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U.S. Olympians bid for rare double podium at Boston Marathon

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The U.S. contingent at the Boston Marathon spans the spectrum of elite runners.

Meb Keflezighi races the world’s oldest annual 26.2-mile race for the final time as an elite athlete. Galen Rupp and Jordan Hasay will toe the line in Hopkinton in their city marathon debuts. Desi Linden is at her fifth Boston Marathon, but for the first time as the clear U.S. women’s headliner.

There is a decent chance that either Rupp or Keflezighi (or Olympians Jared Ward or Abdi Abdirahman) finishes in the men’s top three on Monday (NBC Sports broadcast details here). Linden and Hasay could also be in proverbial podium contention in the women’s race.

The U.S. has put male and female runners in the top three of the same Boston Marathon just once since 1985, when Ryan Hall and Kara Goucher each placed third in 2009.

This could be another banner year for the Stars and Stripes.

Keflezighi, 41, is on his 25th career marathon and his fifth in Boston. In 2014, he surprisingly won this race, emotionally, one year after it was scarred by twin bombings on Boylston Street.

Keflezighi, who immigrated to the U.S. from war-torn Eritrea via Italy in 1987, has two more marathons in his legs before he ends his elite career: Boston and New York City this fall.

Keflezighi’s recent results do not portend more success in Boston. He was 33rd in the Rio Olympic marathon, stopping seven times during the race due to stomach problems.

In races this year, Keflezighi posted the two slowest half-marathon times of his career, slowed by Achilles inflammation that he says is behind him.

But the 2004 Olympic silver medalist has been counted out before, only to come back for stunning wins in New York City in 2009 and Boston in 2014. Keflezighi said Friday he would be delighted with a top-10 finish.

“Every race I enter, people expect me to win,” he said. “The mind can still think it, though, but the body can’t. Be competitive, and see what happens.”

Rupp, like Keflezighi, did not have ideal race lead-up to Boston.

Rupp withdrew before January’s Houston Half Marathon with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Two weeks ago, he spoke of left foot discomfort after finishing 11th in a half marathon in Prague.

“I’ve been pain-free now for a couple weeks,” Rupp said Friday, citing the benefits of a cortisone shot April 3.

Boston will mark the third marathon for Rupp, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist and American record holder in the 10,000m.

He won the Olympic Trials in his marathon debut last February and then took bronze in Rio.

In Boston, a healthy Rupp is instantly a podium contender in a shallow international men’s field compared to the London Marathon on April 23.

The following marathoners are NOT racing in Boston — Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge, Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa, Berlin winner Kenenisa Bekele, Tokyo winner Wilson Kipsang, New York City winner Ghirmay Ghebreslassie and London runner-up Stanley Biwott.

Only two men in the Boston field have won a major marathon in the last four years — Keflezighi and defending Boston champion Lemi Berhanu Hayle of Ethiopia.

If neither Rupp nor Keflezighi is strong on Monday, it could open the door for two other Americans.

Abdirahman, 40 and a four-time Olympian, stunned to finish third in New York City on Nov. 6. Ward finished third behind Rupp and Keflezighi at the Olympic Trials and then sixth in Rio.

In the women’s race, there are fewer American podium possibilities — really just Linden and Hasay. The international women’s field is also stronger than the men’s field.

Linden, 33, has come a long way since running 2:44:56 in her marathon debut in Boston a decade ago (in a race with weather so adverse that cancellation was considered).

She came out of nowhere to lead the 2011 Boston Marathon in the final half-mile on Boylston Street, but finished two seconds behind Kenyan winner Caroline Kilel.

Linden dropped out of her first Olympic marathon in 2012 (hip flexor) but finished in the top five of major marathons each of the next three years. She was second at last year’s Olympic Trials and then a respectable seventh in Rio.

Olympic redemption behind her, Linden aims at returning to the major marathon podium. More than that. Her goal is to become the first U.S. female runner to win Boston since 1985.

“If I’m in the position to get the win, I want to have thought it out and not be surprised by it and not be afraid of it,” Linden told media Friday. “So that’s part of stating that goal out loud.”

Hasay, a former teen prodigy, might have podium aspirations in her first marathon. Hasay made the 2008 Olympic Trials 1500m final at age 16 but, in 2012 and 2016 had a best track trials finish of ninth.

