Meb Keflezighi
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Meb Keflezighi brought back to marathon running by special email

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BOSTON — As a hurting Meb Keflezighi hit the halfway point of the 2017 Boston Marathon, and the leaders pulled away, the 41-year-old started thinking he made a mistake by not retiring after the Rio Olympics.

“A year ago, if you asked me if I would do the Boston Marathon [again], I wouldn’t have said that,” he said Friday.

Yet the 2014 Boston champ joined the elite runners at the pre-race press conference three days before he runs his 27th marathon. Keflezighi will not try to keep pace with them on Monday (8:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold).

Instead, the 122nd Boston Marathon will be Keflezighi’s first 26.2 miler in a non-competitive capacity.

Keflezighi is starting a second marathon phase as a charity runner. He’s representing the Martin Richard Foundation, in honor of the youngest victim of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

He plans to enter the New York City Marathon for Team for Kids in November and, if the cause is right, more marathons in future years. Maybe even one in the name of his own Meb Foundation.

“I still love running,” Keflezighi said. “I don’t miss the pain.”

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Keflezighi always planned to continue running, even pacing races up to half marathons, but nothing longer than that. He was satisfied with 13th- and 11th-place finishes in Boston and New York City last year to complete a career that also included a 2004 Olympic silver medal (among four Olympic teams overall) and the 2009 NYC Marathon title.

Then his brother received an email from Bill Richard, whose 8-year-old son died in the 2013 twin bombings on Boylston Street. Keflezighi met Bill and his wife, Denise, before the 2014 Boston Marathon. He gave them a hug, prayed for them and said, if there’s anything you ever need, please reach out to me.

Bill remembered. The email to Keflezighi’s agent and brother, Merhawi, before the New York City Marathon last fall asked if Keflezighi would be interested in running for the Martin Richard Foundation.

“I know Meb is a man of his word,” Bill wrote, according to Keflezighi. “I don’t want to control him, but he said this, so can he do it?”

If it was a 5K or 10K, Keflezighi would have accepted immediately. But he needed some time to consider another marathon. Ultimately, he signed up. Keflezighi said his longest training run was only 17 miles. His goal is to break three hours.

“I’m counting on my 120,000 miles that I’ve done over the years and my talent to get me through this one,” he said.

Keflezighi hopes to have the opportunity to enjoy the world’s oldest annual marathon in a way he didn’t as an elite racer. Maybe stop at the Scream Tunnel to hug Wellesley College students.

“I was planning on taking my phone and taking pictures,” Keflezighi said, “but with the [forecasted] rain I probably won’t do it.”

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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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MORE: Joe Girardi replaced as U.S. baseball manager by World Series champion

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.

MORE: Top U.S. surfer has links to Egg McMuffin, Guinness World Record holder

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