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Shalane Flanagan is first U.S. woman to win NYC Marathon in 40 years

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NEW YORK — Shalane Flanagan is the first U.S. female runner to win the New York City Marathon since 1977. It might have been the final marathon of her decorated career.

The 36-year-old clocked 2:26:53, shockingly beating three-time defending champion and world-record holder Mary Keitany of Kenya by 61 seconds on Sunday (finish video here).

“This is the moment that I’ve dreamed of since I was a little girl,” Flanagan said on ESPN2. “It’s a moment, though, that I’m just trying to soak up and savor right now because I feel like this is the kind of moment that we dream of to find out our potential and realize how incredible we can be.”

Kenyan Geoffrey Kamworor won the men’s race in 2:10:53, holding off surging countryman Wilson Kipsang by three seconds.

Meb Keflezighi, racing his 26th and final marathon at age 42, was 11th in 2:15:29. He collapsed in exhaustion at the finish line and was helped up by family members.

“A sense of relief,” Keflezighi, the only person to win an Olympic medal and the Boston and New York City Marathons, said on ESPN2. “Today was a struggle, but to get to that finish line was a magical moment.”

NYC MARATHON: Full results | Meb’s emotional final marathon

Flanagan is the first U.S. female runner to win the five-borough race since Miki Gorman in 1977, doing so after one of the most difficult years of her 15-year elite career.

The four-time Olympian Flanagan put a gap between Keitany and third-place Ethiopian Mamitu Daska in the 24th mile. She extended it in Central Park. She tearfully crossed the finish after appearing to exclaim profanely and blowing a kiss.

Flanagan then turned to her left and took about a dozen steps. She found Keflezighi’s cheering section and was engulfed in a hug.

“That was for Meb,” she told race director Peter Ciaccia seconds later. (Keflezighi later said that he heard Flanagan won on his 24th and mile, “and I think I did a jump with both hands in the air.”)

Flanagan teased possible retirement before this race, in the unlikely event that she won. She plans to discuss her future with coaches Jerry Schumacher and Pascal Dobert on Sunday night.

“We’ll have some decisions to make,” she said.

“If she wants to continue, I think we’ll get the best version we’ve seen of Shalane,” Schumacher said. “This can continue for a while, but if she doesn’t, then what a great way to finish.”

Flanagan has been the leading woman in U.S. distance running for about the last decade. She won an Olympic 10,000m silver medal in 2008 and made her marathon debut in New York City in 2010, finishing second.

She had not raced New York since but was strong in the years between — making two more Olympic teams, including winning the 2012 Olympic Trials and placing third in the 2014 Berlin Marathon. She was the top American in the Rio Olympic marathon in sixth.

But this year, she withdrew ahead of April’s Boston Marathon with a back fracture that kept her from running for 10 weeks. She then missed the outdoor world championships team in the 10,000m by placing fourth at nationals in June. She had made every Olympic and world outdoor championships team from 2004 through 2016.

“Sometimes we don’t realize in the moment when we feel like dreams are taken away, that actually there is some delayed gratification down the road,” Flanagan said Sunday before she broke down in tears answering the first question of a press conference. “I think it was a blessing that I got injured last winter.”

Keitany, a 35-year-old mother of two, was an overwhelming pre-race favorite. Not only had she won New York the last three years, but the Kenyan also broke Paula Radcliffe‘s women-only world record in winning her third London Marathon crown in 2:17:01 on April 23.

But Keitany revealed after running 2:27:54 (nearly three minutes slower than her worst time in her last four NYC starts) that she incurred “a problem with my home” on Saturday at about 3 p.m. Keitany was asked to specify but declined, saying only that it was not an injury.

Flanagan’s upset capped an incredible year for U.S. women in the marathon.

Jordan Hasay, 26, made her marathon debut, finishing third in both Boston in April and Chicago in October.

Hasay had the fastest debut marathon by a U.S. woman in Boston. Then, in Chicago, she moved to No. 2 on the U.S. all-time list behind Deena Kastor.

Amy Cragg took bronze at the world championships in August, becoming the first U.S. man or woman to make a world championships marathon podium since 1993.

