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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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Pole vaulter, 84, sets her sights on more records

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BURLINGTON, Vt. — An 84-year-old pole vaulter isn’t putting her pole down anytime soon.

Flo Filion Meiler left Thursday for the World Masters Athletics Championship Indoor in Poland, where she’ll compete in events including the long jump, 60-meter hurdles, 800-meter run, pentathlon and pole vault, for which she’s the shoo-in.

The petite, energetic woman from Shelburne, Vermont, said she feels more like 70 than nearly 85.

“But you know, I do train five days a week. And when I found out I was going to compete at the worlds, I’ve been training six days a week because I knew I would really get my body in shape,” she said last week, after track and field training at the University of Vermont.

But she literally won’t have any competition in the pole vault in the championships, which runs March 24-31 in Torun, Poland. She is the only one registered in her age group, 80-84, for the sport, for which she set a world record at age 80. In the men’s pole vault, nine men are listed as competing in that age group.

Meiler said she the events she likes the best are the hurdles and the pole vault – one of the more daring track and field events, in which competitors run while carrying a fiberglass or composite pole, brace it against the ground to launch themselves over a high bar, and land on a mat.

“You really have to work at that,” she said. “You have to have the upper core and you have to have timing, and I just love it because it’s challenging.”

Meiler is used to hard work. She grew up on a dairy farm, where she helped her father with the chores, feeding the cattle and raking hay. In school, she did well at basketball, took tap and ballroom dancing, and, living near Lake Champlain, she water skied.

Meiler, who worked for 30 years as a sales representative for Herbalife nutritional supplements, and her husband, Eugene, who was a military pilot and then became a financial analyst, together competed in water skiing.

“Many times when I did water ski competition I was the only gal in my age group,” she said.

She’s a relative newcomer to pole vaulting and track and field, overall. At age 60, she was competing in doubles tennis with her husband in a qualifying year at the Vermont Senior Games when a friend encouraged her to try the long jump because competitors were needed.

“That was the beginning of my track career,” she said, standing in a room of her home, surrounded by hundreds of hanging medals. She took up pole vaulting at 65.

Athletics has helped her though some hard times, she said. She and her husband adopted three children after losing two premature biological babies and a 3-year-old. Two years ago, their son died at age 51.

And she desperately misses her training partner, a woman who started having health problems about five years ago and can no longer train. It’s tough to train alone, she said, and she hopes to find a new partner.

“She’s incredibly serious about what she does,” said Meiler’s coach, Emmaline Berg. “She comes in early to make sure she’s warmed up enough. She goes home and stretches a lot. So she pretty much structures her entire life around being a fantastic athlete, which is remarkable at any age, let alone hers.”

And it has paid off, said Berg, an assistant track coach at Vermont.

Berg herself first started following Meiler 10 years ago while she was a student at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College, watching her at the annual Dartmouth Relays.

“She was like a local celebrity,” she said.

Setting a record at age 80 with a 6-foot (1.8-meter) pole vault at the USA Track and Field Adirondack Championships in Albany, New York, while her husband watched, Meiler said, was one of her happiest days.

“I was screaming, I was so happy,” she said.

The overall world record for women’s pole vaulting is 16.6 feet (5.6 meters), according to the International Association of Athletics Federations.

Meiler turns 85 in June, when she’ll head to the National Senior Games in New Mexico.

That will put her in a new age group, in which she hopes to set even more records.

Meiler’s athletic achievements are remarkable and something to be celebrated, said Dr. Michael LaMantia, director of the University of Vermont Center on Aging.

Pole vaulting clearly isn’t for everyone of her age, but in general, activity should be, LaMantia said.

“She can serve as a role model for other seniors,” he said.

Amateur boxing president steps aside during IOC inquiry

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland — With Olympic boxing under investigation by the IOC, the president of the sport’s governing body said on Friday he was stepping aside to let an interim leader take charge.

Gafur Rakhimov sai d he was not resigning as AIBA president, however, and did not call for new elections.

Rakhimov’s status on a U.S. Treasury Department sanctions list as an alleged heroin trafficker is part of an inquiry by an International Olympic Committee-appointed panel.

The panel will update the IOC executive board next week in Lausanne, Switzerland. AIBA could be derecognized by IOC members in June.

The IOC halted planning for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic boxing tournaments and blocked AIBA officials from contacting organizers in Japan.

“The allegations against me were fabricated and based on politically motivated lies,” Rakhimov said. “I trust that the truth will prevail. Nevertheless, I have always said that I would never put myself above boxing, and as president, I have a duty to do everything in my power to serve our sport and our athletes.”

Under AIBA statutes, an interim president is picked from among the five vice-presidents, who include several Rakhimov supporters. The executive committee is due to meet by telephone this weekend. The interim leader can serve only a maximum 365 days before fresh elections, however, meaning that arrangement can’t last through to the Tokyo Olympics.

When Rakhimov was elected last year, his supporters pushed for a plan to allow the president to step aside while still retaining key influence and being able to return at any time, but that was defeated.

It’s not clear if Rakhimov’s departure would be enough to calm the IOC, which has also criticized AIBA over how fights are judged, anti-doping measures, and its debts.

The IOC could try to host an Olympic boxing tournament without AIBA, and some national boxing officials have tried to form a group which could help the IOC stage the event.