Heather Richardson

Strange DQ as Heather Richardson, Shani Davis qualify for Sochi (video)

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Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe can make plans for Sochi. Shani Davis is looking good, too.

The three biggest stars of US Speedskating headlined the second day of the U.S. Olympic Trials in Kearns, Utah, on Saturday.

Richardson and Bowe went one-two in the 500m. That put Richardson on her second U.S. Olympic Team and all but assured Bowe’s first Olympic berth. Sugar Todd and Lauren Cholewinski took third and fourth and are likely going to Sochi, too.

Davis, a four-time Olympic medalist over the 1000m and 1500m, took fourth in the men’s 500m, an event where the U.S. can enter a maximum of four skaters in the Olympics.

Winner Mitchell Whitmore clinched his second Olympic berth. He’ll likely be joined on the Sochi roster by second-through-fourth finishers Tucker Fredricks, Brian Hansen and Davis.

Jonathan Garcia initially posted a fast enough two-run time to place fourth, knocking out Davis, but did not wear a time-recording ankle transponder in his second 500m, where he clocked 34.85, which would have been a personal best by .29 of a second.

“I know that I was good enough to be on the team,” Garcia said, according to The Associated Press. “That’s something nobody can take away from me.”

That time was wiped out. Garcia reskated and was slower, finishing sixth.

“It’s really unfortunate,” Davis said, according to the AP. “I remember the special feeling I had when I went [to the Olympics] the first time. I was really pulling for Garcia to pull through and take the spot, even if it knocked me off the team. He’s a friend of mine. I want the best skaters to go. If someone is clearly faster than me, I want them to go. It’s just unfortunate that rule worked to his disadvantage.”

Davis is technically not assured of making the U.S. Olympic Team in the 500m yet. He could also drop the event altogether given he’s more focused on the 1000m and 1500m.

A maximum of 10 men and 10 women can make the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Team, but the U.S. has more than 10 Olympic spots combined across all distances.

If stars like Richardson, Bowe and Davis qualify in multiple events at trials through Wednesday, it will help the U.S. stay at or under the 10 men and 10 women maximum and ensure the second, third and fourth finishers from Saturday go to Sochi.

The U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials continue with 1000m races Sunday (NBC, 3 p.m.).

U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials preview, schedule

Richardson, 24, won the women’s 500m with a two-race total of 1:14.19, which was 1.32 faster than second-place Bowe. Cholewinski (1:16.18) and Todd (1:16.42) beat out three-time Olympian Elli Ochowicz (1:16.54) to likely make their second and first Olympic teams, respectively.

“It’s really special this time because of all of us inliners here, together,” Richardson said on NBC. “I grew up skating with Brittany and Lauren. To qualify for the Olympics together is really a special moment.”

Todd would not be the first “Sugar” to compete in the Olympics. Hungary’s István Sugár ran the men’s 4x100m track and field relay at the 1928 Amsterdam Games, according to sports-reference.com. There’s also the great boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, who won gold at the 1976 Montreal Games.

Richardson and Bowe are expected to make the Olympic team in the 500m, 1000m and 1500m. Paired together, Richardson was .51 faster than Bowe in their opening race Saturday, all but sealing her title.

Richardson, 24, has been the fastest U.S. woman in the 500m each of the last five seasons. She’s the reigning World Sprint Champion (combining 500m and 1000m results) and has made three of eight World Cup 500m podiums this season.

Richardson grew up cherishing Cheerwine and skating inline in High Point, N.C., before switching to ice in 2007. She posted the best individual finish of any U.S. female speed skater at the 2010 Olympics, sixth in the 500m.

She was thought to be the biggest and perhaps only hope to end a U.S. female speed skating Olympic medal drought dating to 2002. Then Bowe came along.

Bowe, 25, spent the 2010 Olympics playing basketball in Boca Raton, Fla., a senior starting guard for Florida Atlantic. She also joined the inline invasion and could share the Sochi podium with Richardson.

“Heather’s definitely one of my inspirations to come over and try to pursue my Olympic dream,” Bowe said on NBC.

