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Ghirmay Ghebreslassie youngest man to win NYC Marathon; U.S. ends drought

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NEW YORK — Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, a 20-year-old from Eritrea, became the youngest man to win the New York City Marathon, while Americans made both the men’s and women’s podiums for the first time since 1994.

In the women’s race, Kenyan Mary Keitany became the first runner in 30 years to win three straight New York City Marathons.

U.S. Olympians Abdi Abdirahman and Molly Huddle each finished third on Sunday.

New York City Marathon results are here. A record 52,049 people started the 46th running of the five-borough race.

Ghebreslassie won in 2 hours, 7 minutes, 51 seconds, adding to a résumé that includes the 2015 World title and a fourth-place finish at the Rio Olympics just 11 weeks earlier.

He beat Kenyan Lucas Rotich by 1:02, becoming the first Eritrean to win a World Marathon Major title and the first non-Kenyan man or woman to win New York City since 2011.

Ghebreslassie, Rotich and Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa broke away in the 14th mile. Desisa dropped back six miles later (and eventually dropped out of the race altogether, along with defending champion Stanley Biwott and top pre-race American hope Dathan Ritzenhein).

Ghebreslassie inched away from Rotich over the final six miles in sunny, upper-50s weather, finishing comfortably enough to turn around, run back and high-five Rotich before the Kenyan crossed.

After, Ghebreslassie exuded self-assurance rather than any sense of astonishment when told of the history he made. When asked about his short turnaround from the Olympics. And when pressed about difficulties faced before or during the race.

“Only the wind,” said Ghebreslassie, the second-oldest of eight children who took a short break from training one month ago to get married. “If you lose your confidence means you are hopeless. If you lose your hope, you can’t do anything.”

MORE: Keitany follows 3-year-old’s advice; Huddle looks to 2017

Many had lost hope in Abdirahman long before Sunday’s race.

The four-time Olympian had finished just one marathon since the 2012 Olympic Trials (an unimpressive 2:16:06 at Boston 2014) and turns 40 years old on New Year’s Day. He pulled out before the Olympic Trials marathon in February with a calf injury.

“I didn’t run the Olympic trials, so I told my manager, this is going to be my Olympic trials,” Abdirahman said.

At the 19-mile mark, Abdirahman and five relatively unaccomplished men were 2 minutes, 20 seconds behind the three-man lead group.

When Desisa dropped out in the 22nd mile, Abdirahman suddenly was in the podium mix.

“I thought I might finish fifth, sixth, or seventh,” said Abdirahman, Somalian born and nicknamed the Black Cactus. “When I passed Lelisa, that’s when my eyes just — I don’t know what hit me, but I just get another wind.”

Abdirahman became the first U.S. man to make the New York City podium since Meb Keflezighi won in 2009, a simply stunning result. Keflezighi announced his final marathon Sunday.

“I was telling these guys I was in the Olympics in 2000, and they were looking at me, really?” Abdirahman said. “And I say yes.”

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Keitany, a mother of two and the second-fastest female marathoner ever, crossed the Central Park finish line in 2:24:26. Her margin of victory over countrywoman Sally Kipyego, 3:34, was the largest since 1984.

The last runner to win three straight New York City titles was Norwegian Grete Waitz, who won five of her nine total from 1982 through 1986.

Huddle, a two-time U.S. Olympian on the track making her marathon debut, was third, the best finish by a U.S. women’s runner since Shalane Flanagan was second in 2010.

Gwen Jorgensen, the Olympic triathlon champion in her marathon debut, finished 14th in 2:41:01.

Earlier, Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympic medalist, completed her fourth straight sweep of the Boston, Chicago, London and New York City Marathons.

McFadden, born in Russia paralyzed from the waist down and adopted from a St. Petersburg orphanage at age 6 by an American, completed her New York City four-peat on Sunday in 1 hour, 47 minutes, 43 seconds. She won by more than one minute after 26.2 miles.

The 27-year-old became the first women’s wheelchair racer to win four straight New York City Marathons, taking her fifth overall crown. She has won 20 combined World Marathon Major titles.

She’s the only marathoner, able-bodied or wheelchair, to sweep Boston, Chicago, London and New York City in one year, let alone four.

McFadden shockingly lost the Rio Paralympic marathon in a photo finish (video here). The woman who beat McFadden there, China’s Zou Lihong, made her New York City Marathon debut Sunday.

McFadden went to Rio with a shot at seven gold medals in September. She won the 400m, 800m, 1500m and 5000m and earned silver in the 100m and the marathon. She and the U.S. were disqualified from the 4x400m relay.

Also Sunday, Marcel Hug of Switzerland won the New York City Marathon men’s wheelchair race in a photo finish over Australian Kurt Fearnley. Hug swept the Berlin, Boston and Chicago Marathons this year, plus the Paralympics.

