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Ibtihaj Muhammad, content with fencing career, steps away from competition

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NEW YORK — Ibtihaj Muhammad‘s clairvoyant moment came last August, when the Olympic sabre fencer made the hajj pilgrimage for her first visit to Mecca.

“When you take your reprieve from sport, or from any profession, and you take time for yourself, having an opportunity to visit the holiest place for Muslims, being Mecca, Saudi Arabia, it was really transformational for me,” Muhammad said Monday. “It was one of those things people can tell you about, but you really have to experience for yourself.”

It became fairly clear to Muhammad, who in Rio became the first Muslim-American woman to compete at the Olympics with a hijab (and earned a team bronze medal), that she would not compete again.

“I have unofficially hung up my sabre,” she said. “I feel really content with my career and where I am right now in my life. You know, fencing is not a big part of it anymore, but it’s always been my intention to transcend sport in a way that reaches people not just in the fencing world but outside of it. I think I’ve been able to best do that, not only representing my sport but representing myself.”

Muhammad became a trailblazing face of the Rio Games after she qualified six months before the Opening Ceremony, voicing advocacy for equality and showing minorities and Muslim youth that anything is possible.

She would be named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and was told by President Barack Obama, who invited Muhammad as one of 10 special guests to a speech at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, to “bring home the gold.”

Muhammad fenced on “Ellen” and with First Lady Michelle Obama. She finished second to Michael Phelps in voting to be the U.S. flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony.

Other Olympic champions helped Muhammad decide to step away from the strip. She last competed at the 2017 World Championships.

“It’s the hardest decision I’ve ever made,” said Muhammad, who reached the round of 16 in the individual sabre in Rio and was ranked seventh in the world that year. “I really was leaning on my friends who are in professional sport. Lindsey Vonn was giving me advice. I talked to Abby Wambach, Julie Foudy.

“What really was consistent throughout everyone that I talked to who is also a professional athlete is you’ll know when it’s time. I think that Julie and Abby had similar stories to mine, that you feel a disconnect from the sport. I don’t watch fencing anymore. I’m not really part of it in any capacity. But I think that my story is more than fencing.”

Muhammad cited two of the coolest post-Olympic experiences — her own Barbie coming out in 2017 and publishing her memoir, “Proud,” in 2018. In the book, Muhammad detailed unfriendly interactions with future Olympic teammates when she was rising in U.S. fencing.

“I have always believed that it’s important to be authentic and to tell your truth, no matter how difficult it is,” she said. “Having to unpack everything and relive these moments in telling my story, it was really difficult. And I never struggled with whether or not to tell it. It was really more so using it as this therapeutic moment to get everything off my chest that I feel is important to say.”

Muhammad continues to be visible. A Nike ad showing her screaming in her fencing uniform was put up in Times Square this spring.

“Be the hero you didn’t have,” it reads.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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MORE: U.S. fencing wraps up its best world champs ever

Lindsey Vonn and her dog to host Amazing Race-like series

Lindsey Vonn
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Lindsey Vonn and one of her three dogs, Lucy, will host “The Pack,” an “Amazing Race”-like series where dogs and their humans compete in challenges across continents.

The Amazon Prime show filmed earlier this year and will premiere later in 2020. Production included a team of veterinarians and dog experts to ensure “a positive experience for everyone.”

Twelve teams vie for a prize of $500,000, plus $250,000 for the animal charity of their choice.

Vonn, the 2010 Olympic downhill champion and female record holder with 82 World Cup wins, retired after the February 2019 World Championships, four shy of the overall victories record held by Swede Ingemar Stenmark.

She traveled the last few years of her career with Lucy, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel that she got in Italy in January 2016. Lucy required German, Italian and American passports to accompany Vonn on the ski circuit.

Vonn previously adopted rescue dogs Leo, a brindle boxer to help her through recovery from knee surgery that kept her out of the 2014 Olympics, and Bear.

Vonn’s previous broadcast credits included a 2010 appearance as a secretary on “Law & Order,” two judge spots on “Project Runway” and an episode of “Running Wild with Bear Grylls” in 2016.

MORE: Lindsey Vonn’s mom is tough as nails

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London Marathon mass event canceled; Kipchoge, Bekele still to race

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The London Marathon will not hold a mass participation race of 40,000-plus runners, but will have an elites-only event featuring the fastest marathoners in history on a different course.

Organizers announced that the World Marathon Major, previously rescheduled for Oct. 4 from April 26, will be restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Elite runners, including world-record holders Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei and Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest man in history, will instead race but not on the usual route around London landmarks.

They will run on an enclosed looped in St. James’s Park in a “secure biosphere” without spectator access. Elite wheelchair racers, including past champions David Weir and Manuela Schar, will also compete.

Before canceling, London Marathon organizers planned to use Bluetooth and wideband ranging to monitor every participant’s distance from each other, though they did not specify if the event would have still included more than 40,000 runners.

If a participant spent more than 15 minutes within a specified distance of anyone else, and if somebody had informed organizers they contracted the virus within two weeks after the race, he or she would have been contacted.

“Despite all our efforts, the fantastic support from all of our partners and the progress that has been made on planning for the return of smaller mass participation events that are not on the roads, it has not been possible to go ahead with a mass socially distanced walk or run,” event director Hugh Brasher said in press release.

Four of the other five annual World Marathon Majors this year were canceled — Berlin, Boston, Chicago and New York City. The earliest major, Tokyo, was held March 1 with elite runners only.

Kipchoge, the Olympic marathon champion from Kenya, and Bekele, a three-time Olympic track champion from Ethiopia, were previously announced as headliners for London in the winter, before the pandemic.

Kipchoge lowered the world record to 2:01:39 at the 2018 Berlin Marathon. Bekele clocked 2:01:41 in Berlin last September. They are the only men to ever break 2:02 in a marathon. Kipchoge also clocked 1:59:40 at a non-record-eligible event in Vienna on Oct. 12 instead of racing a fall marathon.

Kipchoge has won 11 of 12 marathons since moving to road racing after failing to make Kenya’s 2012 Olympic track team.

Bekele, the more accomplished track athlete with Olympic golds and world records at 5000m and 10,000m, has been a roller-coaster road runner.

Bekele owns two of the seven fastest marathons in history, recorded three years apart in Berlin. In between, he failed to finish two marathons and, in his last London start in 2018, clocked a pedestrian 2:08:53 for sixth place.

That was more than four minutes behind Kipchoge, who is undefeated in four London starts and has beaten by Bekele by at least 100 seconds in all four of their head-to-head marathons.

The Kenyan Kosgei took 81 seconds off Paula Radcliffe‘s 16-year-old women’s marathon world record on Oct. 13, clocking 2:14:04 to win the Chicago Marathon.

The 2021 London Marathon will also be held in October to give a better chance of holding a mass race than in April.

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MORE: U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials results