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Meb Keflezighi set for final marathon where it all began

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NEW YORK (AP) — He’ll wear the familiar “MEB” bib one final time at the New York City Marathon.

Meb Keflezighi, the face of American long-distance running, wraps up his marathon career where it began in 2002 on the multicultural streets of New York. An immigrant of war-torn Eritrea who became a U.S. citizen in 1998, he’ll be cheered by thousands of spectators and some 70 relatives and friends.

He vowed to never run the grueling 26.2 miles again after going out fast and hitting the wall at mile 21 in his first NYC Marathon. But 26 marathons later, he’s retiring at age 42 after Sunday’s race, capping a career as the only person to win an Olympic medal and New York and Boston titles.

“It’s very emotional coming back,” Keflezighi said. “I’m excited, but at the same time it’s bittersweet. It will be a sigh of relief when I get to the finish line.”

In 2009, Keflezighi became the first American male runner since Alberto Salazar in 1982 to win the NYC marathon.

His most dramatic win came at the 2014 Boston Marathon, crossing the finish line with fists pumps and the names of three victims of the bombings and a slain police officer written on his bib.

As a spectator in 2013, he stood in Copley Plaza to greet finishers and left only a short time before the bomb attack injured hundreds.

He kissed the pavement after a Boston Strong and personal-best time of 2 hours, 8 minutes, 37 seconds.

Keflezighi also won silver at the 2004 Athens Olympics, the first U.S. man since Frank Shorter in 1976 to win a marathon medal.

“Meb is the premier American distance runner of this generation,” said George Hirsch, who with Fred Lebow started the NYC Marathon in 1976 to celebrate the bicentennial. “We have to really go back a long way to Frank and Bill [Rodgers] and Joanie [Benoit Samuelson] and Alberto.

“That was a golden age of American distance running when we literally had Olympic champions in the marathon and runners ranked No. 1 in the world.”

Keflezighi says his parents and siblings could have stayed in Italy after escaping East Africa. But they traveled to the United States, settling in San Diego.

Keflezighi arrived at 12 in 1987, trading a likely future as a child soldier in his native country for good grades, a track scholarship at UCLA and transformation from miler to Olympic marathoner.

His athletic journey began when junior high school gym teacher Dick Lord suggested students run a mile around the playground, and young Meb gave an eye-opening performance.

“People give you confidence,” he said, mentioning college coach Don Larsen. “They kind of see something that you didn’t see. At end of the day, I squeezed everything there is to squeeze out of it.”

In his NYC Marathon debut 15 years ago, Keflezighi thought he could win and made a move on First Avenue in 39-degree weather.

“I told my coach it’s my first and last marathon,” he said. “I got my Ph.D. that day, what to do and what not to do.”

His parents will be in New York again Sunday. He posted two photos on Twitter, showing his parents and several siblings upon their arrival in the U.S. in 1987 and a more recent photo. The caption reads, “Where did your family immigrate from?”

“This country is built on immigrants, unless you’re Native American,” Keflezighi said. “Whether it was 30 years ago like myself or 50 years ago or 100 years ago or someone who just came here last week.”

His father cleaned floors, drove a taxi and helped them learn English while his mother raised 10 children.

“That’s why my parents got here, by hard work and perseverance. We could have been in Italy forever, it was peace and tranquility,” he said. “But the land of opportunity lies in the United States.

“All my brothers and sisters graduated from medical school, engineering, MBA or law. All those things because the great United States gave us opportunities. I maxed out my potential in terms of running. But all my siblings also reached great things to be a positive contributor to society.”

He says he’ll spend more time with his wife, Yordanos, and three young daughters, run some half-marathons, coach and work with his MEB Foundation. It stands for “Maintaining Excellent Balance” and promotes healthy living and motivation for youth.

NYC Marathon officials say they’ll retire the “MEB” bib, the last time a pro athlete wears a first name. Always an ambassador of the sport, Keflezighi plans to return to the finish line Sunday and greet the last stragglers in the dark at Central Park.

“They’re going to have tears in their eyes when he drops a medal around their necks,” Hirsch said.

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VIDEO: Galen Rupp ends U.S. drought in Chicago

Brian Orser reveals Hanyu’s, Medvedeva’s, and Brown’s Grand Prix plans

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Over the past decade, the Toronto club where Brian Orser coached South Korea’s Yuna Kim to the 2010 Olympic title has become such an attraction for top figure skaters from around the globe that it could add a word to a name that already is a mouthful.

You could call it the Toronto International Cricket Skating and Curling Club.

But its reach now is limited by the deadly virus pandemic that has effectively frozen out the elite athletes from Japan, Russia, South Korea and Poland who train at the Cricket Club.

That situation won’t change quickly, even with the International Skating Union having announced Monday its plans to proceed with a live format for the international Grand Prix Series. This fall, it will become a series of six essentially domestic competitions scheduled to begin with Skate America Oct. 23-25 in Las Vegas.

If they take place.

“As soon as the skaters can come back, it will be full steam ahead… to where, we don’t know,” Orser said via telephone Wednesday.

Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu remains in Japan. Two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva is in Russia, four-time national champion Cha Jun-Hwan in South Korea, and two-time national champion Yekaterina Kurakova in Poland.

