Track and Field

Doping issues, missing stars cloud World Track and Field Championships

Leave a comment

The World Track and Field Championships are often considered more exciting to track nuts than the Olympics. They’re nine days where running, jumping and throwing are alone front and center, but the normal competitive storylines are shadowed by shame this year.

The doping issue is back in track and field, as if it ever left. The last two months produced a slew of drug-testing headlines, conjuring the frenzy of the BALCO scandal of the early- to mid-2000s.

It blew up on a Sunday morning in July, when it was revealed U.S. sprint champion Tyson Gay told The Associated Press in a teary telephone interview that he had been notified he failed a drug test in May.

Many in the track community were surprised and disappointed. Even once-every-four-years track fans surely rolled eyes. Here we go again. (It didn’t help that Gay’s admission came during the middle of the Tour de France, and cycling’s doping problems are second to none.)

A third, ominous reaction came from a few track insiders. This is only the beginning.

World Track and Field Championships broadcast schedule

That same afternoon, more reported failed drug tests, this time out of the sprinting hotbed of Jamaica. Asafa Powell, the world’s fastest man before Usain Bolt came along, and Sherone Simpson, a 2008 Olympic silver medalist in the women’s 100 meters, tested positive for a banned stimulant at their national championships the month before. This came a month after Jamaica’s most decorated active sprinter, Veronica Campbell-Brown, failed a test.

The World Championships begin Saturday in Moscow. The usual pre-meet questions from reporters — How’s the season going? What’s the motivation a year after the Olympics? — are coupled with the cloud of doping. Can record performances be trusted? Does track and field have a black eye?

The man who carries the sport, Usain Bolt, has said “it’s going to set us back a bit,” and that he’s now competing not just for himself but also to “help people forget what has happened.” Bolt runs 100-meter heats Saturday and the semifinals and finals Sunday. Of course, he’s not the only disappointed champion.

“It sucks for the sport,” Olympic decathlon gold medalist Ashton Eaton said. “It really hurts it.”

Eaton said he gets his track and field news like many fans, by going online to the various track-specific websites.

“I read the articles, you know,” he said when asked about his reaction to Gay and Powell’s positives. “Oh really, that happened? Come on. … I was really, really surprised.”

Eaton back as decathlon favorite after wedding

Should he have been? Track’s history is littered with cheating, from Ben Johnson to Marion Jones, runners and throwers, Americans and Europeans.

“It doesn’t matter who it is, you’re always disappointed when it’s a positive test,” said Olympic and world 200-meter champion Allyson Felix, who entered the sport at the tail end of Jones’ career. “I love track and field and have a passion for it. Seeing it in a negative light, it’s really sad and frustrating. That was my initial feeling. On the other side, I was happy that the drug testing is working. It’s doing it’s job. That was kind of the only positive thing to take from this.”

Felix eyes 200 in Moscow, 400 later

Awareness is another takeaway. Gay said, “I basically put my trust in someone and I was let down.” A trainer for Powell and Simpson was blamed, though that’s turned into a back-and-forth argument.

“I think athletes always have to watch what they’re consuming because at end of the day they’re accountable for what they put in their body, even if they trust someone,” said Aries Merritt, the world record holder and Olympic champion in the 110-meter hurdles. “You have to be held accountable. It’s difficult to say that it’s someone (else’s) fault.”

Nowhere have performance-enhancing drugs been more widespread (that we know of) than in Turkey, where more than 30 athletes were recently banned, including teenagers. British marathon legend Paula Radcliffe likened it to child abuse.

Nick Symmonds, the outspoken U.S. 800-meter runner, is glad no stars from his event have been caught. But he knows the reality, that you can’t be sure all of your competitors are clean.

Symmonds said he would be “devastated” if a rival in the 800 tested positive.

“The system in place is catching cheats,” Symmonds said, “but it doesn’t do a good enough job of catching all the cheaters out there. It’s a cat and mouse game.”

There is no easy solution to clean up the sport. Track and field’s international governing body, the IAAF, wants to increase bans for first-time serious doping offenses from two years to four years. Basically, if you get caught, you must miss an Olympics.

