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Who is Sarah Sellers? Boston Marathon runner-up’s surprising story

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At 12:16 p.m., at a miserable Boston Marathon, a woman whose eyes were covered from the rain by a blank, black cap and ears shielded from the 20 mph winds by a black headband crossed the Boylston Street finish line.

Few who braved the worst Patriots’ Day weather in 30 years paid attention to Sarah Sellers. After all, Japan’s Yuki Kawauchi had won the men’s race exactly 11 seconds earlier, his eyes popping in disbelief. She wasn’t wearing the typical branded outfits of the elite stars.

Nobody would have known who Sellers was if her last name wasn’t on the bib pinned to a logo-less blue tank top. She had never raced a major marathon nor had a profile on any major track and field website. Her profession is nursing (one of two nurses to finish in the top five on Monday, actually).

“I feel like an outsider,” Sellers told local TV afterward. “I have no credentials.”

She does now. Sellers, a 26-year-old nurse anesthetist who paid the $185 entry fee, finished second in the world’s oldest annual marathon and will collect $75,000.

“I don’t know [what I’ll do with the money],” she told Flotrack. “I didn’t even think it was a possibility that I would be in this position.”

BOSTON MARATHON: Results | Finish Line Camera

Sellers only entered Boston to join her brother, Ryan. So she recorded a qualifying time on Sept. 16 by winning the Huntsville Marathon in Utah, also known as “The Full Monte.” It starts near the top of Monte Cristo and descends 4,000 feet.

She clocked 2:44:27, a time that would have placed 28th at the 2017 Boston Marathon.

Sellers, then Sarah Callister, was a Utah state champion in high school but never reached NCAAs on the track at Weber State, graduating in 2013 with a navicular stress fracture and then taking two years off from training. 

“I never really reached my peak in college,” Sellers told Flotrack. “I think I ran well, but I was kind of juggling a lot of clinical hours with nursing school, not a lot of sleep.”

She completed Florida grad school classes for nursing and anesthesia last year and moved to Tucson, training in up to 90-degree heat for what would be the coldest Boston Marathon of her lifetime.

She ran before work at 4 a.m. or after at 7 p.m., coached long distance by Weber State’s Paul Pilkington. Pilkington famously won the 1994 Los Angeles Marathon as a pace setter and high school English and history teacher.

Her goal on Patriots’ Day was to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Trials by running 2:37. That was before she saw Monday’s forecast.

She readjusted. The time was no longer the goal. Top 15 would be nice. Sellers ran smarter — her second 13.1 miles were six seconds faster than her first 13.1 miles.

Her time was 2:44:04. She didn’t think much of it. After all, Kawauchi beat her to the finish, and the male winner usually finishes about 15 minutes after the female winner in real time due to the staggered starts.

Maybe she finished in the top 10, she thought. She did pass four-time Olympian Shalane Flanagan between miles 23 and 25, giving her hero a thumbs-up and telling her, “good job.”

“Shalane would have blown me away on a day with good conditions,” Sellers said.

As cameras focused on Kawauchi and Linden, Sellers sought out placement.

“I couldn’t really hear what people were saying,” she said. “I was a little out of it. When someone said second, I was totally in disbelief.”

Sellers had finished 4 minutes, 10 seconds, behind winner Desi Linden. But no other women were between her and Linden, a two-time Olympian.

A press conference followed. She sat next to unlikely third-place finisher, Canadian Krista DuChene, a 41-year-old mother of three who placed 35th at the Rio Olympics.

“I had to see it to believe it that I was third,” said DuChene, a registered dietitian. “It was very similar to when we had our third child after having two boys. It took me an hour to believe she was a girl.”

Fourth-place finisher Rachel Hyland has taught Spanish for the last seven years at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., 25 miles north of Boston.

Fifth-place finisher Jessica Chichester, a nurse practitioner, didn’t even start in the elite women’s wave.

Sixth-place Nicole Dimercurio was 73rd at the 2016 Olympic Trials.

They all beat some of the world’s greatest distance runners. Many of the elites dropped out, but the forecast was well-known days ahead of the race. Kenyans and Ethiopians combined to win the previous 10 Boston Marathons. On Monday, all three Ethiopian elites failed to finish. Same for two of the three Kenyans.

Sellers and the other unknowns at the top of the leaderboard savored one of the gnarliest days in Boston history.

“I still think I’m going to wake up, and it’s going to be a dream,” Sellers told LetsRun.com.

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Mikaela Shiffrin races for another reindeer

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Mikaela Shiffrin already has three Olympic medals. She can win her third reindeer on Saturday.

Shiffrin headlines the first slalom of the World Cup season in Levi, Finland, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming via NBC Sports Gold’s Snow Pass.

The first run is at 4:15 a.m. ET. The second is at 7.

The traditional (and unconventional) winner’s prize in Finland is a reindeer. Shiffrin captured the Levi slalom in 2013 and 2016, naming her furry friends Rudolph and Sven.

The reindeer stay in Finland while Shiffrin criss-crosses Europe and North America on the World Cup tour.

Shiffrin lost in her trademark discipline in Levi last fall to a new rival, Petra Vlhova of Slovakia.

