Marvin Bracy

Five events to watch at World Indoor Track and Field Championships

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There are no Olympics or World Outdoor Championships for track and field this year, making this weekend’s World Indoor Championships a major highlight on the 2014 calendar.

The competition in Sopot, Poland, lacks sprint stars such as Usain BoltYohan BlakeJustin Gatlin and Allyson Felix. But the athletes who traveled to the Baltic Sea city include Olympic and world champions and rising stars who could be medal threats come Rio 2016.

The U.S. won 18 medals at the 2012 World Indoors, twice as many as any other nation, including 10 golds (no other nation had three). It is in line to win the medal count again.

World Indoor Championships broadcast schedule

Here are five events to keep an eye on:

1. Men’s Heptathlon, Friday and Saturday

Two years ago, Ashton Eaton won his first major international championship at World Indoors in Istanbul, doing so in world-record fashion. It catapulted Eaton to unprecedented outdoor success, a decathlon world record at the Olympic Trials followed by Olympic gold.

Eaton, 26, is back to defend his heptathlon title. His still-standing world record from 2012 in the seven-event competition is 6,645 points.

The top total from the rest of the eight-man field in Sopot is 6,372. It would be a shock if Eaton doesn’t win his fourth straight major multi-event championship.

Eaton’s wife, Canadian Brianne Theisen-Eaton, will compete in the pentathlon Friday.

Don’t take your eyes off Eaton the rest of the year, either. He’s said he wants to try running the 400m hurdles in the outdoor season.

2. Men’s 60m final, Saturday, 2:57 p.m. ET

The World Indoors schedule is smaller than the Olympics or World Outdoor Championships, with 13 events each for men and women. In sprinting, this means no 100m or 200m, but there is a 60m.

The men’s field is missing not only Bolt, Blake and Gatlin, but also the two fastest 60m sprinters this year — Great Britain’s James Dasaolu and France’s Jimmy Vicaut.

That makes American Marvin Bracy the frontrunner. Bracy, 20, won the U.S. Championship in a personal-best 6.48 seconds in Albuquerque, N.M., on Feb. 23.

Bracy is a former Florida State football recruit who turned professional in track in 2013, after his freshman year. He could very well be the future of U.S. sprinting with Gatlin and Tyson Gay being 32 and 31 years old.

The key for Bracy’s star will come in the outdoor season in the 100m, where his personal best is 10.09. He needs to be able to run sub-10 consistently to make waves there.

In Sopot, Bracy’s biggest competition will come from fellow American Trell Kimmons, who lost to Bracy by .01 at the U.S. Championships, as well as 2012 world silver and bronze medalists Jamaican Nesta Carter and Brit Dwain Chambers.

3. Women’s Pole Vault, Sunday, 9 a.m. ET

U.S. Olympic champion Jenn Suhr could win her first World Championship with 2012 and 2013 World Indoor and Outdoor champion Yelena Isinbayeva on a break.

But Suhr will face stiff competition from Olympic silver medalist Cuban Yarisley Silva, 2012 World Indoor bronze medalist Brit Holly Bleasdale  and crowd favorite Anna Rogowska, the 2009 World Outdoor champion and one of Poland’s most decorated track and field athletes ever.

Suhr broke the world record last year, but Rogowska owns the top mark of 2014.

4. Men’s 3000m final, Sunday, 10:10 a.m. ET

Bernard Lagat is still running at 39, and he’s the two-time defending champion in this event. Lagat won the 3000m title at the U.S. Championships in Albuquerque, two seconds better than Olympic 10,000m silver medalist Galen Rupp, who is 27.

If Rupp can’t challenge Lagat in Sopot, look for Kenyans Augustine Choge and Caleb Ndiku and Ethiopians Dejen Gebremeskel and Hagos Gebrhiwet. Choge took silver behind Lagat at the 2012 World Indoors. Gebremeskel won silver in the 2012 Olympic 5000m. Gebrhiwet, 19, is the 2013 World Outdoors silver medalist in the 5000m.

