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Women to run apart from men in Tehran’s first marathon

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Two days before what has been described as Tehran’s first international marathon, a top Iranian sports official cannot confirm whether Americans will participate and says women will be forced to run separately from men.

The website for Friday’s “TehRUN” race lists 28 Americans among the registered runners, along with participants from more than 40 countries, including Britain and Canada. It describes the run as an opportunity for “building bridges, breaking barriers.”

Majid Keyhani, the head of Iran’s track and field federation, told reporters Wednesday that runners of all nationalities are welcome to participate in the event. But he would not confirm which countries would be represented or if visas had been issued to all participants.

“We have sent all runner names to Iran’s Foreign Ministry for issuing visas,” he said, cautioning that the process could “take time.”

At least 160 foreign runners, including 50 women, have signed up. But Keyhani said only the men will be allowed to race in the streets of Tehran — the women will have to race separately, inside the Azadi sports complex.

More than 600 Iranian runners, including 156 women, are expected to participate.

The race is being organized in large part by Dutch entrepreneur Sebastiaan Straten and his travel agency, Iran Silk Road. He expects Americans to be able to participate and said most of the registered runners have received visas.

“TehRUN is a run for international friendship and to promote street running to a large, young Iranian population,” he said by email. “Iranians are one of the most hospitable people in the world and I am sure the crowd will show that on Friday to the runners.”

Still, he opposes the decision to segregate women from men for the race.

“Personally I do not agree with that and we are trying to find other ways to make step(s forward) for female running in Iran,” he wrote.

Since the 1979 revolution, Iran has required women to wear the Islamic headscarf and to only show their face, hands and feet in public. They are typically not allowed to participate in sporting events outside of enclosed facilities, ensuring they are not seen by men.

The race website tells women they are required to wear a headscarf or sports bandana that covers their hair. It also encourages them to wear long-sleeve t-shirts that cover their hips and to avoid shorts or skirts.

“In general dress modestly to respect local customs and religion,” it reads.

Any spectators cheering the female runners Friday will certainly be women. Female Iranian athletes have missed many international competitions since the revolution because clerical authorities disapprove of them being viewed by male spectators.

Female sports fans in turn are traditionally barred from attending male-only sporting events in Iran on similar grounds, but many women are pushing to change that practice.

Keyhani made a point of referring to the event as a “Persian Run” rather than a marathon, even though the length of the longest race is 42 kilometers (26 miles) — roughly the length of an official marathon.

The course takes runners from the Azadi soccer stadium through the normally traffic-clogged streets of western parts of the Iranian capital, past the University of Tehran to Ferdowsi Square, a popular spot for the city’s moneychangers.

There are also shorter men’s courses of 10 and 21 kilometers (6 and 13 miles).

No professional runners are expected to participate this year, Keyhani said, but he expressed hope they would in the future.

The event follows a similar run a year ago near the Iranian city of Shiraz, south of Tehran. That race drew more than 70 international participants, none of them American.

No women were allowed to officially take part in last year’s race. But two Iranian women, Masoumeh Torabi and Elham Manoocheri, nonetheless ran the race separately from the men in protest and are recognized on the race organizers’ website.

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Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

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Sam Mikulak, the U.S.’ top male gymnast, said he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, citing a wrist injury and emotional health revelations during a forced break from the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does sound like some pretty crazy news, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Mikulak said in a YouTube video published Sunday night. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it during quarantine.”

The 27-year-old is a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. all-around champion and the only active U.S. male gymnast with Olympic experience.

Mikulak said he noticed significant wrist inflammation last year that was temporarily healed by a November cortisone shot. But during quarantine, the wrist worsened even though he wasn’t doing gymnastics. He took a month off from working out, but the wrist didn’t heal.

He thought for a time that he might not return to gymnastics at all. A doctor told him he would need cortisone shots for the rest of his career.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

Mikulak also noted realizations from the forced time out of the gym. He learned that he’s much less stressed while not doing gymnastics, a sport he began at age 2. Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal.

“For so long, I’ve been sacrificing, and I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to be free from gymnastics and being able to do all these things that I’ve been putting off in my life for so long.”

Mikulak realized a career goal in 2018 when he earned his first individual world championships medal, a bronze on high bar. He wants to cap his career with a first Olympic medal in Tokyo, then, perhaps, become a coach or open his own gym.

Mikulak recently got engaged to Mia Atkins, and they got another puppy, Barney.

“Everything I’ve done in gymnastics is enough for me right now,” said Mikulak, who plans to document the next year on YouTube. “I was actually somewhat happy that I was able to come to that type of decision because for so long I felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal. And during quarantine, I had this whole revelation where, you know what, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals, I am still going to be so damn happy.”

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

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April Ross and Alix Klineman consolidated their position as the U.S.’ top beach volleyball team, completing a sweep of the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman won the finale, the Porsche Cup. They won all 12 matches over the last three weekends, including the last 14 sets in a row, capped with a 21-18, 21-17 win over Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Sunday’s final.

“It feels like we’re midseason in a normal year,” Ross said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

The AVP Champions Cup marked the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March, and a replacement for a typical AVP season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The setting: on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

AVP is not part of Olympic qualifying. It’s unknown when those top-level international tournaments will resume, but Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, are just about assured of one of the two U.S. Olympic spots.

According to BVBinfo.com, they’re 10-0 combined against the other top U.S. teams — Claes and Sponcil and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, who are likely battling for the last U.S. Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who do not play on the AVP tour, have a lead for the last spot more than halfway through qualifying, which runs into June.

Earlier in the men’s final, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb kept 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena from sweeping the Champions Cup. Bourne and Crabb prevailed 21-17, 15-21, 15-12 for their first AVP title since teaming in 2018.

Bourne, who went nearly two years between tournaments from 2016-18 due to an autoimmune disease, and Crabb redeemed after straight-set losses to Dalhausser and Lucena the previous two weekends. Crabb guaranteed a title on Instagram days before the tournament.

“Those guys are the best in the world, and they make you look bad at times, but we’re relentless,” Bourne said on Amazon Prime. “You’re going to have to play the best volleyball in the world to beat us every time.”

Bourne and Crabb, Dalhausser and Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (Trevor’s younger brother) are battling for two available U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo.

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