Also Sunday, Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympic medalist, saw her streak of four straight New York wheelchair titles end.

Swiss Manuela Schar distanced McFadden by 2:52. A month earlier, McFadden won the Chicago Marathon with Schar in third place, two seconds behind.

McFadden closed out a difficult 2017. She was diagnosed with blood clots in her legs in February, requiring an operation. She was hospitalized again in early spring and then finished fourth in the Boston Marathon on April 17.

Swiss Marcel Hug repeated as men’s wheelchair race winner on Sunday in 1:37:21.

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Daniel Romanchuk’s ascent to marathon stardom accelerated at University of Illinois

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The rise of Daniel Romanchuk has been one of the major stories of this Paralympic cycle. The wheelchair racer was eliminated in the first round of all five of his races in Rio.

But now, he’s the world’s best marathoner with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, a world-record holder on the track and already qualified for the Tokyo Games.

Romanchuk, born with spina bifida, was profiled by NBC Sports Chicago as part of a series of NBC Sports Regional Networks pieces published this week — marking 150 days until the Tokyo Olympics and six months until the Tokyo Paralympics.

NBC RSN Olympic and Paralympic Profiles
NBC Sports Bay Area

Abbey Weitzeil (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Boston
Margaret Bertasi (Rowing) — LINK
Abbey D’Agostino Cooper (Track and Field) — LINK

NBC Sports Chicago
Ryan Murphy (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Northwest
Galen Rupp (Marathon) — LINK
Mariel Zagunis (Fencing) — LINK

NBC Sports Philadelphia
Vashti Cunningham (Track and Field) — LINK
Julie Ertz (Soccer) — LINK

NBC Sports Washington
Katie Ledecky (Swimming) — LINK
Kyle Snyder (Wrestling) — LINK

Romanchuk, 21, swept the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City Marathon titles in 2019. He attributes that success to his native Baltimore and his training residence of the University of Illinois.

At age 2, he was enrolled in Baltimore’s Bennett Blazers, an adaptive sports program for children with physical disabilities. Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympic medalist who dominated women’s wheelchair marathons, planted her athletic roots there.

“Their motto is to teach kids they can before they’re told they can’t,” Romanchuk said.

Things really blossomed for Romanchuk after he moved from Baltimore to the University of Illinois. Illinois was designated a U.S. Paralympic training site in 2014 and has produced McFadden, Jean Driscoll and other U.S. Paralympic stars.

“Without this program, I certainly would not be where I am,” Romanchuk said. “It’s a very unique combination of coaching and teammates.”

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MORE: Ten Paralympic hopefuls to watch for 2020 Tokyo Games

Chloé Dygert wanted to be Steve Prefontaine. Then Larry Bird. Now, her coach.

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Chloé Dygert is the U.S.’ top cyclist, an Olympic medalist and world champion in line to race on the track and the road at the Tokyo Games.

To get to this point — leading the American contingent at the world track cycling championships this week — Dygert was kicked off a soccer team, bribed by her father and, when she thought her career was over, enrolled in 5 a.m. classes to get back on the bike.

“I had no interest in being a cyclist. I did not want to be a cyclist,” she said. “The funny thing is, my dad kept getting me bikes.”

It began in Brownsburg, Ind., a 25,000-person town 15 miles northwest of Indianapolis. Dygert had an older brother, younger brother and a BMX dirt bike track on a 4.5-acre property.

She played soccer, but was moved from the girls’ team to the boys. Dygert developed physically earlier than the other girls. And, “I was a little too mean and aggressive,” she said.

She played basketball but broke too many bones — her own and those of other girls. “Not on purpose,” she said, “but I was just so much bigger and naturally so much stronger.”

Dygert ran cross-country, too, but none of those sports worked out.

“I was going to be Steve Prefontaine,” she said of the fabled 1972 Olympian. “I had some injuries, and I started playing basketball. I was going to be Larry Bird. I had some more injuries, and cycling was just kind of my go-to.”

