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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Arnie the Terminator: Aussie rival to Katie Ledecky an unlikely swim story

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In August 2016, a 15-year-old Australian swimmer named Ariarne Titmus followed the Rio Olympics as she prepared to fly to Maui for the Junior Pan Pacific Championships.

Titmus paid special attention to her best events, the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyles. Katie Ledecky swept them, breaking two of her own world records.

“I remember watching her races thinking, like, this chick is nuts,” Titmus told NBC Sports in Australia early this year. “She’s just doing stuff that no one’s gonna get near.”

Three years later, Titmus stunned Ledecky at the world championships, chasing down the American in the last 50 meters of the 400m freestyle. She became the first woman to beat Ledecky in a distance race in seven years and a bona fide rival one year from the Tokyo Games.

Ledecky at first attributed her late fade to tight and tired legs. Then she spent seven hours the next day in a South Korean emergency room with what she believed was a stomach virus.

“She was sick,” said Dean Boxall, Titmus’ South African-born coach, “and we happened to pounce.”

Titmus’ time — 3:58.76, a personal best by .59 — was slower than Ledecky’s wins at her previous three major international meets — Rio Olympics, 2017 Worlds and 2018 Pan Pacific Championships.

“It wasn’t a good swim by Arnie,” said Boxall, a vocal coach known to shout Ledecky’s name in practices. “And I know it wasn’t a good swim by Katie. Definitely not. But there was things that Arnie did in that race I was pleased with, and there was a lot of things that she did that I was not happy with at all.”

The Olympic postponement to 2021 gives Titmus and Boxall another year to work on those inefficiencies down in Brisbane. Another year to mature, to turn 20 years old before the Games.

“I try not to dwell on that [beating Ledecky] too much,” Titmus, sometimes called “the Terminator” by Australian press, said of the world championships, where she also out-split Ledecky in the 4x200m free relay and took bronze behind the American in the 800m free. “Next year’s the big one at the Olympics.”

Nowhere is swimming closer to a national sport than in Australia, but none of its Olympic champion Dolphins hail from Tasmania, an island 150 miles south of the mainland.

Notable Tasmanian sports persons include cricketer Ricky Ponting, retired NASCAR driver Marcos Ambrose and woodchopping world champion David Foster, but no listed swimmers.

Stephanie Rice, the last Australian female swimmer to win an individual Olympic title in 2008, visited “Tassie,” the state a little bigger than West Virginia, nearly a decade ago. She met a young Titmus, who still remembers what Rice scribbled: “Be the best you can be.”

“I say it’s my favorite quote,” Titmus said. “She wrote it on my shirt, so it has to be my favorite quote.”

Titmus was born a week before the Sydney Olympics — “She loved watching Thorpie,” her mom said — and grew up on 16 acres of country land. The family — parents Steve and Robyn and younger sister Mia — had horses, a trampoline and a swimming club just down the road in Launceston.

They also had an indoor pool (areas of Tasmania approach freezing in the winter). One evening more than 15 years ago, Robyn was chopping vegetables and peered to see her elder daughter, then a toddler without formal swim lessons, doing the breaststroke.

“We didn’t know anybody at the swimming club,” said Steve, a longtime TV journalist. “And we turned up and said, hi, we’re the Titmuses. We’ve got a daughter called Ariarne, and she wants to race. Tuesday nights they had club night, and she jumped in the water, and away she went.”

Titmus wasn’t the fastest at first, but by the time she won a third Australian junior title, she became too big for the Apple Isle.

“[My coach] said, look, you can’t really do anything else down here,” Titmus remembered. “There’s no one for you to train with. There’s no one for you to race. It’s all up in Queensland. And he said, if you really want a shot at this, you should really move.”

The family relocated to Brisbane when she was 14 or 15, following Titmus’ coach.

We packed up the car, got on the boat, sailed to Melbourne,” said Robyn, a former national-level track sprinter. “We even stopped at Albury on the way for a training session because the coach she had at the time was a hard task master.”

