Meb Keflezighi reminded of 2014 in Boston Marathon farewell

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Of all the encouragement Meb Keflezighi received at his final Boston Marathon, one message stood out on the 26.2-mile course.

The 2014 Boston winner’s eyes caught a sign that told him he was a hero.

“It was the thrill of a lifetime again,” Keflezighi said after finishing 13th on Monday, more than seven minutes behind winner Geoffrey Kirui of Kenya. “It’s not like a victory that I could have ended up with, but at the same time, I enjoyed every bit of it.”

Keflezighi, who turns 42 next month, crossed the Boylston Street finish line in 2 hours, 17 minutes, in his 25th and penultimate marathon. It was his first time outside the top eight in five Boston starts.

Keflezighi started drifting behind the leaders before the halfway point on a warm day with temperatures in the 70s. As thoughts of a win faded away, the Eritrean-born, four-time U.S. Olympian ran alone behind the lead pack and was showered with praise.

“Everybody was saying you’re our hero, we love you, and all that,” said Keflezighi, the only U.S. male or female runner to win Boston since 1985. “Even if you finish 15th or 20th, they still love you.”

Keflezighi blew a kiss, pumped his arms and gave thumbs-up to the Boylston Street crowd in his final strides.

In a poignant finish-area moment, Keflezighi embraced the family of Martin Richard on Boylston Street, feet away from where Richard, then 8 years old, was killed in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

In 2014, Keflezighi ran to a surprise victory in Boston. He raced that day with the names written on his bib corners of Martin and the other three people who were killed by the attackers.

“Winning the 2014 Boston Marathon changed my life,” Keflezighi said. “I remember I was at the airport, and somebody came up to me and said whenever you come to Boston, you should never buy a beer.”

Keflezighi, a 2004 Olympic silver medalist, hopes to remain affiliated with the Boston Marathon in a non-racing capacity in future years. His final marathon will be in New York City on Nov. 5.

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Justin Morneau nixes Olympic baseball qualifying return

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Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP with the Minnesota Twins, was taken off Canada’s Olympic baseball qualifying roster before he would have played his first competitive game in more than two years.

Morneau, 38, experienced an unspecified setback in training and was replaced on Canada’s roster for next month’s Premier12. The global tournament marks the first opportunity for many world baseball powers to qualify for the sport’s return to the Olympics.

Morneau never played in the Olympics before baseball was cut from the Games after 2008; active MLB players have never competed in the Games. But he was on Canada’s roster at all four World Baseball Classics from 2006 through 2017.

At November’s Premier12, the top nation from North and South America will qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. Japan and Israel are already qualified. Those that do not qualify will get another chance next year.

Morneau could become the second Major League Baseball MVP to play Olympic baseball as a medal sport. The other was Jason Giambi, who made the U.S. team in 1992, the same summer he was drafted in the second round by the Oakland Athletics.

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Kolohe Andino is first U.S. Olympic surfing qualifier; Kelly Slater faces last chance

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Kolohe Andino is the first American to qualify for surfing’s Olympic debut, which leaves one spot left for 47-year-old Kelly Slater to chase at the final contest of the season.

Andino, a 25-year-old Californian whose first name means “rascal” in Hawaiian, clinched his place in Tokyo on Friday at the penultimate stop on the World Surf League Championship Tour in Portugal. He is ranked fifth in the world, trailing a trio of Brazilians.

One more American man will join Andino on the Olympic team. It will be one of Slater, the 11-time world champion, John John Florence, the 2016 and 2017 World champion, and rising 22-year-old Hawaiian Seth Moniz.

Slater was handed a golden opportunity to qualify when Florence announced in early July that he tore an ACL for the second time in 13 months. Florence had won two of the first five events this season.

Slater has been chasing the sidelined Florence in the standings ever since. But it has not been easy.

Slater hasn’t made the quarterfinals in any of his last seven contests going into December’s finale — the prestigious Billabong Pipeline Masters on the North Shore of Oahu.

“Ninth place, to me, used to be a pretty awful result. I’m used to at least a quarterfinal on for most of my career,” he said in July, noting a back injury. “I’m not horrified by my results, but I’m also not surprised. Maybe other people are because everyone focuses on my age and that kind of thing. It’s not like I’m going to all of a sudden forget how to do this thing, you know?”

Slater, who won the Pipe Masters seven times between 1992 and 2013, must reach the quarterfinals at this year’s event to have any chance of passing Florence to qualify for the Olympics.

Complicating matters: Florence said in August it was his “goal to get better for Pipeline in case I have to come back and compete and gain points,” according to ESPN.com. If Florence does return for the December contest, and makes the quarterfinals, Slater could only pass him with a victory.

Moniz goes into the finale ranked one spot behind Slater, meaning he, too, can grab that second and final Olympic spot with a win or a runner-up.

Slater, who turns 48 on Feb. 11, would be the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing or shooting (or art competitions!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova, according to the OlyMADMen.

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