Track and Field

Doping issues, missing stars cloud World Track and Field Championships

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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

Matthew Centrowitz, after ‘rock bottom,’ glad with runner-up at USAs

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Matthew Centrowitz said he hit rock bottom two weeks ago.

“I was ready to do the depressed thing that most people do,” Centrowitz, whose normal dark buzz was topped with faded blonde, said Saturday. “Bleach it like Justin Bieber.”

Back then, Centrowitz did not believe he would be racing this weekend at the USATF Outdoor Championships, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast.

The Olympic 1500m champion was sidelined for weeks due to a series of ailments.

A left adductor strain in April. A May visit to the emergency room with a viral infection similar to his 2014 bout with pericarditis. His heart rate was through the roof. Then, a right adductor tear.

“I was ready to can the season, to be honest with you,” said Centrowitz, who in Rio became the first U.S. Olympic 1500m gold medalist in 108 years. “I was like, no one’s going to see me. I’m done with my year. So I dyed it.”

The next day, people told Centrowitz that, regardless of hair color, he would be racing. At some point, he came to believe them.

So, on about 10 days of training, Centrowitz came to Sacramento to try and earn a place on the three-man world championships team.

Centrowitz did just that Saturday, finishing second to Robby Andrews in the 1500m final.

Third is as good as first,” said Centrowitz, who is going to his fourth straight worlds, seeking to complete his medal collection (bronze in 2011, silver in 2013).

Andrews, in fifth place going into the final lap, surged past Centrowitz on the last straightaway to win in 3:43.29. Centrowitz was second in 3:43.41.

“He’s been banged up, I’m not going to say it’s a true battle,” said Andrews, who was second to Centrowitz at the 2015 USATF Outdoors, 2016 USATF Indoors and 2016 Olympic Trials.

Andrews, who was disqualified in the Rio semifinals, is not yet on the team for worlds in London in August. He must still run the world championships qualification standard of 3:36.00 by July 23.

USATF OUTDOORS: Broadcast Schedule | Full Results

Earlier Saturday, Allyson Felix headlined the qualifiers for Sunday’s 200m semifinals, which do not include Justin Gatlin.

World-record holder Keni Harrison won the 100m hurdles in 12.60 seconds, after shockingly failing to make the Rio Olympic team. Harrison was followed by Olympic silver medalist Nia Ali in 12.68. Also making the world team was 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper.

Harrison had not raced since May 5 after breaking her left hand in a warm-up and undergoing surgery.

“In a few more weeks, my hand will be back to normal,” said Harrison, whose world record from July is 12.20. “I’m not race sharp.”

Olympic bronze medalist Jenny Simpson took the women’s 1500m in 4:06.33. She’s joined on the world team by Olympian Kate Grace and surprise Sara Vaughn, a 31-year-old mother of three daughters.

“It’s a lot of times about squeezing in the training whenever I can do it,” Vaughn, a first-time world team member, told media in Sacramento. “It’s not always the primary focus, so coming out to Sacramento for a week and pretending to be nothing but a professional runner is kind of weird for me. I feel like I’m forgetting something, but I felt extra light on the track. It brings a lot more joy to the sport when I can share it with my three daughters.”

American record holder Shannon Rowbury shockingly missed the world team, fading to eighth.

In the 400m, Fred Kerley and Quanera Hayes each won their first U.S. titles.

Kerley, who didn’t make it out of the Olympic Trials first round, won comfortably in 44.03 seconds. The NCAA champion from Texas A&M now owns the five fastest times in the world this year.

Kerley is joined on the world team by Olympian Gil Roberts (44.22), Wil London III (44.47) and 2008 Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt. Merritt has a bye into worlds as the 2016 Diamond League champion, so he didn’t race the 400m in Sacramento.

Kerley and Merritt are medal contenders, though gold will be difficult against South African Wayde van Niekerk, who broke Michael Johnson‘s world record in Rio.

Hayes, who was eighth at the 2016 Olympic Trials, won the women’s 400m in 49.72 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year. She’s joined on the world team by Olympian Phyllis Francis and Kendall Ellis.

Three-time Olympian Natasha Hastings finished fourth, just missing the individual 400m world team. She also finished fourth in the Rio 400m.

Hayes, Francis and Ellis join the 2015 World champion Felix on the U.S. team in the 400m in London. They’re looking to unseat Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas.

Olympic champion Michelle Carter was upset in the shot put, finishing third behind Raven Saunders and Dani Bunch. They’re all going to worlds.

Tianna Bartoletta edged Brittney Reese in a battle of Olympic long jump champions, 7.05 meters to 6.98 meters.

Olympic bronze medalist Sam Kendricks became the first American to clear six meters in the pole vault since 2008.

MORE: Gatlin gets one more shot at Bolt after surprise U.S. 100m title

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Allyson Felix leads 200m semifinalists at USAs, minus Justin Gatlin

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Allyson Felix eased into the U.S. 200m semifinals as ninth fastest from the first round Saturday, but she probably won’t contest the 200m at the world championships in August.

Felix, the 2012 Olympic 200m champion, won her heat in 22.95 seconds, letting off the gas for most of the final straightaway in Sacramento, Calif.

Deajah Stevens (22.55), Ariana Washington (22.57) and Rio bronze medalist Tori Bowie (22.69) led the 16 qualifiers into Sunday’s semifinals at the USATF Outdoor Championships, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast.

The final is also Sunday, when the top three qualify for the world championships in London in August.

USATF OUTDOORS: Broadcast Schedule | Full Results

On Friday, Felix finished eighth in the 100m, but she did not plan to race the 100m at worlds even if she made the team in that event.

Felix has a bye into the world 400m as defending champion. The 31-year-old said after Saturday’s race that the 400m will probably be her only individual event at worlds, even if she makes the 200m team, according to USA Track and Field.

Felix missed the 2016 Olympic team in the 200m by .01 at the Olympic Trials, slowed by an ankle injury. She ranks No. 4 in the U.S. in the 200m this year behind Bowie, NCAA champion Kyra Jefferson and Stevens.

Justin Gatlin chose not to start the men’s 200m, about 16 hours after winning the 100m title. Gatlin said after being eliminated in the Olympic 200m semifinals that he intended to focus on the 100m this season.

Likewise, Usain Bolt is not racing the 200m in his farewell season.

In Gatlin’s absence, Isiah Young and U.S. 100m runner-up Christian Coleman posted the fastest 200m first-round times of 20.29 and 20.34 seconds.

Olympian Ameer Webb (20.50), favorite Noah Lyles (20.54), Walter Dix (20.57), Tyson Gay (20.60) and LaShawn Merritt (20.74) also made the semifinals.

MORE: Gatlin gets one more shot at Bolt after surprise U.S. 100m title

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