The clear favorite for Olympic 500m gold, however, is South Korea’s reigning Olympic, world and World Cup champion Lee Sang-hwa, who broke her own world record three times this season.

Bowe and Richardson are expected to go head to head again at trials in the 1000m (Sunday) and the 1500m (Tuesday), two distances Bowe is better in than the 500m.

Whitmore, 24, is going back to the Olympics after winning with a two-race time of 1:09.12 on Saturday. Fredricks was second at 1:09.44 followed by Hansen (1:09.85) and Davis (1:10.21).

Whitmore placed 37th out of 38 finishers in the 2010 Olympic 500m. His chances in Sochi are looking up now that he owns the American record in the 500m and has finished no lower than 15th over eight World Cup races this season.

Fredricks, 29, made his third Olympic team. His international results have been hit or miss. His best Olympic finish is 12th, but nobody was faster at the opening World Cup event in Calgary, Alberta, in November.

Hansen and Davis are better in the 1000m and 1500m, which they are slated to skate Sunday and Tuesday.

If Davis does not skate the Olympic 500m, he would go into defending his 1000m gold medal without any prior Olympic competition on the Sochi oval. In 2006 and 2010, he warmed up for the Olympic 1000m by skating the 5000m and/or the 500m.

The Olympic men’s 500m could be wide open given eight different men won World Cup races this season.

Comeback story of Olympic trials

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar details passing on 1968 Olympics in new book

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar accomplished just about everything in basketball. Three NCAA titles at UCLA, six titles and six MVP awards in the NBA. Arguably, the greatest center of all time.

But Abdul-Jabbar’s trophy case is missing one item that is owned by the likes of Michael JordanLeBron James and Bill Russell.

An Olympic gold medal.

Even though the NBA barrier to the Olympics wasn’t broken until 1992, Abdul-Jabbar had one shot at an Olympics in 1968 following his junior season playing for John Wooden at UCLA.

He declined an invitation to try out.

Abdul-Jabbar, now 70 years old, detailed that decision in his new book, “Coach Wooden and Me,” published earlier this month:

My development as a basketball player paralleled my evolution as a social activist. The more confident and successful I was on the court, the more confident I felt about expressing my political convictions. That personal progression reached its most controversial climax in 1968, when I refused to join the Olympic basketball team. This started a firestorm of criticism, racial epithets, and death threats that people still ask me about today.

I didn’t reach that decision easily. I really, really wanted to join the team. It would be an exciting challenge to play against the best basketball players in the world as well as to be on the same team as the best college players in the country. Plus, the adventure of going to Mexico City and hanging with athletes from around the world appealed to the young man in me.

But the idea of going to Mexico to have fun seemed so selfish in light of the racial violence that was facing the country. The previous summer had seen two major riots, one in Newark that had lasted five days, and one in Detroit that had lasted eight days. And on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had been assassinated. White America seemed ready to do anything necessary to stop the progress of civil rights, and I thought that going to Mexico would seem like I was either fleeing the issue or more interested in my career than in justice. I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I did go and we won, I’d be bringing honor to the country that was denying our rights. It was the same feeling I’d had that last year playing for Coach Donahue after he’d called me a nigger.

I seemed to permanently reside in the exclusive neighborhood of Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

That same year The Autobiography of Malcolm X was published, posthumously since he’d been assassinated three years earlier. I didn’t just read it, I devoured every chapter, every page, every word. His story couldn’t have been more different than mine—street hustler and pimp who goes to prison, converts to Islam, emerges as an enlightened political leader—but I felt as if every insult he suffered and every insight he discovered were mine. He put into words what was in my heart; he clearly articulated what I had only vaguely expressed.

Malcolm was dead. Dr. King was dead.

Black leaders were an endangered species. That enraged me. There had been public accusations that the U.S. government, specifically J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, were targeting black leaders in secret campaigns to discredit, humiliate, and publicly ruin them. White America dismissed this as black paranoia due to lack of proof, but black Americans knew it was true simply from observation. It wasn’t until two years later that these suspicions were confirmed, when anti-war activists broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and found classified documents that detailed the FBI’s active policy of intimidation against black leaders.

