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Mary Keitany, Tatyana McFadden to defend NYC Marathon titles

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NEW YORK — Kenyan Mary Keitany, the world’s preeminent female road runner, will go for her fourth straight New York City Marathon title on Nov. 5.

Keitany chose to race New York’s challenging course for a sixth time rather than debut on the flatter roads of Berlin or Chicago, where she could try to lower her women-only world record.

“I want to continue to be in the history books,” Keitany reasoned, emphasizing trying to extend her New York City streak rather than chasing times. Keitany spoke from a Midtown Manhattan hotel as she prepares to race the New York Road Runners Mini 10km on Saturday.

Keitany could be one-upped in the Nov. 5 five-borough race by another woman. Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympic medalist, eyes her fifth straight NYC Marathon wheelchair title and sixth overall.

Keitany and McFadden are the second and third headline commitments to this year’s NYC Marathon, the world’s largest 26.2-miler with 50,000 yearly finishers. They follow Meb Keflezighi, the only U.S. runner to win here since 1982, who says New York will mark his 26th and final marathon as an elite racer.

Keitany, 35, has torn up the pavement since Kenya’s track and field federation dumbfoundingly left her off its three-woman Rio Olympic marathon team.

Last Nov. 6, the mother of two became the first runner to win three straight New York City titles since Norwegian Grete Waitz won five of her record nine from 1981 through 1986. She did so with the largest winning margin since 1984.

Keitany followed that with a half-marathon personal best in February. Then on April 23, she broke Paula Radcliffe‘s women-only world record in winning her third London Marathon crown in 2:17:01.

Keitany’s fastest time in five New York appearances is 2:23:38. She is not focusing on the women’s course record of 2:22:31.

“I try to run according to my feelings,” she said.

Keitany finished fourth in her only Olympic appearance in 2012, four months after winning the London Marathon. She estimated she will race another three or four years.

The 2016 NYC Marathon runner-up, Kenyan Sally Kipyego, is expecting a baby in July. The third-place finisher, American Molly Huddle, is focusing on the track at least through the world championships in August.

In a contrast from Keitany, McFadden’s dominance has weakened in the last year. After sweeping the Boston, Chicago, London and New York City Marathons in 2013, 2014 and 2015, she was beaten at the Rio Paralympics in September.

Then in February, McFadden was again diagnosed with blood clots in her legs, requiring an operation. She was hospitalized again in early spring and then finished fourth in the Boston Marathon on April 17.

“I have a great team, and they acted so quickly on it, just to even get into my chair in Boston two weeks after surgery was crazy and insane,” she said. “I probably shouldn’t have done it.”

McFadden said last month she hopes to race on the track at the IPC World Championships in July in the 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m and 5000m. She swept all those races, plus the 100m, at her last worlds appearance in 2013.

McFadden said her commitment to New York City will not necessarily preclude her from trying to compete in her second straight Winter Paralympics in PyeongChang in March. She earned a cross-country skiing silver medal at Sochi 2014.

“It’s always in the back of my mind,” McFadden said of the winter sport. “I just want to see the direction of my health and make sure I take care of that first.”

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Maria Sharapova appears set to miss Tokyo Olympics

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Maria Sharapova, who would have a difficult time qualifying for the Olympics next year, committed to play an event in California the week of the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova is scheduled to play World Team Tennis matches in California during the Olympic tennis events in late July, according to a press release. Sharapova’s longtime agent hasn’t responded to a message seeking confirmation that she is ruling out the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova, 32 and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was barred from the Rio Games due to her 15-month meldonium suspension in 2016 and 2017. That alone could rule her ineligible for Tokyo, given the World Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions against Russia on Monday.

Sharapova is ranked No. 131 after a season shortened by shoulder surgery. She would have to be among the top four ranked Russian women after the French Open in June for possible automatic Olympic qualification. She is currently the 14th Russian.

Olympic eligibility rules include minimum participation requirements in Fed Cup, which Sharapova hasn’t done in this Olympic cycle, though exceptions can be made.