Motivated, Shiffrin won the next six slaloms before skiing out of the last slalom before the Olympics. Then in PyeongChang, Shiffrin shockingly finished fourth in defense of her Sochi Olympic title (after a giant slalom gold and before a super combined silver).

She bounced back, winning the last two World Cup slaloms of the 2017-18 season.

In the past, Shiffrin voiced a goal of winning every slalom in a season. She won all but three each of the last two years. Levi is the first of 12 World Cup slaloms this season.

Shiffrin must overcome the three women who made the PyeongChang podium ahead of her — Swede Frida Hansdotter, Swiss Wendy Holdener and Austrian Katharina Gallhuber.

She has already shown strong form, taking third in the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, three weeks ago.

Nothing but a third reindeer will suffice in Saturday’s slalom, though.

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Gracie Gold wants to be new skater in comeback event; TV/stream schedule

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When Gracie Gold was in treatment for anxiety, depression and an eating disorder last year, she received a message from two-time Olympian Jeremy Abbott.

“If you ever want to come back to skating, I want to do an exhibition piece for you as a gift,” Abbott, who has taken up choreography in retirement, told his friend. Gold said it was a sweet offer and thanked him.

“At that point I don’t think that she had thought about coming back at all,” Abbott said last week.

Several months later, Gold had thought it over. She contacted Abbott in the spring.

“I’m going to make a go at this. Would you be willing to do my programs?” Abbott recalled Gold telling him. “I was shocked,” Abbott continued, “but also, at the same time, I was not.”

Gold, a two-time U.S. champ who finished fourth at the 2014 Olympics, competes this week for the first time since the January 2017 U.S. Championships. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage of Rostelecom Cup from Moscow.

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Friday 6 a.m. Men’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
8 a.m. Rhythm Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
10:30 a.m. Pairs’ Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
12 p.m. Women’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Saturday 5:30 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
7:30 a.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
9:30 a.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
11:30 a.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Sunday 12 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

Gold, who detailed her last two years in a video published a month ago, is refraining from more interviews until after she skates. Abbott choreographed both her short and long programs, making a few trips to her Pennsylvania training base in the last six months. Gold is coached by former French skater Vincent Restencourt.

“She told me that she wanted to be a new skater and a new Gracie,” Abbott said. “She said that she always admired the artistry that I had and that she really wanted to bring something new to her skating.”

Abbott said her program music choices — “I Put a Spell On You” and “She Used to Be Mine,” the latter from the Broadway musical “Waitress” — reflect the new Gold. The former is “a little more mature and a little more sexy and playful than anything she’s done in the past.” The latter speaks to how she got from there to here in the last two years.

“At one point, she was on top of the world and had everything at her feet,” Abbott said. (Gold has said she spiraled psychologically after squandering a short-program lead at the 2016 Worlds and missing the podium altogether.) “Then she had some really big struggles and had to really step back from the life that she knew. Now she’s having to rebuild herself. It’s kind of looking back at who she was and who she used to be and now where she is and who she wants to become.”

Gold made it clear to Abbott whom she wanted to become.

“She was like, ‘I always was viewed as a jumper and not a skater. I always wanted to be an artist, but everyone told me stick to what you’re best at,'” Abbott said. “Working with her, she is an artist. She is sensitive. She understands the music. She gets it.”

Abbott visited Gold once this fall for choreography touch-ups and will not be in Moscow with her and Restencourt. Rather, he will be performing in 1984 Olympic champion Scott Hamilton‘s show in Nashville on Sunday.

Abbott doesn’t know how Gold is handling the comeback nerves or what to expect of her jumps.

“This isn’t like a big massive coming-out party for her,” he said. “This is really just the first step to get her feet back under her, get her going again because the plan isn’t about this competition. The plan isn’t about this season. The plan is really about building for her future and the next four years.”

The field is led by Olympic champion Alina Zagitova, fellow Russian Sofia Samodurova and Japanese Yuna Shiraiwa, all 16-year-olds with a chance to make December’s exclusive, six-skater Grand Prix Final.

This is Gold’s lone competition until the new year. Many will watch and wonder how she stacks up among Americans heading into January’s national championships. (Two U.S. women are ranked in the top 30 in the world this season, with many big names sitting out the fall.)

“From where her life was, I think it takes some major balls to even put herself back into this situation,” said Abbott, who noted that when he first visited Gold in the spring, she had her double jumps back. “For where she came from, she’s made huge strides. It’s really been impressive to watch her growth.”

In the men’s field, double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu is a heavy favorite given the absence of his top rivals, Nathan Chen and Shoma Uno. Canadian Keegan Messing and Russian Mikhail Kolyada are also in the mix to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

In pairs, Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are the clear favorites on home ice, but Americans Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc carry the intrigue.

They have a great chance at the Grand Prix Final if they can finish second, after taking third at Skate America four weeks ago. Cain and LeDuc rank fourth in the Rostelecom field by best scores this season but are only 4.21 points behind the second-ranked pair.

Russians Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin headline the ice dance. They’re ranked second in the world behind Americans Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, who clinched their Grand Prix Final spot three weeks ago.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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