The Alberto Salazar pupil may have found her niche in road racing. She became the third U.S. woman to break 68 minutes in the half marathon on April 1 in Prague. The other two, Deena Kastor and Molly Huddle, have made a major marathon podium (or won, in Kastor’s case).

“I don’t know how I’m going to stack up against the field,” Hasay said Friday. “Sorry, I’m being really vague, but we don’t want to really say a set time or a set place, because I just don’t want to have those expectations.

“I feel like I’m still just a little kid, and I want to ask all these ambassadors for their autographs.”

Linden and Hasay will have to topple an experienced women’s field to make that podium.

It includes the last three Boston winners — Ethiopians Atsede Baysa and Buzunesh Deba and Kenyan Caroline Rotich. Plus, two more women who have run sub-2:20 — Kenyans Edna Kiplagat and favorite Gladys Cherono.

Linden’s best is 2:22:38 from 2011 Boston. The Boston course record is 2:19:59 (Deba).

“Usually, a 2:22-2:24 type performance wins this race, and I can do that here,” Linden said. “So, there’s no reason to think I can’t be in it.”

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UCI looks for new host for 2020 World Road Cycling Championships

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The International Cycling Union (UCI) is looking for a new host for the 2020 World Road Cycling Championships due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Switzerland can no longer host the week-long event in late September after a national decision to extend a ban on events with more than 1,000 people through next month.

Amid reports the competition has been canceled, the UCI clarified Wednesday that it still hopes to hold it in some form, perhaps without some of the junior or senior races.

It now seeks an “alternative project,” preferably still in Europe and on the same dates (Sept. 20-27).

Worlds were due to start in Switzerland on the same day that the rescheduled Tour de France ends, though the senior elite men’s races are typically not on the first three days.

The Tour de France is still scheduled to start Aug. 29.

Last year, American Chloe Dygert starred at road worlds, winning the time trial in dominant fashion. Other world champions in Olympic events: Annemiek van Vleuten (road race), Rohan Dennis (time trial) and Mads Pedersen (road race).

MORE: Chloe Dygert had the most dominant ride in history. It still drives her nuts.

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Michael Phelps qualifies for first Olympics at age 15 in 2000

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In the biggest race of his young life, a 15-year-old Michael Phelps turned for the last 50 meters in fourth place of the U.S. Olympic Trials 200m butterfly final on Aug. 12, 2000.

His mom, Debbie, couldn’t watch. She turned away from the Indianapolis Natatorium pool and stared at the scoreboard. Both Debbie and Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, mentally prepared their consolation speeches for the rising Towson High School sophomore outside Baltimore.

Then Phelps, fueled by nightly Adam’s Mark chicken sandwich-and-cheesecake room service and amped by pre-race DMX on his CD player, turned it on. He zoomed into second place, becoming the youngest U.S. male swimmer to qualify for an Olympics since 1932.

Phelps had “come out of nowhere in the last six months” to become an Olympic hopeful, NBC Sports swimming commentator Dan Hicks said on the broadcast. True, Phelps chopped five and a half seconds off his personal best that March.

“He doesn’t know what it means to go to the Olympics and how it’s going to change his life,” Tom Malchow, the 1996 Olympic silver medalist who held off Phelps in that trials final, said that night, according to The Associated Press. “He’s going to find out soon.”

Phelps, who did his trademark arm flaps before the trials final, made Bowman look like a prophet. Four years earlier, the coach sat Debbie down for a conversation she would not soon forget.

“Told me what he projected for Michael,” Debbie said, according to the Baltimore Sun‘s front-page story on a local 15-year-old qualifying for the Sydney Games. “He said that in 2004, he would definitely be a factor in the Olympics. He also said that he could be there in 2000, to watch out for him. At the time, he was only 11.”

The trials were bittersweet for the Phelps family. Whitney, one of Phelps’ older sisters, withdrew before the meet with herniated discs in her back that kept her from making an Olympics after competing in the 1994 World Championships at age 14.

After Phelps qualified for the Olympics, one of the first people to embrace him was Whitney on the pool deck.

The next week, Phelps, still with bottom-teeth braces, did his first live TV sitdown on CNN, swiveling in his chair the whole time, according to his autobiography, “Beneath the Surface.”

The next month, Phelps finished fifth in his Olympic debut, clocking a then-personal-best time that would have earned gold or silver at every previous Olympics.

Following the Olympic race, gold medalist Malchow patted Phelps on the back, according to “No Limits,” another Phelps autobiography. What did Malchow say?

“The best is ahead of you.”

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