The women’s 3000m final (Sunday, 10:50 a.m. ET) could also be exciting as Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba has already broken the world record this season.

5. Women’s 60m final, Sunday, 12:05 p.m. ET

This field is loaded. It includes Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who swept the 100m and 200m at the 2013 World Outdoor Championships, 2014 world 60m leader Murielle Ahoure of the Ivory Coast and American Tianna Bartoletta, who won 60m bronze in 2012 as Tianna Madison.

Most eyes could be on the defending champion, though. Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown is competing for the first time since it was revealed June 14 that she tested positive for a banned diuretic May 4.

Campbell-Brown, the most decorated Jamaican Olympic champion of all time with seven Olympic medals, was cleared to resume competing by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in February. In June, a spokesman for track and field’s international governing body told The Associated Press the case appeared to involve a “lesser” offense of unintentional use of a banned substance.

“I press on,” Campbell-Brown, 31, said in a February statement. “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of the redemptive quality of unearned suffering, and I must say I am redeemed.”

U.S. female star pulls out of World Indoors

USOC supports athletes expressing themselves after anthem protests

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PARK CITY, Utah — The U.S. Olympic Committee supports American athletes expressing themselves at winter sports events leading up to the PyeongChang Olympics.

Some MLB, NFL and WNBA players kneeled and remained in locker rooms during the national anthem at games over the weekend.

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun was asked Monday if the USOC would support American athletes peacefully protesting during the national anthem this fall and winter at pre-Games competition.

“I think the athletes that you see protesting are protesting because they love their country, not because they don’t,” Blackmun said at a pre-Winter Games media summit. “We fully support the right of our athletes and everybody else to express themselves. The Olympic Games themselves, there is a prohibition on all forms of demonstrations, political or otherwise. And that applies no matter what side of the issue you’re taking, no matter where you’re from. … But we certainly recognize the importance of athletes being able to express themselves.”

Blackmun was correct to reference the Olympic Charter, which states that “no kind of demonstration … is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

Blackmun mentioned Tommie Smith and John Carlos‘ raised-fist salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, which got them kicked out of the Games.

The USOC has since honored Smith and Carlos. They visited the White House last year with the Rio Olympic team.

“That was a seminal moment not only for the Olympic Movement, but for the U.S. Olympic team,” Blackmun said of the 1968 podium gesture. “Our stance on this has been fairly clear. We certainly recognize the rights of the athletes to express themselves.”

Olympic hopefuls were peppered with questions about possible protests at the media summit.

“One of the proudest parts of being an American is the ability to have freedom of speech,” four-time Olympian Julia Mancuso said. “I really look up to athletes who take a stand for what they believe in. I really believe as athletes that compete for Team USA, when it comes to the Olympics, I like to think it’s a special event. Not like the NFL or pro sports teams that compete every weekend. For us, it’s every four years. I’m proud for athletes that stand up for what they believe in if they really want to have a message to get out. But I like to think of us all as patriotic.”

Elana Meyers Taylor, a two-time Olympic bobsled medalist, is the daughter of a U.S. Marine who served in Kuwait and spent summers in the 1980s playing at Atlanta Falcons training camps.

She said any decisions on demonstrations or whether she attends a post-Olympics Team USA White House visit come secondary to her pursuit of making the Olympic team this winter.

“I can’t afford to focus on what I would do in that situation or how I would react,” Meyers Taylor said, adding that anything would be a “game-time decision.” “Maybe the social climate changes a little bit [before the Olympics]. … There’s a lot to consider.”

Aja Evans, a 2014 Olympic bobsled bronze medalist, the sister of former NFL defensive tackle Fred Evans, did not say that she would follow the football players’ lead.

“I honor and commend anyone that does that,” Evans said. “My way of showing my stance is to continue to try to be a positive influence for my city, for my country. I’m representing Team USA the best way I can.”

