically in freestyles from 200m through 1500m since she made her first Olympic team at age 15 in 2012.

She kept the streak intact, giving her a sweep of the 200m, 400m and 800m frees in the first three days of the U.S. Open, what could be the deepest domestic meet before the Olympic trials in June.

Internationally, Ledecky faced challengers in the 200m free in this Olympic cycle, unlike the last one. Italian veteran and world-record holder Federica Pellegrini won the last two world titles, with Ledecky missing the event this summer due to her mid-meet illness.

Ledecky ranks seventh in the world in the 200m free this year but likely would have been faster if she was able to race at her best at world champs.

Domestically, Simone Manuel has crept up, clocking 1:56.09 to lead off the 4x200m free relay at worlds to rank second among Americans in 2019. Manuel was the third-fastest American on Friday, recording 1:57.21, her fastest time ever outside of a major summer meet.

In other events Friday, Phoebe Bacon upset world-record holder Regan Smith in the 100m backstroke. Bacon, who like Smith is 17 years old, overtook Smith in the last 25 meters and prevailed by .05 in 58.63. Bacon, while shy of Smith’s world record 57.57, took .39 off her personal best to become the fifth-fastest in the world this year.

Olympic and world champion Lilly King dominated the 100m breaststroke, beating a strong field by .62 of a second in 1:05.65.

Chase Kalisz won a potential Olympic trials preview in the 400m individual medley in 4:13.07. Kalisz, the Rio silver medalist, held off 18-year-old Carson Foster by 1.69 seconds. Ryan Lochte, the 2012 Olympic champion in the event, was fifth, 6.65 seconds behind.

Rio Olympian Townley Haas won the men’s 200m free in 1:45.92, his fastest time since August 2018. Haas, the 2017 World silver medalist, improved to the second-fastest American in the event this year behind Andrew Seliskar.

Torri Huske won the 100m butterfly on the eve of her 17th birthday. Huske clocked 57.48, taking .23 off her personal best to move from sixth fastest to third fastest in the U.S. this year.

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Ester Ledecka stuns again, wins World Cup downhill from bib No. 26

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Consider 26 a lucky number for Ester Ledecka.

Ledecka, the snowboard champion who stunningly captured the PyeongChang Olympic super-G from bib No. 26, won her first World Cup ski race on Friday — also from bib No. 26.

Ledecka was fastest in a downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta.

She kept Swiss Corinne Suter from her first World Cup win by .35 of a second. Austrian Stephanie Venier was third. Mikaela Shiffrin was 10th in her weakest discipline. Full results are here.

“I am for sure more shocked than everybody here,” Ledecka said. “I was a little bit, not disappointed about the run, but I was not super satisfied. Then I was really surprised about the time.”

Ledecka, an Olympic and world champion in Alpine snowboarding from the Czech Republic, had a previous best Alpine skiing World Cup finish of seventh. The top-ranked racers all go in the top 20 of the start list.

Last season, Ledecka raced more World Cup skiing events than snowboarding events for the first time. She was forced to choose between world championships in skiing and in snowboarding due to schedules and picked the former with a top finish of 15th.

She’s undecided about her upcoming schedule. She could continue on the Alpine skiing tour with a super-G in Switzerland next weekend, or she could fly to Italy for a snowboarding event.

The women race another downhill and a super-G in Lake Louise the next two days. A full TV and live stream schedule for the weekend races is here.

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