Desi Linden is first U.S. woman to win Boston Marathon since 1985

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It was never Desi Linden‘s day.

Not at the California high school state championships, which she never won. Not at Arizona State, where her best NCAA Championships result was 10th. As a professional, Linden had already far exceeded expectations with a pair of Olympic Trials runners-up and a second-place finish at the 2011 Boston Marathon (two seconds behind the winner). But she never broke the tape at a major race.

Then came Monday, the most dreadful Boston Marathon weather in at least 30 years. High 30s at the Hopkinton start. Headwinds of 20 mph. A downpour. “Hypothermia is the key here,” race director Dave McGillivray said on the local TV broadcast.

“Honestly, at mile 2, 3, 4, I didn’t feel like I was even making it to the finish line,” Linden, 34, said. She wasn’t alone.

But this was Linden’s day.

The 5-foot-2, self-described (and labeled by many others) “grinder,” book nerd and Scottish whiskey connoisseur became the first U.S. female runner to win the world’s oldest annual marathon in 33 years. The first in the professional era, since prize money was first awarded and the elite international fields became dominated by East Africans.

Linden clocked 2:39:54 (slowest winning time since 1978, that weather), crossing 4:10 ahead of unknown American Sarah Sellers, who paid a $185 entry fee and was one of two nurses to finish in the top five. Sellers was a surprise, as was men’s winner Yuki Kawauchi (more on the Japanese here), but as others said, Linden was built for this thinking-person’s race and these conditions.

“I know I’m biased when I say this, but I always feel like she’s the smartest, racer, tactician, whatever you want to call it,” Kevin Hanson, who coaches Linden in Michigan, told media afterward. “Mother Nature threw the big dilemma at everybody, which means that there was a whole additional amount of thinking that had to take place.”

BOSTON MARATHON: Results | Finish-Line Camera

Linden’s thoughts in the first few miles were of quitting. She said as much to Massachusetts native Shalane Flanagan, who on Nov. 5 became the first U.S. female runner to win the New York City Marathon in 40 years. Flanagan finished seventh on Monday in what she expected to be her last Boston Marathon.

“Des came up to me around mile 6 and said, hey, it’s not going to be my day, I think I’m going to drop out,” Flanagan recalled. Flanagan grabbed her rival’s shoulder. Linden continued, “If there’s anything I can do to help you, just let me know.”

“OK, this is weird,” the four-time Olympian Flanagan thought. “I was waiting for her, any second, to drop out.”

A half-hour passed. Linden was still with Flanagan and the leaders at mile 12 or 13. So Flanagan took Linden up on the offer and told her that she needed to stop at an upcoming port-a-potty. Flanagan didn’t say it, but she hoped Linden would look out for her on the return and help pace her back to the pack.

“I was like, basically, asking her like she was my mom,” Flanagan said. “Do you think I can go to the bathroom? She was like, yeah, I got you. I think you’ve got enough time. We’re running slow enough, it’s fine.”

Flanagan veered right and into the second portable bathroom. She spent 14 seconds inside — timed by LetsRun’s Jonathan Gault — and emerged on the wet pavement. Linden drifted to the caboose of the jacketed group of eight, repeatedly looking back for Flanagan.

Linden helped Flanagan to the group. Then she helped Molly Huddle reconnect, too. The two-time Olympian Huddle was, along with Flanagan, Jordan Hasay and Linden, one of four U.S. women who came to Boston with realistic chances of ending the 33-year drought.

Linden received the least pre-race press of the four. Flanagan was coming off her NYC title. Huddle broke the American record in the half marathon in January. Hasay became the second-fastest U.S. female marathoner ever at her last outing in Chicago on Oct. 8 but dropped out of Monday’s race on Sunday night with a heel injury.

Linden chose not to race a fall marathon, then produced her slowest career 13.1-mile time in 17 half marathons in her Boston prep race. That came in 29 degrees on a new course and into a headwind, though.

When Hanson saw the Patriots’ Day forecast, “I thought her chances of victory increased 10-fold,” he said. “She just embraced the weather when other people said we’re going to try to pretend it’s not going on.”

Soon after helping Huddle (who would finish 16th before a Tuesday root canal), Linden found herself in third or fourth place. Linden, who graduated from Arizona State with degrees in religious studies and psychology, did some more thinking.

“And thought I probably shouldn’t drop out,” she said, to press-conference laughter, “so I kept going.”

Ethiopian Mamitu Daska, 34 like Linden and third in New York last fall, moved in the 14th mile. Linden dropped about 30 seconds back with 2017 Boston winner Edna Kiplagat and another Kenyan, Gladys Chesir.

Linden, so tactically proficient that she ran identical 13.1-mile splits in Boston last year (fourth place), was pretty solid this year — 1:19:42 for the first half, 1:20:12 for the second.

The others faded. Linden went from third to first in the 22nd mile. By the turn onto Boylston Street, she led by four minutes. She dared not look back, though.

“2011 put the fear in me,” Linden said.