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Maria Sharapova appears set to miss Tokyo Olympics

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Maria Sharapova, who would have a difficult time qualifying for the Olympics next year, committed to play an event in California the week of the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova is scheduled to play World Team Tennis matches in California during the Olympic tennis events in late July, according to a press release. Sharapova’s longtime agent hasn’t responded to a message seeking confirmation that she is ruling out the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova, 32 and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was barred from the Rio Games due to her 15-month meldonium suspension in 2016 and 2017. That alone could rule her ineligible for Tokyo, given the World Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions against Russia on Monday.

Sharapova is ranked No. 131 after a season shortened by shoulder surgery. She would have to be among the top four ranked Russian women after the French Open in June for possible automatic Olympic qualification. She is currently the 14th Russian.

Olympic eligibility rules include minimum participation requirements in Fed Cup, which Sharapova hasn’t done in this Olympic cycle, though exceptions can be made.

Sharapova’s passion for the Olympics is well documented.

She carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and carried the Olympic flame into Fisht Stadium at the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony, where she worked for NBC Olympics.

“It was the one thing that my parents allowed me to watch on TV late into the evening was the Olympics,” Sharapova said in 2017. “I grew up watching figure skating and hockey and a little bit of tennis. … Just capturing the Opening Ceremonies and seeing all the countries and the little hats that they wore, and I, as a little girl, I just imagined that maybe it would be me. But I never, ever thought that I would be carrying the flag.

“I received that [flag] honor in a text message, which is a very Russian way of communicating. I originally thought it was a joke, a big fat joke. Then I showed it to my mother, and she [said], no, they probably wouldn’t joke like that.”

In February 2016, Sharapova entered a Fed Cup tie, despite saying she was injured, in order to receive Olympic eligibility. One month later, her failed drug test was announced.

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Russia banned from Olympics, world champs for 4 years; athletes could compete as neutrals

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Russia is banned from the next two Olympics and other major sports events for four years, though its athletes could still compete without representing the country if cleared by anti-doping authorities.

Russia’s hosting of world championships in Olympic sports also face being stripped after the World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee approved a full slate of recommended sanctions for tampering with a Moscow laboratory database.

Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in major events — including world championships — only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or their data was not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling. “In this circumstance, they may not represent the Russian Federation,” according to a WADA release.

“While I understand the calls for a blanket ban on all Russian athletes whether or not they are implicated by the data, it was the unanimous view of the CRC [compliance review committee], which includes an athlete, that in this case, those who could prove their innocence should not be punished, and I am pleased that the WADA ExCo [executive committee] agreed with this,” WADA CRC chairman Jonathan Taylor said.

There are 145 unnamed athletes within WADA’s “target group of most suspicious athletes” from 2012-15 who would not be allowed to compete at the Olympics, Taylor said, adding that it’s possible those names will be made public. About one-third of them are still active.

Russia’s anti-doping agency can appeal the decision within 21 days. Russia previously signaled it would appeal the ruling.

“The decision will come into effect only when it becomes final ie when either RUSADA accepts it or it is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” a WADA spokesperson said in an email.

Russia avoided blanket bans for the Rio and PyeongChang Olympics after a state-run doping program was exposed by media and WADA investigations after Russia hosted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Approved Russian athletes competed as neutrals — “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — including in team sports in PyeongChang. Those Russians combined to earn two gold medals (figure skater Alina Zagitova and men’s hockey) and 17 overall, compared to the leading 33 Russia earned at the Sochi Olympics before medals were stripped for doping.

“Will Russian athletes be accepted as Olympic Athletes from Russia?” during the ban, Taylor said. “No, they are neutral athletes, which means not representatives of any country. Not representatives of Russia.”

Going forward, “they cannot use the name of the country in the name of the team,” WADA president-elect Witold Bańka told The Associated Press.

Two of the 168 Russians who competed in PyeongChang failed drug tests and were punished for doping.

More recent evidence shows that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee said last month. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order … but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

Russia will be allowed to participate in the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, that open Jan. 9.

WADA’s inability to fully expel Russia from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games frustrated the doping watchdog’s vice president.

“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian lawmaker who serves on WADA executive committee and has long pushed for a tougher line against Russia. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize on all the pain all the athletes and sports fans have experienced.”

Although the IOC has called for the strongest possible sanctions, it wants those sanctions directed at Russian state authorities rather than athletes or Olympic officials.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement. “And, in turn, the reaction by all those who value sport should be nothing short of a revolt against this broken system to force reform.”

Russia’s Olympic champion women’s handball team is currently competing at the world championships in Japan. Its next match is Tuesday against Montenegro. Russia has been the scheduled host for the world luge championships in Sochi in mid-February.

The “major sports” events that fall under WADA’s sanctions do not include European Championships or other non-world championships events such as tennis’ upcoming Australian Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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TIMELINE: Russia’s recent history of sports doping