The number of athletes missing from the World Championships is startling. The doping-related absences of Gay and Campbell-Brown are compounded by an out-of-control list of injuries — Jessica Ennis-HillYohan BlakeDavid Rudisha and others. Name the 10 most recognizable track and field athletes in the world, and it’s likely at least six or seven aren’t going to be suiting up at Luzhniki Stadium.

The two days before the start of competition saw the U.S. champion in the women’s 1,500, already in Moscow, withdraw with an injury. So, too, did the bronze medalist in the event at the Olympics, joining the gold and silver medalist on the sideline.

No event is safe. Two Russian Olympic race walking champions reportedly pulled out Friday.

“The more it’s getting closer to competition, the more I’m not really surprised,” Eaton said. “My coach has been saying people after the Olympic year, they’re drained, they’re hurt. My training this year, as it’s going, I’m more tired, I’m getting more dings. That motivation is hard.”

If there’s a silver lining, and track and field could use any life preserver these days, it’s that medals will still be awarded. Through the gloom, the sport must go on.

“There are others who are stepping up to the plate,” Merritt said. “It’s giving the youth the opportunity to shine as well.”

IAAF moves forward with 4-year doping bans plan

Ashley Wagner tops Skate America short program

ST PAUL, MN - JANUARY 21: Ashley Wagner competes in the Ladies' Short Program at the 2016 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championship on January 21, 2016 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ashley Wagner picked up from where she left off last season, topping the Skate America short program Friday night.

Wagner, the world championships silver medalist, tallied 69.50 points in the Grand Prix opener, landing all of her jumps in Hoffman Estates, Ill. She leads Japan’s Mai Mihara, who scored 65.75.

“There were a couple of things that weren’t quite perfect,” Wagner told media.

U.S. champion Gracie Gold fell on a triple flip. She’s in third place with 64.87. Full results are here.

“I had a hiccup on the triple flip,” Gold said. “Overall, it felt really good.”

Japan’s Mao Asada, a three-time world champion, was fifth after performing a triple-double jump combination rather than a triple-triple.

The free skate is Saturday, live on NBC and the NBC Sports app at 4:30 p.m. ET (full broadcast schedule here).

The last U.S. woman to win Skate America was Wagner in 2012.

Wagner and Gold are competing in their first full individual competitions since April’s world championships, when Gold fell from first after the short program to finish fourth.

Wagner climbed from fourth after the worlds short program to finish second and end a 10-year U.S. women’s podium drought at the Olympics and world championships.

MORE: Scott Hamilton diagnosed with brain tumor for third time

Scott Hamilton diagnosed with brain tumor for third time

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 03:  Former figure skater and Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton onstage during A Capitol Fourth - Rehearsals at U.S. Capitol, West Lawn, on July 3, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Capital Concerts)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Olympic figure skating champion Scott Hamilton said he was diagnosed with a benign pituitary brain tumor for a third time.

Hamilton, who took gold in Sarajevo in 1984, underwent chemotherapy to treat testicular cancer in 1997 and was twice previously diagnosed with brain tumors and had surgery, in 2004 and 2010.

“I didn’t have any symptoms, I just went in for my normal check-up, and they found the beginnings of the brain tumor coming back,” the 58-year-old Hamilton said. “I have a unique hobby of collecting life-threatening illness. … It’s six years later, and it decided that it wanted an encore.”

From People magazine:

Hamilton learned of the tumor at a routine check-up and is currently exploring all his treatment options before symptoms begin presenting.

“I’ll tell anybody that will listen: If you’re ever facing anything, get as many diagnoses as you possibly can,” he says. “The more you truly understand what you’re up against, the better decision you’re going to make.”

Hamilton was in New York on Friday to promote U.S. Figure Skating’s “Get Up” campaign.

“It’s all about shrugging it off, whatever’s going on, whether it be bullying at school, whether it be a setback in health, you just get up,” Hamilton said. “Not only to bring the young people that love skating together, but to bring the broader population into the fold.”

Hamilton said that surviving cancer was the moment in his life that he most associated with the “Get Up” campaign.

“Chemotherapy for months was devastating, but it’s endurable,” Hamilton said. “I don’t want to scare anybody from being treated for cancer, because I’m here, 20 years later, but the surgery afterwards was 38 staples, and I’m a little person. Getting up, getting back on the ice and performing again, quickly, was kind of my ‘Get Up’ moment.”

MORE: 2016-17 figure skating season broadcast schedule