NCAA hockey players Troy Terry and Jordan Greenway, both prospective Olympians with the NHL not participating, said they didn’t envision taking a knee during the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

“I’ve always stood for the national anthem,” Greenway said. “I always will.”

Olympic freestyle skiing medalists Maddie Bowman and Gus Kenworthy have said they plan to skip the traditional Team USA post-Olympic White House visit due to the current presidential administration. Figure skater Ashley Wagner, too, said she would not go if she had to choose today.

Kenworthy said he was shocked that President Donald Trump believed that athletes kneeling during the national anthem disrespected the flag.

“Those people [servicemen and women] are fighting for the freedom to express their beliefs,” Kenworthy said. “I feel proud to be from a country where we have the right to be able to kind of say what we feel, speak up for what we believe in. I feel that people kneeling before a game is actually quite admirable.”

Kenworthy didn’t rule out a personal demonstration at the Olympics, should he qualify again, but knows he could be stripped of a medal for doing so.

“I’m not saying that I would want to be dictated by fear, and if I was to get a medal and be too scared that it would be taken away from me,” he said. “I think that there’s a way to do things in a way that’s not going to sabotage yourself. You can stand up for something and not throw yourself under the bus.”

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U.S. Olympic men’s hockey player from 2006 has shot at PyeongChang

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PARK CITY, Utah — Though no active NHL players will be in PyeongChang, veteran NHL forward and free agent Brian Gionta could very well play for his second U.S. Olympic team in February.

A USA Hockey official confirmed Monday that the 2006 Olympian Gionta “has a very decent opportunity” to be part of the 2018 Olympic team.

That came in response to a Buffalo radio report that Gionta said it’s looking good for him to play for Team USA.

Gionta, 38, played 15 NHL seasons through last year but is currently unsigned as the NHL preseason continues. The U.S. Olympic team of 25 players named around Jan. 1 is likely to include very few, if any, players with Gionta’s experience.

Gionta was seen at the Rochester (N.Y.) AHL club’s practice Monday (but not taking part), according to media in that area. Gionta could play for an AHL club and be eligible for PyeongChang. USA Hockey wants prospective Olympians to be active in the AHL, NCAA or a European league.

Gionta’s agent has not responded to a request for comment on his Olympic prospects on Monday. Earlier in the summer, Gionta’s agent said that the skater was considering the Olympics.

Gionta led the 2006 U.S. Olympic team with four goals. The Americans lost in the quarterfinals to Finland, their worst Olympic result over the last four Winter Games.

That came during Gionta’s most productive NHL season — 48 goals (sixth in the league) and 41 assists for the New Jersey Devils.

Another Olympian — Ryan Malone from 2010 — embarked on a comeback this preseason and could pursue the Olympics. He has been in camp with the Minnesota Wild. If he doesn’t make the Wild, Malone could play on an AHL contract and be eligible for the Olympics.

USA Hockey confirmed that other players in the potential Olympic pool — at some 100 players at the moment — include Nathan Gerbe. Gerbe, a 30-year-old forward, played 394 NHL games between the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes from 2008-16 before joining the Swiss League.

Another is goalie Ryan Zapolski, who ranks third in the KHL in goals-against average this season.

John-Michael Liles, a 2006 Olympic defenseman and unsigned NHL veteran, is not interested in continuing his career in a non-NHL league to be considered for the Olympics, USA Hockey said.

U.S. general manager Jim Johannson said this summer that he was interested in some players who “have a rich history in the NHL and with USA Hockey that we think could potentially really help this roster.” Johannson wouldn’t name names then.

Johansson said a “long list” of potential players for the final 25-man roster must be submitted in September.

A U.S. team of primarily European-based players will take part in a tournament in November in Germany. That roster is expected to be named in October.

The U.S. staff will also look at NCAA and AHL players ahead of naming the PyeongChang team.

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