Right around that time, she first met Boxall while with the Australian junior national team.

“I originally thought this guy is nuts,” Titmus said. “He gave us this speech about the New Zealanders or something were trying to be better than us. His veins were popping. It was crazy. I was like, I’m never ever going to have a coach like him.”

Boxall became her coach about a year later.

“I’ve got great athletes here that hurt themselves, and they enjoy going through the pain,” he said, “but you want to try and get that little bit extra from someone. You have to actually go there with them a little bit.”

In a sitdown, on-camera interview, Boxall first told how he met Titmus, his first impression of her and a bit about their relationship. He first mentioned Ledecky, umprompted, when asked the fourth question, about Titmus’ progression.

Boxall noted that Titmus swam the 400m freestyle in 4:09.81 at the August 2016 Junior Pan Pacific Championships.

“Ledecky went 3:56:46,” Boxall said, correctly noting Ledecky’s Rio Olympic world record to the hundredth, “so we’re 13 seconds off [at] that stage.”

Titmus raced Ledecky for the first time at the 2017 Worlds and finished fourth in the 400m, closing the gap to six seconds. In 2018, she took second to Ledecky at Pan Pacs, 1.16 seconds behind, becoming the first Australian to break four minutes in the event.

At 2019 Worlds, Boxall needed to be alone during the 400m free final. He left the Australian team box and snuck into a VIP area. As Titmus reeled Ledecky in, Boxall stood up and ran.

“Like a shot of adrenaline,” he said. “I couldn’t contain myself, but I was calmer as I’d ever been as well.

“That’s the first race that Arnie has raced Katie and actually was in the race. … Prior to that, it was just Katie.”

Titmus swam 10 seconds faster than when Boxall first compared her to Ledecky in August 2016.

“She’s 2.4 seconds off [Ledecky’s] world record,” Boxall said. “We know what the benchmark is, and we’re still a long way off.”

Titmus recorded the eighth-fastest 400m freestyle in history. Ledecky owns the top seven times.

“The greatest thing apart from obviously winning, I think, [is] being able to actually race someone who has been on her own for so long,” Titmus said. “I find it so crazy that now I’m in this situation where she’s my main rival.”

Scroll down the list, and you’ll see that the top 27 times in history (aside from the now-banned suit era) are shared by Ledecky (23) and Titmus (four).

“She’s certainly special,” Boxall said of his pupil. “Special enough? We’ll see.”

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Collin Morikawa jumps into projected Olympic golf field

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Collin Morikawa would not have qualified outright for the Tokyo Olympics had they been held this summer. Now, after winning the PGA Championship, he is third overall in global qualifying for the Tokyo Games in 2021.

Morikawa, a 23-year-old who took the same number of PGA Tour starts to win his maiden major as Tiger Woods (29), went from an alternate for the expected four-man U.S. Olympic team to No. 2 among Americans in the early qualifying standings, according to golf rankings guru @VC606 on Twitter.

Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed are the other Americans in qualifying position, according to @VC606.

Morikawa, whose father is of Japanese descent, turned professional in June 2019 and made his first 22 cuts, a feat bettered only by Woods.

The 23-year-old could become the youngest U.S. Olympic male golfer since 1904 (important note: golf was not part of the Olympic program from 1908 through 2012). Come next summer, he will still be younger than all but seven men from the Rio Olympic golf field of 60, according to Olympedia.org.

Olympic golf qualifying standings will fluctuate significantly. There are five major championships left in the qualifying window, starting with the U.S. Open in September and finishing with next summer’s U.S. Open, both airing on NBC Sports.

How tough will it be to make the U.S. Olympic team? Consider that the three Americans to win majors in 2019 — Woods, Brooks Koepka and Gary Woodland — are currently not in Olympic qualifying position.

The U.S. has seven of the top nine in the Official World Golf Ranking, which is calculated differently than Olympic qualifying.

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