It was too difficult for me to get enthusiastic about representing a country that refused to represent me or others of my color. Another reason I chose not to participate was my intense dislike for the International Olympic Committee’s president, Avery Brundage, who, during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, benched two Jewish runners so as not to embarrass Adolph Hitler by having Jews win a gold medal. Not only was this against the Olympic rules, but information has since been revealed that Brundage’s construction company was bidding for German contracts, which is why he was so eager to please Hitler. I couldn’t bring myself to work under the supervision of someone like that. America was angry at me for not showing gratitude to the country that had given me so many opportunities. I was grateful, but I also thought it disingenuous to show appreciation unless all people had the same opportunities. Just because I had made it to a lifeboat didn’t mean I could forget those who hadn’t. Or not try to keep the next ship from sinking.

To their credit, no one at UCLA tried to talk me out of my decision. Coach Wooden respected my choice and never brought it up. The university issued a statement explaining that I had turned down the invitation because it conflicted with classes, but I openly discussed my decision with the press. Joe Garagiola interviewed me on the Today show in a contentious segment in which he proclaimed the usual motto of entitled white people: America, love it or leave it. I couldn’t help but wonder what he would have said to the colonists who declared independence and fought to create their own country. Britain, love it or leave it.

I tried to make the point that true patriotism is about acknowledging problems and, rather than running away from them, joining together to fix them.

Although I missed the Olympics, Tommie Smith and John Carlos made international news and Olympic history when, during the medal ceremony for the men’s 200-meter sprint, in which Smith received the gold medal and Carlos the bronze medal, they raised their gloved fists into the air in what was then known as the “Black Power salute.” This was a gesture of acknowledgment of the racial injustice in America. The U.S. Olympic Committee suspended them. They returned home to angry criticism and death threats. At a time when black leaders were routinely slaughtered, death threats were taken seriously.

Although Coach Wooden didn’t discuss my choice with me, I had the feeling that he disapproved, though not because of anything he said or did, even indirectly. I just knew that he was very patriotic. He had been a lieutenant in the navy during World War II. I couldn’t imagine him endorsing my refusal to play in the Olympics and bring glory to the U.S.

I found out years later just how wrong I was.

A couple years ago I received a letter from a woman I had never met, a letter to her that Coach Wooden had written in response to a note she had sent to him complaining about my decision not to participate in the Olympics. Until I’d held it in my hands, I hadn’t even known it existed. I opened the letter and began to read Coach’s neat script:

Dear Mrs. Hough,


The comments of this most unusual young man also disturbed me, but I have seen him hurt so much by the remarks of white people that I am probably more tolerant than most.

I have heard remarks within his hearing such as “Hey, look at that big black freak,” “Did you ever see such a big N—-r?” and others of a similar nature that might tend to turn the head of a more mature person in normal times. I am truly afraid that he will never find any peace of mind regardless or not of whether he makes a million dollars. He may be able to afford material things, but they are a poor substitute for true peace of mind.

You may not have seen or read about the later interview when he said that there were so many things wrong at present of the treatment of his race in this country that it was difficult for him to claim it as his own.

Thank you for your interest,

John Wooden

I read the letter again. Then again. Oh, Coach, I thought, I wish I’d known how you felt. If only to ease the burden you’d taken on to defend me. I thought back on my own arrogance at thinking I understood the man by reducing him to the kind of easy stereotype, the very thing that I’d been complaining about my whole life when it was done to me. He’d been too humble ever to say anything to me about the letter. Most people would have made a point of telling me how they’d come to my defense. But Coach Wooden didn’t care about receiving credit. A good deed was its own reward. Seeking praise or gratitude would have negated the deed.

Coach Dale Brown once asked him why he didn’t take some credit for the things he’d done or why he hadn’t been more outspoken about the civil rights movement. Brown recalled, “He held up his thumb and index finger so closely together you barely could slide a piece of onionskin between them. ‘That’s why,’ he said. I asked him what he meant and he explained, ‘That’s how much difference I would have made. So I tried to make a difference in other things.’”

I shook my head as I folded up the letter. Coach had been dead for several years and I would never get to thank him. Even then, at my age of sixty-seven, he was still teaching me about humility.

