Roberto Luongo

Burning questions as Canada decides Olympic men’s hockey team

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It turns out Steven Stamkos might not be the biggest injury concern for Canada’s Olympic hockey prospects.

The reigning Olympic champions could be down their starting goalie from 2010. Canada is scheduled to announce its roster on Tuesday at 11 a.m. ET, the final day for nations to submit Olympic hockey rosters.

An injured player on the initial Olympic roster can be replaced up to Feb. 12. This is key for Canada, as outlined in the three burning questions going into the team announcement below.

Olympic hockey rosters: U.S. | Slovenia | Switzerland | Czech Republic

1. How serious is Roberto Luongo’s injury?

The starting goalie on the nation’s gold-medal run in 2010 suffered an undisclosed injury in a collision in a game Saturday and was held out of Sunday’s game. This came after Luongo missed three straight games with a groin injury.

He was listed as day to day, but it might be worse than that. He was scheduled to be re-evaluated Monday.

Luongo or Carey Price is expected to be Canada’s starter in Sochi. As skilled as Canada’s skaters are, goalie is a position where it is merely comparable to several other nations.

Luongo was strong for Canada after taking over for Martin Brodeur in Vancouver, posting a 1.76 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. His recent NHL seasons have been less stellar, but his 2013-14 campaign has been his best in three years.

Price, of the Montreal Canadiens, has been better statistically than Luongo this season but has zero minutes of Olympic experience.

Barring a significant injury announcement Monday, expect Luongo to be named to the team with Price. The likely No. 3 is the Phoenix Coyotes’ Mike Smith.

If Luongo has to be replaced, Canada has options in 2010 Olympian Marc-Andre Fleury and Josh Harding, who has been the best Canadian goalie in the NHL this season.

2. What are Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis’ chances?

Before Luongo’s injury, the focus was on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s two biggest stars — forwards Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis.

There was significant doubt in Stamkos’ Olympic availability when he suffered a broken tibia Nov. 11.

The NHL’s leading scorer in 2010 and 2012 embarked on aggressive rehab with his first Winter Games in mind and skated in full equipment last week. He appears set to be named to the team. Again, that Feb. 12 injury replacement deadline helps.

St. Louis, the Lightning captain at age 38, is more of a question to hear his name Tuesday. He made the team in 2006 and missed it in 2010 but should be optimistic given Canada’s GM that left him off four years ago, Steve Yzerman, is now the GM of the Lightning.

St. Louis’ 38 points this season are tied for 13th among Canadian players and behind younger fringe Olympic hopefuls Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin.

“I think Marty deserves a spot on that team regardless of any other player, whether they’re injured or not,” Stamkos said last week. “Marty, especially the last 10 games, has really carried us. He’s a leader, he’s the captain for a reason, and he probably should have been on the last [Olympic] team — he’s using that as motivation, and I’ll be very surprised if he’s not on the team.”

3. Who else is on the roster bubble?

Aside from the Lightning pair, several star forwards seem locked in — Sidney CrosbyJonathan ToewsRyan GetzlafJohn TavaresCorey PerryMatt DucheneLogan Couture and Patrice Bergeron.

Claude Giroux and Patrick Sharp also appear likely, but it gets murky after that.

Two-time Olympian Joe Thornton leads the NHL in assists, but is there any more room at center with Crosby, Toews and Getzlaf and Tavares?

Jamie Benn, Chris KunitzRick Nash and Hall and Seguin have a shot, too.

Five of eight defensemen look locked in — Jay Bouwmeester, Drew DoughtyDuncan KeithAlex Pietrangelo and Shea WeberP.K. Subban and Brent Seabrook also make pretty strong cases.

There are also San Jose Sharks Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, making nine guys for eight spots.

Another tough call for Yzerman and Co., who have the enviable embarrassment of riches and the unenviable task of cutting players any other country would love to have in Sochi.

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Deena Kastor withdraws from Olympic marathon trials

Deena Kastor
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Deena Kastor won’t try to make history at the U.S. Olympic marathon trials on Saturday.

Kastor, 42 and the last U.S. woman to earn an Olympic marathon medal (bronze, 2004), will not contest the 26.2-mile race in Los Angeles due to a recent glute muscle strain.

“I was diligent in resting, but my glute just won’t settle down,” Kastor said in a USA Track and Field press release.

If Kastor, the second-fastest U.S. female marathoner in 2015, had finished in the top three at the trials in Los Angeles (live on NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra on Saturday), she would have become the oldest U.S. Olympic runner of all time.

Kastor wasn’t thought to be a contender for the Rio Olympics until Oct. 11, when she clocked 2:27:47 at the Chicago Marathon. It marked her best time since her American record 2:19:36 at the 2006 London Marathon.

With Kastor out, the list of female contenders shrinks. That list still includes the top four women from the 2012 U.S. Olympic marathon trials — Shalane Flanagan, Desi Linden, Kara Goucher and Amy Cragg.

Meb Keflezighi, 40, can become the oldest U.S. Olympic runner if he finishes in the top three in the men’s race Saturday.

U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials Previews: Men | Women

Kenya banned athletes allege doping bribery

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EMBU, Kenya (AP) — Two Kenyan athletes serving four-year bans for doping at the 2015 World Track and Field Championships say the chief executive of Athletics Kenya, the country’s governing body for track and field, asked them each for a $24,000 bribe to reduce their suspensions.