“We would like for them all to come back, but with the Canadian travel restrictions in place until at least Aug. 21, we can’t guarantee approval to get them in, and they would have a 14-day quarantine here if they do get in,” Tracy Wilson, who coaches with Orser, said via telephone Wednesday. “Right now, they are all training at home, and that’s OK.

“The situation is different for each one. The Japanese federation may need Yuzu to do the Grand Prix in Japan, and at this point he would face quarantine entering Canada and returning to Japan.

“For Yevgenia, as soon as she does the Russian test skates (scheduled for early September), we will re-evaluate her situation.”

Orser said he has been doing three video coaching sessions a week with Medvedeva, with whom he is in his third season as coach. Medvedeva, who left Russia for Canada after winning a silver medal at the 2018 Olympics, also is currently getting help from coach Elena Buyanova at the CSKA rink in Moscow.

“She (Medvedeva) looks way ahead of where she was at this point last year,” Orser said.

MORE: Looking back at Yuna Kim’s 10-year gold medal anniversary

Orser also has been having live remote sessions with Cha and Kurakova, and they are also sending videos to him. The only skater he has not seen is Hanyu.

“That’s normal when he is back in Japan,” Orser said. “I wasn’t expecting anything.”

How long Hanyu stays in Japan may depend on travel restrictions being loosened in both his homeland and Canada.

“I would like to get them all back, and they need to come back,” Orser said. “But facing a double quarantine is not in anyone’s best interest.”

Only two of the Cricket Club’s international skaters, 2014 Olympian Jason Brown of suburban Chicago and Yi Zhu of Los Angeles (who represents China), have come back to Toronto after leaving in late winter.

It took Brown two tries to get back across the border because of issues with the paperwork necessary for Canada to consider it essential he be allowed to enter. Orser and Wilson want to be sure any skaters coming from Asia and Europe are admitted on the first try.

From April to July, until skaters could get back on the ice in their various homelands, Brown led Thursday off-ice fitness classes via Zoom, with Medvedeva, Cha and Kurakova taking part.

“It was such a fun way to stay connected and still ‘train’ together while we were oceans apart,” Brown said in a Wednesday text message.

Orser and Wilson will recommend that all the foreign skaters training at the Cricket Club try to compete at Skate Canada, scheduled the last weekend of October at a 9,500-seat arena in Ottawa. Wilson thought if the event cannot have spectators, it might be moved to a smaller facility, possibly in a different city.

“All plans are in the early stages,” Skate Canada spokesperson Emma Bowie said in an email.

Grand Prix assignments have not yet been made.

Whether Brown picks Skate Canada over Skate America – if he gets a choice – could depend on when (and if) the Canadian government shortens quarantine periods for travelers from the United States.

“I know that we are in such unprecedented and uncertain times, so I love seeing the ISU being creative and trying to find a way to hold skating events this year,” Brown wrote. “While a lot can happen before October, if it’s safe to do so, I’ll be ready and eager to take part in any events that I can.”

The ISU said it wants to have the Grand Prix Final in Beijing, whether it takes place on its original dates (Dec. 10-13) or early in 2021. The competition is to be used as a test event of the skating venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

There are no details yet on qualification for the final, which usually is determined by points for placements at the six “regular season” events of the series, held in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan. The top six in each of the sport’s four disciplines make the Final.

In the past, the highest-ranked skaters could compete in up to two Grand Prix events, but ISU Vice-President Alexander Lakernik of Russia said in a Tuesday email that everyone would be limited to one event this year.

Because the Final presumably would have much more of an international field than the six other events, staging it is infinitely more problematic because of travel involved.

“We want what’s best for the sport,” Wilson said. “We have to get these kids out there doing programs, to get them on TV. [Note: An NBC spokesman said the network would, as planned, provide coverage of the Grand Prix, with details forthcoming.] In terms of competition, we’re up for anything.

“For me, though, with all the restrictions, there is no way they will be able to run a fair qualification for the Grand Prix Final. You’ve got to reinvent yourself and make it something else – if you are able to have it at all.”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: Nathan Chen is surprised, grateful and posing questions about figure skating’s restart

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Steven Nyman, top U.S. downhiller, faces another obstacle

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Steven Nyman, the active U.S. leader in World Cup downhill wins, tore his right Achilles in a training crash and had surgery earlier this week in Mt. Hood, Ore.

“I am moving forward,” was posted on Nyman’s social media. “I’ve been through this before and have full intention to comeback [sic] and compete through the next Olympics.”

Nyman raced in three Olympics and owns three World Cup downhill victories.

He turns 40 during the next Winter Games in Beijing in 2022, when he will be three and a half years older than any previous U.S. Olympic Alpine skier.

Nyman missed the PyeongChang Olympics after a pair of major injuries: blowing out his left knee in a January 2017 downhill race crash and tearing his right ACL in downhill training in January 2018. He also tore his left Achilles in 2011.

He raced the last two seasons with a best World Cup finish of fifth in Val Gardena, Italy, site of all of his World Cup wins in 2006, 2012 and 2014.

The U.S. men’s program is in the midst of its longest World Cup downhill victory and podium droughts this millennium — none since Travis Ganong‘s win in Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Jan. 27, 2017.

MORE: Alpine skiing World Cup plans earlier season start with fewer fans

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