By Chrös McDougall | Nov. 01, 2018, 5:40 p.m. (ET)

Shalane Flanagan celebrates winning the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon on Nov. 5, 2017 in New York City.

 

For the first time in more than a generation, the women’s race will field a defending U.S. champion when the New York City Marathon makes its way through the five boroughs on Sunday morning.

The race, which is the last of this year’s World Marathon Majors, always attracts a world-class elite field to go with upwards of 50,000 recreational runners, and this year is no exception, with Team USA represented on both sides.

Here are four storylines to watch going into this year’s race.


With Droughts Crushed, U.S. Women Ready To Win More
Fourteen Americans are entered into the pro women’s field, but most eyes will be on Olympians Des Linden and Shalane Flanagan.

In April, Linden pushed through cold and rainy conditions to win the Boston Marathon, becoming the first American woman to win the hallowed race since 1985. Now Linden, 35, goes after her second World Marathon Major win. Flanagan, 37, comes into NYC as the defending champ, her 2017 win ending a 40-year drought for U.S. women.

Both will be among the favorites in New York City, as will Molly Huddle, herself a two-time U.S. Olympian who made her marathon debut in 2016 in New York City. They’ll face strong competition from an international field that includes Kenya's Mary Keitany, a three-time NYC champ, and Vivian Cheruiyot.


Veteran U.S. Men Take Aim At Tough International Field
Four-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman, at age 41, is the best-known U.S. marathoner among the 12 entered in the pro field, though many will be eager to watch Bernard Lagat. The 43-year-old is a five-time Olympian on the track — two for Kenya and three for Team USA — and holds the American record in the 1,500-, 3,000- and 5,000-meter races. He’ll test himself in the marathon for the first time this weekend.

They’ll face competition from several top international runners, including defending NYC champ Geoffrey Kamworor from Kenya and two-time Boston champ Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia.

Only one American has won New York City since 1982, and that was Meb Keflezighi in 2009. The 2004 Olympic silver medalist and 2014 Boston Marathon champ retired from competitive racing after last year’s New York City Marathon, yet the 43-year-old is back this year to run for the Team for Kids charity. In an interview with Runner’s World last month, Keflezighi hinted that he might consider a return to elite racing with an eye toward a fifth Olympics in 2020.

“If you asked me today, I’d say it’s less likely,” Keflezighi said, “but it is something I think about.”

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Paralympic Stars Highlight The Wheelchair Races
A who’s who of U.S. Paralympians are entered into the wheelchair divisions, led by Tatyana McFadden on the women’s side and Daniel Romanchuk on the men’s.

McFadden, one of the most dominant wheelchair racers of all time, is a five-time NYC winner, including four in a row from 2013 to 2016. She’s also racked up 17 medals over five Paralympic Games as both a track and field and cross-country racer. McFadden, 29, won her 22nd major marathon earlier this year in Boston.

Among the six other elite U.S. women is Amanda McGrory, a three-time Paralympian who won the 2006 and 2011 New York City Marathons, and two-time Paralympian Susannah Scaroni. They’ll face a strong challenge from defending champ Manuela Schar of Switzerland.

On the men’s side, Romanchuk, 20, is coming off his first major marathon win at Chicago last month. Fellow U.S. Paralympians Josh George, Aaron Pike, Krige Schabort and Brian Siemann join him.

No U.S. man has won the New York City Marathon. Switzerland’s Marcel Hug is the two-time defending champ and a three-time winner.


Team USA Runners Aren’t All In It To Win It
As one of the most famous marathons in the world, New York City often attracts a celebrity field, which often includes U.S. Olympians from other sports. This year is no exception.

Like Keflezighi, retired Olympic luger Erin Hamlin will race through the five boroughs for a charitable cause, hers being to raise money for the Women’s Sports Foundation. But don’t expect the former world champ and 2014 Olympic bronze medalist to set any records. In a conference call with reporters last month, Hamlin noted that marathon running and luge aren’t exactly complementary sports, so she’s focusing on the personal challenge and charitable aspects.

“It’s for a good reason, and I’m excited to be a part of that,” she said, “even though it’s as far out of my comfort zone, and quite a big challenge for me.”

In addition to Hamlin, Olympic rowing partners Sarah Zelenka McIlduff and Sara Hendershot, as well as Olympic cross-country skier Annie Hart, are also running on behalf of the WSF.

Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.