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Shalane Flanagan on returning to NYC Marathon finish line, future

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NEW YORK — Shalane Flanagan returned to the New York City Marathon finish line at Central Park twice in the 24 hours after she won the race.

She did not sleep in that span.

“I tried, but it didn’t work,” Flanagan, the first U.S. female runner to win the five-borough, 50,000-runner event in 40 years, said Monday morning. “So, at 3 a.m., I was eating pizza, hanging out.”

Flanagan, a 36-year-old, four-time Olympian, upset three-time defending champion and world-record holder Mary Keitany at 11:48 a.m. on a dreary Sunday. She overcame perhaps the most difficult year of her decorated career in what may have been her final race (more on that below).

Nine hours later, Flanagan was back at the finish line to hand out medals to runners who took five times as long to cover the course than she did.

Flanagan was joined by other elites, including Meb Keflezighi, the 2009 NYC Marathon champ who ran his 26th and final marathon on Sunday.

Flanagan awoke Monday for another round of media — “Good Morning America,” “Live with Kelly and Ryan” — followed by a charity-check ceremony next to the finish line.

She spoke as hundreds of finishers stood in line to get their medals engraved.

“I do wish I could go run those last two miles without, like, the scary, daunting feeling of someone stalking me,” said Flanagan, who opened up a gap in the 24th mile and won by a comfortable 61 seconds over Keitany. “I was like, just don’t let it slip through your fingers. … I didn’t hear any footsteps.”

As soon as it felt safe, a few steps from the end, Flanagan let out an “f— yeah!” that was buzzworthy on social media.

“I’ve visualized that finish line, you don’t know how many times,” said Flanagan, who ran her second NYC Marathon, seven years after finishing second in her 26.2-mile debut in New York. “What would I do in that moment? Of course I did nothing of what I thought I would do.

“That [the profanity] wasn’t planned by any means. I could just sense no one was there. Then I felt like, OK, I can celebrate just a little bit and indulge in this awesome moment.”

Before that, Flanagan dug into a list she compiled before the race.

“Of things when I was leaning into that hurt, what was I going to think about,” she said. “I was thinking about the tragedies here in New York. I was thinking about how I wanted to make Meb proud. It was his last race. And I wanted to run and honor all the people that have helped me be here.”

Flanagan teased before the race that she might retire if she pulled off the upset victory, likening it to winning the Super Bowl and walking away.

“I don’t know what it feels like to be Tom Brady or anything, but it’s pretty epic,” she said Monday. “Imagine everyone has an individual goal in their lives that they’re striving for, potentially, and achieving that ultimate goal that seems audacious at times. That seems so far-fetched.”

Flanagan hasn’t had time to think about her future or discuss it with her coaches. She has barely looked at her phone.

“I just want to soak up what I’m doing right now,” she said. “My phone is literally buzzing in my pocket right now, and I don’t know what’s going on.

“I’m 36, I love what I do,” she said earlier on “Good Morning America.” “I’m very passionate about running, but there are other things in my life that I love. … There’s other ways I want to contribute to the sport. I want to teach young women how to eat well and how to take care of themselves. Yeah, I have other passions that are starting to bubble up.”

Flanagan, who with her husband fostered two teenage girls since Rio, will release her second co-authored cookbook — “Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow” — in August. Finding the inspiration to continue a running career in the meantime may be difficult.

“I’d have to really assess what’s going to drive me forward,” she said. “If I do continue to go forward, you have to have a lot of motivation to be in this sport. It’s an all-encompassing lifestyle. It’s not a nine-to-five. It’s literally every single day you’re making decisions. How can I be the best possible athlete? You don’t check in and check out.”

This was certainly Flanagan’s biggest career victory, in her 10th marathon, but was it her greatest achievement? She has an Olympic 10,000m silver medal from 2008.

“It’s hard to compare them,” she said. “But I feel like this has been a long, long process to get here. A lot of ups and downs and disappointments and some heartache. So, in a way, maybe this is more meaningful to me just because I feel like it’s been seven years of a lot of work and a lot of disappointments at times, wondering if I have what it takes. Almost feeling like a sense of really extreme validation yesterday, more so than maybe my Olympic medal. But they’re both treasured, just in different ways.”

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Weightlifting investigation finds doping cover-ups

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DÜSSELDORF, Germany (AP) — An investigation into the International Weightlifting Federation has found doping cover-ups and millions of dollars in missing money, lead investigator Richard McLaren said Thursday.

McLaren said 40 positive doping tests were “hidden” in IWF records and that athletes whose cases were delayed or covered up went on to win medals at the world championships and other events. The cases will be referred to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“We found systematic governance failures and corruption at the highest level of the IWF,” McLaren said.

The International Olympic Committee said it was studying the report “very carefully,” adding that “the content is deeply concerning.”

McLaren said former IWF president Tamas Ajan was “an autocratic leader” who kept the board in the dark about finances and left officials fearing reprisals if they spoke out. Ajan received cash payments on behalf of the IWF as doping fines from national federations or sponsors, the report said, but what happened to some of the money is unclear.

McLaren said $10.4 million was unaccounted for, based on his team’s analysis of cash going in and out of the IWF over several years. Ajan denies any wrongdoing.

The largest fine recorded in the report was $500,000 paid by Azerbaijan. It’s unclear how that payment was made. On one trip to Thailand for a competition and conference, Ajan collected more than $440,000 across 18 cash payments, according to the report.

“Everyone was kept in financial ignorance through the use of hidden bank accounts (and transfers),” McLaren said. “Some cash was accounted for, some was not.”

McLaren said that the investigation found information which law enforcement “might be interested in,” and that he would cooperate with any later investigations. That was echoed by Ajan’s successor at the IWF.