Excerpted from the COACH WOODEN AND ME by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Copyright © 2017 by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved. 

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Runner Gabriele Grunewald delays chemo for U.S. Championships

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Middle-distance runner Gabriele Grunewald reserved this month for racing.

Next month, chemotherapy.

Grunewald delayed her latest cancer treatments a few weeks — with her doctor’s consent — in a quest to qualify for the U.S. Championships at the end of June in Sacramento, Calif.

Should she reach the time standard, she fully intends on taking the starting line — no matter how she may feel in the midst of chemo for a disease that’s gone from her salivary gland to her liver.

“I’m trying to keep my life normal, and not let cancer dictate everything I do,” said the 30-year-old Grunewald , who finished in 4 minutes, 12.29 seconds in the 1500m at the USA Track and Field Distance Classic on Thursday, narrowly missing the qualifying time for nationals of 4:09.50. “So I’m just taking it a week at a time, one race at a time, just trying to live as much of my life as I can in a meaningful way.”

Her next chance to achieve the standard for nationals will be at the Prefontaine Classic this weekend in Eugene, Ore. She’s also contemplating racing at the Adidas Boost Boston Games on June 2, which would happen to be right around the time she’s scheduled to undergo the first of up to six rounds of chemo.

“If this is the end (of competitive running) for me, I want to get in a couple of more races,” explained Grunewald, who could be added to the field at nationals if it isn’t full. “I don’t want to drop everything just because I have cancer.

“I do think that I have some good running in my legs right now.”

The former University of Minnesota standout got a late start on training this season, but those frigid runs over the winter in Minneapolis made her stronger and stronger. And that’s with a healing 13-inch scar across her stomach, the one from surgery last August to remove cancer from her liver.

It’s a cancer that resurfaced on a follow-up scan in March — the latest chapter in her ongoing battle with the disease.

In 2009, Grunewald was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare form of cancer in her salivary gland, which led to surgery. A year later, it was found in her thyroid and she had that removed, along with receiving radioactive iodine treatment.

Then, for the next several seasons, she was symptom-free, and racing better than ever:

— Fourth at the 2012 Olympic Trials, narrowly missing the squad for the London Games

— A 3000m title at the 2014 USA indoor championships

— Personal-best times in the 800m, 1500m, mile, 3000m, two-mile and 5000m

There was also this race, one of her more memorable performances: Finishing the 1500m in 4:01.48 on July 19, 2013, in Monaco. The three Americans who wound up in front of her that day — Jenny Simpson, Brenda Martinez and Shannon Rowbury — would later comprise the Rio Olympic team for the event.

“That was a race where there was a glimmer there, of what’s possible for me,” said Grunewald, who recently chronicled her journey with a blog . “But things haven’t turned out as perfectly as I’d hoped.”

Early last August, a month after finishing 12th at the Olympic Trials, her husband, who’s just finishing up his residency in internal medicine, gave her a hug and noticed her stomach felt different.

A tumor in her liver. She had surgery on Aug. 26 to remove the growth, with doctors feeling optimistic they got it all.

Her recovery was slow, though, with a four-mile run causing pain because of the incision. Around December, she ran eight miles, which was a big step as she began feeling more and more like her old running self.

“No matter what, when I’m on a run, I feel hopeful about the future,” said Grunewald, who’s not ruling out an attempt to make the 2020 Tokyo Games.

This spring, another obstacle: Finding out cancer returned to her liver — small tumors that couldn’t be treated through surgery. She will have a consultation for a biopsy next week and start chemo — something she’s never gone through — soon after.

“I was so excited to get back into fitness, to come back this year, to accomplish some of the goals that I wasn’t able to do last summer — and this came up,” Grunewald said. “The nature of my disease is it’s somewhat unpredictable. It really can come back whenever.”

A few more trips around the track this month — to keep her mind off what awaits and to see what she can do.

“I’m definitely scared, but I’m hopeful that maybe, even if I can’t 100 percent get rid of it, perhaps it can co-exist with me,” Grunewald said. “I’m just trying to hang on to running, because running has helped me so much.”

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