Of all of Linden’s near misses in major races, the 2011 Boston Marathon stuck with her. She lost a sprint to Kenyan Caroline Kilel by two seconds. That fall and spring was Linden’s coming out.

Desi Davila, before she married pro runner and triathlete Ryan Linden, ran a personal best by five minutes at the October 2010 Chicago Marathon and finished second. Then she ran nearly four minutes faster than that in Boston six months later.

This for a woman who didn’t break 16 minutes for 5000m in college and ran 2:44:56 in her marathon debut in Boston in 2007. She was 18th then. Monday marked the 11th anniversary.

“In 2007, no one believed I would be sitting here, that’s for sure,” Linden said at Monday’s winners’ press conference, gold wreath resting on her head. “The [Boston Athletic Association] treated us like rock stars. They came in, showed us their history and museum. Hey, these are so-and-so’s shoes. You could have your stuff in here one day. They just treated us like we belonged. That made me want to be a marathoner.”

Linden, in a black-and-lime green jacket with a No. 8 bib pinned on its side, raised her arms in her final strides. She blew a kiss with her black gloves just before crossing the blue tape. She was enveloped by an American flag and loved ones.

“It hurts right now,” she said in a finish-line TV interview, “but it’s a perfect day for me.”

The World Marathon Majors season continues with the London Marathon on Sunday, live at 3:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

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New Zealand sweeps Rugby World Cup Sevens, celebrates with haka

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — New Zealand winger Akuila Rokolisoa took the offload from Trael Joass and split two English defenders. Seconds later he was somersaulting over the tryline with the ball, but he might as well have been carrying the Melrose Cup.

New Zealand rolled past England 33-12 on Sunday with a performance that featured speed, strength and a stout defense to repeat as Rugby World Cup Sevens champions and become the first three-time winner of the tournament.

The All Blacks Sevens players ripped off their shirts but kept their gold medals on for a celebratory post-match haka on the same field where the Black Ferns won the women’s competition less than 24 hours earlier. The results meant back-to-back World Cup doubles for the New Zealand teams.

“We were really proud of the girls how they played those two days,” New Zealand men’s sevens captain Scott Curry said. “It’s awesome to kind of simulate what they did earlier and go back-to-back for the first time ever. It’ll be good to go home with two World Cups, that’s for sure.”

Rokolisoa’s try with less than a minute left pushed New Zealand’s advantage to 14 points and Joass’ try on the final movement was merely an exclamation point to the match and the beginning of the celebration.

South Africa outlasted Olympic champion Fiji 24-19 to win the bronze after the tournament’s top two seeds were bounced in the semifinals.

Two-time reigning world series champions and top-seeded South Africa scored the opening try in its semifinal against England but was blanked the rest of the way in 29-7 loss. England needed overtime to beat the United States in the quarterfinals.

“Right now, it’s still hard,” English captain Tom Mitchell said shortly after losing to New Zealand. “You come into these tournaments wanting to be world champions. That’s why we’re all here. But I think we’ll look back at it and be proud of the effort the boys put in.”

The U.S. smothered Scotland 28-0 but tackled poorly and didn’t take care of the ball in a 33-7 loss to Argentina in the fifth-place game. Neither the American men nor women earned a medal at the Rugby Sevens global showcase but players and coaches agreed the three-day event, which sold more than 100,000 tickets, was important in raising USA Rugby’s profile. The sixth-place finish represents the best for the Eagles in a Sevens World Cup.

“It’s disappointing to end the weekend like that,” U.S. captain Madison Hughes said. “The energy of the crowd was just absolutely awesome all weekend.”

The knockout style of the tournament — a departure from the regular system of a group stage followed by knockouts — drew some criticism from coaches and players but World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper on Sunday said the organization will evaluate to see if the format could be used in future World Cups or world series events.

“This format lends itself very well to a combined tournament,” Gosper said. “We’d like to see the women playing with the men in the same stadium, and to do that you change some formats.”

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MORE: U.S. women get fourth at Rugby World Cup Sevens

Tour de France rider expelled for punching cyclist

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CARCASSONNE, FRANCE (AP) — Team Sky rider Gianni Moscon was expelled from the Tour de France on Sunday after he appeared to deliberately hit a fellow cyclist during the race.

The Italian lashed out at French rider Elie Gesbert of Team Fortuneo while both were competing during Stage 15 from Millau to Carcassonne.

“I’m sorry for today’s incident, and I totally regret my actions,” Moscon said. “I would like to personally apologize to Elie Gesbert…. What happened was wrong and was a bad example coming from me to everyone, and I want to publicly apologize. … I make no excuse for it and accept the decision of the race organizers.”

Team Sky director Dave Brailsford said the team would consider taking further action against Moscon after the Tour concludes next weekend.

The 24-year-old Moscon was suspended by Sky for six weeks last year for using a racial slur against an opponent.

His expulsion leaves Sky with seven riders.

Sky’s Geraint Thomas is leading the race ahead of teammate Chris Froome after 15 of 21 stages.

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