Shalane Flanagan, Des Linden, Molly Huddle
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Shalane Flanagan, U.S. women are the story at New York City Marathon

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NEW YORK — If there is one news angle leading into Sunday’s New York City Marathon, it’s a collective: the rise of U.S. women.

Last year, Shalane Flanagan became the first U.S. female runner in 40 years to win New York, the world’s largest annual marathon.

Des Linden watched the broadcast from Michigan. Five minutes before Flanagan crossed the Central Park finish line, an already crying Linden tweeted from her iPhone, “Thank you @ShalaneFlanagan for giving us something to believe in.”

Flanagan responded two days later amid a victory whirlwind: “Now it’s your turn,” with emojis of a fist, a flexed bicep and an American flag.

Then 160 days after that, Linden broke a 33-year drought for U.S. women at the Boston Marathon on perhaps the worst weather day in the 122-year history of the world’s oldest annual marathon.

“My legs have never been more sore. They hurt so bad I couldn’t sleep,” tweeted Flanagan, a Massachusetts native who finished seventh in what she said was her final Boston Marathon as an elite. “BUT @des_linden won the @bostonmarathon so life is good.”

Flanagan, 37, and Linden, 35, headline Sunday’s race, along with the arguably more promising 34-year-old Molly Huddle. None of those multiple-time Olympians is considered the favorite. Kenyans Mary Keitany and Vivian Cheruiyot have personal bests three minutes faster than any American, but the power of the red, white and blue surge is irresistible.

In the last year, Flanagan’s two-word expletive from her 2017 win became a rallying cry. She appeared in a Super Bowl commercial with Chris Pratt. Countless girls dressed as her for Halloween.

Linden had a viral moment, chugging champagne from a lightly used running shoe hours after the Boston win. Flanagan and Linden received the highest appearance fees for Sunday’s race among runners of either gender, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“Any chance that we get to be in the spotlight, the American women and the women’s field, that’s something to be relished,” Flanagan said Friday. “I don’t know that I’ve always been a part of races where it is like that.”

Linden can relate. The self-labeled “grinder,” book nerd and Scottish whiskey connoisseur began marathoning in 2007, when 2004 Olympic silver medalist Deena Kastor was the only relevant U.S. woman on the global stage. In 2007, 69 women broke 2 hours, 30 minutes around the world. None were Americans.

“Anything under 2:30 was Deena territory. That was reserved for greatness,” Linden said. “Everyone else was just trying to break 2:30. That was where the bar was. It’s like this men’s 2:10 right now. If you can get through there, then you’re a real threat.”

Last year, the U.S. had seven women in the top 85 in the world, all with sub-2:27:30 times.

Contrast that with the U.S. men, who haven’t put anybody other than Galen Rupp in the yearly top 150 since 2014.

The men’s race Sunday should come down to the usual Kenya-Ethiopia battle, including defending champion Geoffrey Kamworor.

The most intriguing American is 43-year-old, five-time Olympian Bernard Lagat, who in his marathon debut hopes to break Meb Keflezighi‘s over-40 U.S. age group record of 2:12:20.

Such is the state of American men’s running that If Lagat does that on the difficult five-borough course, he would be the second-fastest American this year behind Rupp and arguably a favorite to make the Tokyo Olympic team. Lagat is already the oldest U.S. Olympic runner of all time. In 2020, he could become the fourth-oldest Olympic male runner ever.

“2:15 is the time to qualify,” for the 2020 Olympic Trials, Lagat said, noting the A standard. “If I run really well, and I feel good on Sunday, I don’t see why not just go try.”

Technically, Lagat isn’t yet committing to running another marathon. Neither is Flanagan. She and Linden both had retirement thoughts in the last year, though Linden now talks about the Olympic Trials. That women’s race on Leap Day 2020 could be one to savor.

Not only the prospect of Linden and Flanagan going for their third and fifth Olympic teams, but also a field with 2017 World bronze medalist Amy CraggJordan Hasay (the second-fastest U.S. female marathoner ever) and Huddle.

If the U.S. women’s marathoning story writes itself Sunday, it would be the New York state native Huddle breaking the tape in Central Park to make it a true winning streak. That would fulfill another tweet, one week after April’s Boston Marathon.

“Head up,” Linden tweeted to Huddle, who finished 16th with hypothermia in Boston. “You’re next.”

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Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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