Shalane Flanagan, U.S. women are the story at New York City Marathon

Shalane Flanagan, Des Linden, Molly Huddle
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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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