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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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MORE: How to watch Boston Marathon

10 takeaways from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Here, the NBC Sports figure skating contributors reflect on the standout moments of the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Nathan Chen and Alysa Liu of course come to mind, though there were plenty of other moments to remark upon along the way. 

Women

1. Alysa Liu proved that she could do it again. She validated her insistence that there was no more pressure in successfully defending a title compared to winning her first title. 

Plus, the amusement of seeing the 4-foot-10 14-year-old needing help ascending the top step of the awards podium doesn’t get old either. Mariah Bell and Bradie Tennell helped hoist her for the second year in a row. Liu next competes at world juniors, where she will take on a formidable pair of Russian “K’s”: Kamila Valieva and Ksenia Sinitsyna, both of whom outscored her on the Junior Grand Prix circuit. To win the crown, Liu may need a fully rotated quadruple Lutz, something that eluded her in Greensboro.

2. Speaking of Bell, she comes out of the championships with her already-improving confidence another notch higher after the free skate of her life and her best nationals finish ever, a silver medal. In tears before she even hit her final pose, she deservedly got an overwhelming standing ovation.

When asked how she felt about being the No. 1 senior U.S. woman, she said, “It’s a very special feeling. I haven’t had that before in my career, so that was awesome. The coolest thing about it was how into it the crowd was.” 

Now, let the calculations begin: can Bell and Tennell gain three U.S. women’s spots for next season’s world championships? To do so, the sum of their placements at the 2020 World Figure Skating Championships cannot be greater than 13 (for example, sixth and seventh).

3. Rounding out the memorable moments of the women’s event were the returns of Olympians Karen Chen and Gracie Gold. Chen, the 2017 national champion, missed the entirety of last season with a right foot stress fracture, and now is a freshman at Cornell. She finished fourth, and gained an assignment at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships early next month. With her competitive juices flowing again, Chen told reporters she was considering taking a gap year from college.

Two-time U.S. champion Gold, of course, triumphed simply by qualifying for her first national championships since 2017 after time away from the sport for treatment for depression, anxiety and an eating disorder. After a mediocre short program, Gold did a respectable free skate, and the crowd gave her a standing ovation, an emotional reward that left her with grateful tears. It moved Gold, who finished 12th, to vow she would continue her comeback for at least another season.

Men

4. Nathan Chen’s fourth straight U.S. title puts him in the company of five men since World War II, all of whom won Olympic gold medals, with Brian Boitano (85-88) the most recent. Chen, a Yale sophomore, was the first to do it in the IJS and quadruple jump eras (he went six-for-six in quads in the two programs), and the fourth came after a case of the flu bad enough he could practice only intermittently the first two weeks of January. “I don’t know anybody who could recover and do what he did after that sickness,” coach Rafael Arutunian said of Chen.

5. Tomoki Hiwatashi’s continued improvement: two clean programs with three clean quads for the bronze medal. His showmanship, including Russian split jumps, are to die for. Last season, Hiwatashi finished a surprise fourth at nationals but had disappointing 10th and fifth places in his debut competitions on the senior Grand Prix debut. The 2019 world junior champion has put himself into the mix for a 2022 Olympic team spot — if he can improve his consistency. 

6. Except for that pesky quad, Jason Brown put it all together at nationals for the first time since 2014. If he can execute all the elements as brilliantly as he did in Greensboro, a clean quad might put him in bronze medal contention at the 2020 World Championships, given the consistent inconsistency of all the top men after Chen and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu.

7. In the past month, Vincent Zhou turned his life inside out, taking a leave from Brown University to focus on skating after completing the first semester of his freshman year and switching coaches to Lee Barkell and Lori Nichol in Toronto. Despite that upheaval and little intense training, the reigning world bronze medalist and 2019 U.S. silver medalist had two solid performances to finish fourth, strategically limiting his quads to one in each program. Although Zhou had skipped the Grand Prix season, his choice as a world team member over Hiwatashi was totally justified under the selection criteria in use.

Ice dance

8. Madison Chock and Evan Bates made ice dance — and figure skating — history when they became the first U.S. skater, couple or pair team to go five years between national titles since the 1920s. They topped two duos they train with, Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, to win their first title since 2015, also won in Greensboro. Their widely acclaimed slithering “Snake Charmer” free dance likely sets them up to glide to the world championship podium, but another showdown with Hubbell and Donohue awaits at Four Continents.

Pairs

9. Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson had a breakthrough moment in the pairs’ event with one of the most memorable free skates in the last 20 years. Calalang’s joyous disbelief was palpable when she and Johnson got their score (146.01, the highest ever at nationals) for a program that had the crowd out of its seats before it even ended

“In my head, I’m like, ‘We got 119 at Skate Canada. We got 120-something at Warsaw.’ So, I was like, ‘Okay, we did both jumps… maybe 130,” she said, recalling her mental play-by-play. “Then it’s 140. Ohmigod, I’ve never dreamed of getting this score. I didn’t think it was possible.” 

Added Johnson: “No one can take that moment away from us.” 

Especially poignant words as Calalang and Johnson were passed over in favor of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc for the world championships teams. Calalang and Johnson are slated to participate at Four Continents, where they can continue to build a body of work that will impress U.S. Figure Skating’s International Selection Committee next time around.

10. Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim won their third U.S. pair title in Greensboro, joining such company as John Zimmerman and Kyoko Ina, Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, and Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard. The couple skated a clean and memorable short program to “At Last,” including side-by-side triple toe loops. In the free skate, though, Knierim fell on his triple toe and the skaters doubled their planned triple Salchows. Despite their superior triple twist and lifts, in order to crack the top five in the world, Scimeca Knierim and Knierim need to get consistent on their jumps, and the California-based skaters are working with Arutunian to do so.

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U.S. FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS: Full Results | Women’s | Ice dance | Pairs | Men’s | Worlds roster

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

China’s first Winter X Games postponed due to coronavirus

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A Winter X Games competition due to be held in Chongli, China, next month has been postponed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus in China.

“Due to the ongoing coronavirus concerns, the X Games Chongli 2020 event will be postponed until a later date,” organizers announced via Twitter. “The safety of our athletes, staff and spectators is our top priority, and we will continue to closely monitor the situation.”

The competition would have been the first Winter X Games held in China. Shanghai has hosted many X Games in the summer, including a event last June.

As with an Alpine skiing World Cup event that was canceled Wednesday, the X Games were due to take place at a 2022 Olympic venue, Chongli’s Secret Garden ski report. The venue hosted a World Cup snowboard event in December.

READ: First Alpine World Cup in China canceled

Several of the most decorated X Games and Olympic athletes, including two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion Jamie Anderson, were scheduled to compete in China.

The coronavirus outbreak has also affected qualifiers for the 2020 Olympics, with boxing and women’s soccer tournaments moved from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. Asia-Oceania boxing qualifiers will be held March 3-11 in Amman, Jordan, with coverage on the Olympic Channel. The women’s soccer qualifiers, including traditional power China and a strong Australian team, were originally moved to Nanjing but then moved to Sydney, Australia.

China’s team has arrived in Australia but is under quarantine, putting the start of the qualifiers in doubt.

Aspen hosted the biggest X Games competition of the winter last week. Another X Games is scheduled for March 7-8 in Norway.

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