“The activities that have been revealed and the behavior that has occurred in the years past is absolutely unacceptable and possibly criminal,” IWF interim president Ursula Garza Papandrea said.

She added that the IWF will pass on information to law enforcement if it indicates there were “potential crimes.”

McLaren said Ajan “permitted the (federation) elections to be bought by vote brokers” as he kept the presidency and promoted favored officials. Large cash withdrawals were made ahead of federation congresses, McLaren said, adding that voters were bribed and had to take pictures of their ballots to show to brokers.

The 81-year-old Ajan stepped down in April, ending a 20-year reign as president and a total 44 years in federation posts. A month before that he also gave up his honorary membership of the International Olympic Committee.

In a statement to Hungarian state news agency MTI, Ajan said the IWF’s finances were managed in a “lawful” manner with oversight from the board.

“All my life, I’ve abided by the laws, the written and unwritten rules and customs of the sport,” he said.

Ajan accused McLaren’s team of not giving him enough information to respond to the allegations about his conduct.

Ajan was a full IOC member between 2000 and 2010, voting to select Olympic host cities. A previous complaint about IWF finances in 2010 was closed by the IOC.

McLaren’s investigation was sparked in January when German broadcaster ARD reported financial irregularities at the federation and apparent doping cover-ups.

The focus of the investigation was on the period from 2009 through 2019. McLaren said he heard allegations of misconduct dating back as far as the 1980s, but chose to prioritize more recent matters with stronger evidence.

The World Anti-Doping Agency said it welcomed McLaren’s findings.

“Once WADA has had the opportunity to review that evidence as well as the report in full, the Agency will consider the next appropriate steps to take,” it said in a statement.

Some allegations regarding doping misconduct around the 2019 world championships in Thailand and involving athletes from Moldova were passed to the International Testing Agency, which is still investigating.

McLaren, a Canadian law professor, was WADA’s lead investigator for Russian doping and has judged cases at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Weightlifting’s reputation under Ajan had already been hit by dozens of steroid doping cases revealed in retests of samples from the Olympics since 2008.

Since he left office in April, the IWF has begun moving its headquarters from Ajan’s home country of Hungary to the Swiss city of Lausanne, where the International Olympic Committee is based.

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Gwendolyn Berry gets apology from USOPC CEO after reprimand for podium gesture

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Olympic hammer thrower Gwendolyn Berry said USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland apologized to her Wednesday “for not understanding the severity of the impact her decisions had on me,” after Berry was put on probation last August for one year after raising her fist at the end of the national anthem at the 2019 Pan American Games.

“I am grateful to Gwen for her time and her honesty last night,” Hirshland said in a statement. “I heard her. I apologized for how my decisions made her feel and also did my best to explain why I made them. Gwen has a powerful voice in this national conversation, and I am sure that together we can use the platform of Olympic and Paralympic sport to address and fight against systematic inequality and racism in our country.”

Berry and fencer Race Imboden were sent August letters of reprimand by Hirshland, along with each receiving probation, after each made a podium gesture at Pan Ams in Peru.

This week, Berry tweeted that she wanted a public apology from Hirshland. That tweet came after Hirshland sent a letter to U.S. athletes on Monday night, condemning “systemic inequality that disproportionately impacts Black Americans in the United States.”

Then on Wednesday night, Berry said she had a “really productive” 40-minute phone call with Hirshland, USATF CEO Max Siegel and other USATF officials.

“I didn’t necessarily ask for [an apology] from [Hirshland],” Berry said Thursday. Berry said she lost two-thirds of her income after Pan Ams, that sponsors dropped her in connection to the raised fist fallout.

“We came to some good conclusions,” Berry said of the group call. “The most important thing were figuring out ways to move forward. [Hirshland] was aware of things that she did and how she made me feel about the situation, and I was happy that I was able to express to her my grievances and she was able to express to me how she felt as well about the situation.”

Berry said her probation, which is believed to still be in effect, wasn’t discussed. She made a point to say that USATF has always been on her side.

“The conversation was more for awareness purposes, and we’ll probably have more conversations this week,” said Berry.

Berry also plans to participate in a U.S. athlete town hall Friday.

“First and foremost, we should and we will discuss how people are just feeling and how people are holding up because athletes in general, because of the pandemic and because of everything that’s been going on, I know a lot of people are in distress, they’re sad, they’re confused,” she said. “I think that’ll be the main point of the discussion. Just to make sure everybody’s OK. Just to see how everybody’s holding on.”

On Aug. 10, Berry raised her fist at the end of the national anthem after winning the Pan American Games title.

The next morning, Berry said the gesture, which drew memories of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Games, wasn’t meant to be a big message, but it quickly became a national story.

“Just a testament to everything I’ve been through in the past year, and everything the country has been through this past year,” she said then. “A lot of things need to be done and said and changed. I’m not trying to start a political war or act like I’m miss-know-it-all or anything like that. I just know America can do better.”

Berry said then that the motivation behind her gesture included the challenges overcome of changing coaches and moving from Oxford, Miss., where her family resides, to Houston.

“Every individual person has their own views of things that are going on,” she said. “It’s in the Constitution, freedom of speech. I have a right to feel what I want to feel. It’s no disrespect at all to the country. I want to make that very clear. If anything, I’m doing it out of love and respect for people in the country.”

Berry also said that weekend, according to USA Today, that she was standing for “extreme injustice.”

“Somebody has to talk about the things that are too uncomfortable to talk about. Somebody has to stand for all of the injustices that are going on in America and a president who’s making it worse,” Berry said, according to that report. “It’s too important to not say something. Something has to be said. If nothing is said, nothing will be done, and nothing will be fixed, and nothing will be changed.”

NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report.

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