Dygert, at first reluctant, picked up cycling at the urging of her father, David, a mountain biker. She received bikes for Christmas and her New Year’s birthday, but it wasn’t until later, when she was 15, that her father’s words changed her life.

That summer, when Dygert needed a shoulder surgery from a basketball injury, she went for a ride at a local park with her father. David marveled.

“He said, ‘Chloe, I don’t think a girl your age should be able to put out the power that you’re putting out,'” Dygert remembered. “That kind of stuck with me and got me into wanting to ride a little bit more and seeing where I could go with it.”

David lured her: a pair of Oakleys if Dygert won at her first major competition. She entered junior nationals and grabbed a victory.

“That’s kind of what gave me the motivation to keep going,” she said. “It took me a while to actually love the sport. It definitely was not an interest that I had. But I thrive on winning. I love to win.”

Dygert pursued cycling, but she didn’t stop basketball. Everything changed when she tore an ACL on the court at age 17, a nine-month injury. She never returned to competitive basketball, but she also lost motivation to get back on the bike. Again, David urged her. One last time.

She joined the cycling team at Marian University, a private Catholic school in Indianapolis. David signed her up for 5 a.m. classes.

“I’m still not happy about it,” she said. “I got really disciplined.”

And reinvigorated. The freshman Dygert noticed in a power booster class that her wattage was impressive.

“If it wasn’t for that and the structure and the discipline that I had gotten from that and my dad, I would not be here,” she said. “There’s not a day that goes by, I’m just so thankful for that and for him.”

Dygert dropped out after that first fall semester to focus on a cycling career. That winter, she won a world title with the U.S. team pursuit and was named to become the youngest female U.S. Olympic track cyclist in history.

“I see myself being a Kristin Armstrong, following in her footsteps, being a good all-around rider and a very good time trialist,” Dygert said before earning team pursuit silver at the Rio Olympics, according to The Associated Press.

Armstrong earned her third Olympic road time trial title in Rio, a day before turning 43. She retired and transitioned from Dygert’s mentor to her coach. Dygert recently moved to Armstrong’s native Idaho.

On the eve of September’s world road cycling championships time trial, Armstrong told Dygert to make sure she hurt more than any other rider on the 18-mile course. Dygert obeyed. She went out and won by 92 seconds, the largest margin in history, to become the youngest world champion ever in the event. She collapsed onto the pavement getting off her bike.

“I didn’t race with a power meter,” Dygert said that day, “and I think that really helped not restricting myself, just kind of going as fast as I could the entire time and not really have anything to gauge it off of.”

It qualified Dygert for the Tokyo Olympics on the road. The track team hasn’t been named, but Dygert will surely anchor a new team pursuit quartet. The U.S. has never won an Olympic women’s track title, but the pursuit has been its trademark event — world titles in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Olympic silver medals in 2012 and 2016.

The only woman on both of those Olympic teams retired (Sarah Hammer).

The cycling community was floored when Kelly Catlin, on all three world title teams with Dygert, committed suicide last March at age 23.

“It’s definitely hard not having her there, but we will carry her legacy on,” Dygert said. “She will be with us every step of the way when we win gold in Tokyo.”

The U.S. women’s team pursuit finished seventh at last year’s worlds without Catlin and without Dygert, who sat out nearly a year after a May 2018 concussion from a road crash. Dygert wondered if she might not be able to come back from the head injury. Expectations were tempered when she and a new team entered a November World Cup in Belarus.

A coach predicted nothing faster than 4 minutes, 17 seconds. They clocked 4:13 and won in what Dygert believed was the U.S.’ second-fastest time since the Rio Games.

“We’ve never raced together before,” Dygert said. “We didn’t really know what we would be able to do.”

Dygert is bidding to race in three events in Tokyo — road race (July 26), road time trial (July 29) and team pursuit (Aug. 3-4). People compare combining the road and the track to training for both the sprints and the marathon. The plurality of the focus will be on the time trial and to follow the path set by Armstrong to the top of an Olympic podium. Hopefully, road and track podiums.

“We’re going to be smart about which event that we choose to be full gas for so my fitness is still there for all the other events,” Dygert said. “Being fit for the time trial will also correlate for the track.”

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