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

Shalane Flanagan, Des Linden, Molly Huddle
AP/Getty Images
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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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MORE: Galen Rupp out several months, to miss spring marathon

Noah Lyles runs personal best and is coming for Usain Bolt’s world record

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Noah Lyles ran a personal-best time in the 60m on Saturday, then reaffirmed record-breaking intentions for the 100m and, especially, the 200m, where Usain Bolt holds the fastest times in history.

Lyles, the world 200m champion, won the 60m sprint in 6.51 seconds at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston, clipping Trayvon Bromell by two thousandths in his first top-level meet of the year. Bromell, the world 100m bronze medalist, is a past world indoor 60m champion and has a better start than Lyles, which is crucial in a six-second race.

But on Saturday, Lyles ran down Bromell and shaved four hundredths off his personal best. It bodes well for Lyles’ prospects come the spring and summer outdoor season in his better distances — the 100m and 200m.

“This is the moment I’ve been working, like, seven years for,” he said. “We’re not just coming for the 200m world record. We’re coming for all the world records.”

Last July, Lyles broke Michael Johnson‘s 26-year-old American record in the 200m, winning the world title in 19.31 seconds. Only Bolt (19.19) and fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake (19.26) have run faster.

Lyles has since spoken openly about targeting Bolt’s world record from 2009.

How does an indoor 60m time play into that? Well, Lyles said that his success last year sprung from a strong indoor season, when he lowered his personal best in the 60m from 6.57 to 6.56 and then 6.55. He followed that by lowering his personal best in the 200m from 19.50 to 19.31.

He believes that slicing an even greater chunk off his 60m best on Saturday means special things are on the horizon come the major summer meets — the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in July (on the same Oregon track where he ran the American 200m record) and the world championships in Budapest in August.

After focusing on the 200m last year, Lyles plans to race both the 100m and the 200m this year. He has a bye into the 200m at world championships, so expect him to race the 100m at USATF Outdoors, where the top three are in line to join world champ Fred Kerley on the world team.

Lyles’ personal best in the 100m is 9.86, a tenth off the best times from Kerley, Bromell and 2019 World 100m champ Christian Coleman. Bolt is in his own tier at 9.58.

Also Saturday, Grant Holloway extended a near-nine-year, 50-plus-race win streak in the 60m hurdles, clocking 7.38 seconds, nine hundredths off his world record. Olympic teammate Daniel Roberts was second in 7.46. Trey Cunningham, who took silver behind Holloway in the 110m hurdles at last July’s world outdoor championships, was fifth in 7.67.

Aleia Hobbs won the women’s 60m in 7.02 seconds, one week after clocking a personal-best 6.98 to become the third-fastest American in history after Gail Devers and Marion Jones (both 6.95). Hobbs, 26, placed sixth in the 100m at last July’s world championships.

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, the Olympic and world 400m hurdles champion competing for the first time since August, and Jamaican Shericka Jackson, the world 200m champion, were ninth and 10th in the 60m heats, just missing the eight-woman final.

In the women’s pole vault, Bridget Williams, seventh at last year’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, upset the last two Olympic champions — American Katie Moon and Greek Katerina Stefanidi. Williams won with a 4.63-meter clearance (and then cleared 4.71 and a personal-best 4.77). Stefanidi missed three attempts at 4.63, while Moon went out at 4.55.

The indoor track and field season continues with the Millrose Games in New York City next Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

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Birk Irving, last man on Olympic team, extends breakout season with Mammoth win

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One year ago, Birk Irving was the last man to make the four-man U.S. Olympic ski halfpipe team. Since, he continued to climb the ranks in arguably the nation’s strongest discipline across skiing and snowboarding.

Irving earned his second World Cup win this season, taking the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California, on Friday.

Irving posted a 94-point final run, edging Canadian Brendan Mackay by one point. David Wise, the two-time Olympic champion who won his fifth X Games Aspen title last Sunday, was third.

A tribute was held to 2015 World champion Kyle Smaine, a U.S. halfpipe skier who died in an avalanche in Japan last Sunday.

“We’re all skiing the best we have because we’re all skiing with Kyle in our hearts,” Irving said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “We’re skiing for him, and we know he’s looking down on us. We miss you Kyle. We love you. Thank you for keeping us safe in the pipe today.”

Irving also won the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado, on Dec. 17. Plus, the 23-year-old from Colorado had his best career X Games Aspen finish last Sunday, taking second.

The next major event is the world championships in Georgia (the country, not the state) in early March. Irving was third at the last worlds in 2021, then fifth at the Olympics last February.

The U.S. has been the strongest nation in men’s ski halfpipe since it debuted at the Olympics in 2014. Wise won the first two gold medals. Alex Ferreira won silver and bronze at the last two Olympics. Aaron Blunck is a world champion and X Games champion.

Irving is younger than all of them and has beaten all of them at multiple competitions this season.

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, hasn’t competed since the Games after undergoing offseason knee surgery.

In snowboarding events at Mammoth, Americans Julia Marino and Lyon Farrell earned slopestyle wins by posting the top qualification scores. The finals were canceled due to wind.

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