Joy Sakari and Francisca Koki Manunga told The Associated Press that CEO Isaac Mwangi asked for the payment in an Oct. 16 meeting, but that they could not raise the money. They were then were informed of their four-year bans in a Nov. 27 email, but never filed a criminal complaint because, they say, they had no proof to back up their bribery accusation and also feared repercussions.

Mwangi dismissed the allegation as “just a joke,” denied ever meeting privately with the athletes and said Athletics Kenya has no power to shave time off athletes’ bans.

“We have heard stories, athletes coming and saying, ‘Oh, you know, I was asked for money,'” Mwangi said. “But can you really substantiate that?”

Sakari, a 400m runner, and Manunga, a hurdler, told AP they would be willing to testify to the ethics commission of the IAAF, the global governing body of athletics.

The commission already is investigating allegations that AK officials sought to subvert anti-doping in Kenya, solicited bribes and offered athletes reduced bans. The probe has led to the suspensions of AK’s president, Isaiah Kiplagat, a vice president, David Okeyo, and AK’s former treasurer, Joseph Kinyua.

Sharad Rao, a former director of prosecutions in Kenya who also has adjudicated cases for the Court of Arbitration for Sport, is leading the ethics investigation for the International Association of Athletics Federations. Sakari and Manunga’s decision to come forward could be a breakthrough, because Kenyan athletes have been unwilling to act as whistleblowers.

“There is obviously the reluctance on the part of the athletes to come forward,” Rao said. “They don’t want to stand out.”

As many as a half-dozen banned athletes have privately indicated to the IAAF commission that AK officials sought to extort them and that they feel their sanctions might have been less if they had paid bribes, Rao said.

AP’s interview with Sakari and Manunga is the first time Kenyan athletes have detailed such allegations publicly.

“That information would, of course, be very, very significant, very important for us,” Rao said.

Rao said he has been talking to at least one other athlete who may have been approached for a bribe, and that his first priority was to get responses from Kiplagat, Okeyo and Kinyua — all three of whom have flatly denied to him that they took or solicited bribes.

Sakari and Manunga, both police officers in Kenya, said Mwangi asked them for 2.5 million Kenyan shillings — or $24,000 — each.

“I told him I’ve never seen that much money in my life,” Manunga told AP. “Even if I sold everything, I wouldn’t be able to get together that amount of money.”

The athletes tested positive in August for furosemide, a diuretic banned because it can mask the use of forbidden performance-enhancers, and were sent home from the worlds in Beijing. They told AP the drug was sold to them by a chemist in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, who said it would alleviate side effects of supplements they were taking. The chemist testified in defense of the athletes to AK, saying he gave them furosemide to combat water-retention caused by the supplement.

Compared to doping cases involving other athletes, their four-year bans appear harsh. World Anti-Doping Agency rules classify furosemide as a so-called “specified substance,” distinguishing it from hardcore performance-enhancers like steroids or the blood-boosting hormone EPO.

For specified substances, IAAF rules allow for lesser bans of no more than two years, or even just a reprimand and no ban, if athletes can prove they weren’t at fault or negligent.

To impose a four-year ban, the rules require authorities to establish that athletes intentionally cheated. But AK appears to have discounted the chemist’s testimony. In the letter it sent to Manunga announcing her ban, AK said there was no “plausible explanation” for using furosemide and that the federation “can only infer” she took it intentionally as a masking agent.

Last year, Serbia’s athletics federation imposed a two-year ban on 800m runner Nemanja Kojic for the same substance. He can return to competition in 2017; Sakari and Manunga were banned until 2019.

They said they visited Mwangi’s first-floor office together, seeking news of their case. During that meeting, they said, he asked for the bribe, dangling the possibility of shaving time off their bans.

Both athletes say they are sure of the date of that meeting — Oct. 16 — because, they say, they went to the KCB bank together later that day to open accounts and deposit 600,000 Kenya shillings ($5,785) paid to each of them for being on Kenya’s team in the Bahamas.

“He was waiting for us to give him money, so that this ‘thing’ disappears,” Manunga said. “We left, kept quiet and later that’s when our names came out and we were told that we’ve been banned because we did not deliver that money.”

“He asked us if we could give him something. That’s what he said,” said Sakari. “He asked for money.”

Mwangi denied that he met privately with the athletes.

“Why we avoid those kinds of things is because we know athletes are fond of making any kind of claim,” he told AP.

“It is not possible to give anyone money to meddle with your case,” he added. “I will contact the athletes officially and I will ask the athletes to come, the two of them, and like I said they are police officers, so we will have to involve the police force.”

Soliciting a bribe is a crime in Kenya.

The athletes have told their story privately to the Professional Athletics Association of Kenya, an advocacy group of Kenyan runners. The association’s secretary, Julius Ndegwa, said Sakari and Manunga came to see him and a lawyer in January.

The athletes spoke to AP in an on-camera interview in Embu, a ramshackle town 130 kilometers (80 miles) northeast of Nairobi where they were housed in police accommodation.

Sakari also raced at the 2012 London Olympics and 2009 Worlds. In Beijing, she competed under the name Zakary, but Sakari is her preferred spelling. She indicated that she is now done with athletics, because she will be 33 when her ban expires.

Manunga, 23, said she would have paid to return sooner to competition.

“For me, those four years are too many,” she said. “If I had the money, I’d have paid. But I didn’t have it. So I just left.”

MORE: Kenya marathon runner-up arrested for cheating in race