Sharapova’s passion for the Olympics is well documented.

She carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and carried the Olympic flame into Fisht Stadium at the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony, where she worked for NBC Olympics.

“It was the one thing that my parents allowed me to watch on TV late into the evening was the Olympics,” Sharapova said in 2017. “I grew up watching figure skating and hockey and a little bit of tennis. … Just capturing the Opening Ceremonies and seeing all the countries and the little hats that they wore, and I, as a little girl, I just imagined that maybe it would be me. But I never, ever thought that I would be carrying the flag.

“I received that [flag] honor in a text message, which is a very Russian way of communicating. I originally thought it was a joke, a big fat joke. Then I showed it to my mother, and she [said], no, they probably wouldn’t joke like that.”

In February 2016, Sharapova entered a Fed Cup tie, despite saying she was injured, in order to receive Olympic eligibility. One month later, her failed drug test was announced.

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Russia banned from Olympics, world champs for 4 years; athletes could compete as neutrals

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Russia is banned from the next two Olympics and other major sports events for four years, though its athletes could still compete without representing the country if cleared by anti-doping authorities.

Russia’s hosting of world championships in Olympic sports also face being stripped after the World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee approved a full slate of recommended sanctions for tampering with a Moscow laboratory database.

Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in major events — including world championships — only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or their data was not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling. “In this circumstance, they may not represent the Russian Federation,” according to a WADA release.

“While I understand the calls for a blanket ban on all Russian athletes whether or not they are implicated by the data, it was the unanimous view of the CRC [compliance review committee], which includes an athlete, that in this case, those who could prove their innocence should not be punished, and I am pleased that the WADA ExCo [executive committee] agreed with this,” WADA CRC chairman Jonathan Taylor said.

There are 145 unnamed athletes within WADA’s “target group of most suspicious athletes” from 2012-15 who would not be allowed to compete at the Olympics, Taylor said, adding that it’s possible those names will be made public. About one-third of them are still active.

Russia’s anti-doping agency can appeal the decision within 21 days. Russia previously signaled it would appeal the ruling.

“The decision will come into effect only when it becomes final ie when either RUSADA accepts it or it is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” a WADA spokesperson said in an email.

Russia avoided blanket bans for the Rio and PyeongChang Olympics after a state-run doping program was exposed by media and WADA investigations after Russia hosted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Approved Russian athletes competed as neutrals — “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — including in team sports in PyeongChang. Those Russians combined to earn two gold medals (figure skater Alina Zagitova and men’s hockey) and 17 overall, compared to the leading 33 Russia earned at the Sochi Olympics before medals were stripped for doping.

“Will Russian athletes be accepted as Olympic Athletes from Russia?” during the ban, Taylor said. “No, they are neutral athletes, which means not representatives of any country. Not representatives of Russia.”

Going forward, “they cannot use the name of the country in the name of the team,” WADA president-elect Witold Bańka told The Associated Press.

Two of the 168 Russians who competed in PyeongChang failed drug tests and were punished for doping.

More recent evidence shows that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee said last month. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order … but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

Russia will be allowed to participate in the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, that open Jan. 9.

WADA’s inability to fully expel Russia from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games frustrated the doping watchdog’s vice president.

“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian lawmaker who serves on WADA executive committee and has long pushed for a tougher line against Russia. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize on all the pain all the athletes and sports fans have experienced.”

Although the IOC has called for the strongest possible sanctions, it wants those sanctions directed at Russian state authorities rather than athletes or Olympic officials.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement. “And, in turn, the reaction by all those who value sport should be nothing short of a revolt against this broken system to force reform.”

Russia’s Olympic champion women’s handball team is currently competing at the world championships in Japan. Its next match is Tuesday against Montenegro. Russia has been the scheduled host for the world luge championships in Sochi in mid-February.

The “major sports” events that fall under WADA’s sanctions do not include European Championships or other non-world championships events such as tennis’ upcoming Australian Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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TIMELINE: Russia’s recent history of sports doping