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

Ex-No. 2 women’s marathoner of all time retires after doping ban ends

Liliya Shobukhova
AP
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Liliya Shobukhova, who was the second fastest women’s marathoner of all time before her three Chicago Marathon wins were stripped due to a doping suspension, said she has retired and is now a coach, according to Russian news agency TASS.

Shobukhova, 38, returned to race Sept. 12 from a two-year, seven-month ban for abnormal biological passport levels. She finished fifth in a Russian Half Marathon Championship.

Shobukhova’s ban was reduced from three years, two months, after she provided “substantial assistance” to anti-doping officials.

IAAF and Russia track and field officials were banned for life in January for extorting Shobukhova out of hundreds of thousands of dollars to avoid a doping ban ahead of the 2012 Olympics.

Shobukhova won the Chicago Marathon three straight times from 2009 to 2011, the first man or woman to accomplish the feat. Her last title in Chicago came in 2 hours, 18 minutes, 20 seconds, making her the second fastest woman over 26.2 miles ever behind Brit Paula Radcliffe, who holds the three fastest times.

Shobukhova’s wins and times since 2009 were annulled when she was banned in 2014.

Shobukhova also won the 2010 London Marathon (that win also stripped) but never finished better than sixth in three Olympic track and field races.

MORE: Astronaut runs London Marathon in space

IIHF president doesn’t expect NHL participation in 2018 Olympics

Sidney Crosby
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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — The head of ice hockey’s international body says there is a strong possibility that NHL players won’t be competing at the next Winter Olympics.

International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel puts the chances at 60 percent that the NHL will decline to go to the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, because of a lack of money to cover player insurance.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Fasel said the IOC has canceled its contribution to player travel and insurance costs for Pyeongchang, leaving the IIHF facing a $10 million shortfall and “begging” for money around the world.

“It’s always difficult to get (to) the Olympics, the Games,” he said. “And now with some problems on our side, 50-50 is very positive. I would be more 60 percent that they are not coming.”

Negotiations and brinkmanship over finances are common in the lead-up to Olympic hockey tournaments. For the 2014 tournament in Sochi, Russia, the NHL’s participation was assured only in July 2013, seven months before the Games.

The IOC’s refusal to cover player insurance adds an additional dimension for 2018.

The NHL did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday, but Commissioner Gary Bettman has made it clear costs are a key factor.

“There are real costs to us going, including insurance, including transportation because we’re losing part of our season, we’ve got to get in and out quickly,” Bettman said last month at a meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors in New York. “The players for the last five Olympics in particular have been accommodated in a certain way as far as it relates to their families. Those are issues that would once again have to be resolved. … I’m not sure that there would be a lot of appetite for us on top of that to have to pay for the privilege. We don’t make money going to then Olympics.”

Bettman said he didn’t expect a decision until after the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto in September.

While the IOC gives the IIHF around $40 million of revenue each Olympics, Fasel insists that money is earmarked for developing hockey and wants national Olympic committees and hockey federations to plug the gap.

The IOC pulled its extra subsidy because its leaders are “a bit scared that other (sports) federations will come and also ask for some compensation for traveling and insurance,” said Fasel, who is also an IOC member and serves on its rule-making executive board.

“I think my idea is to work closer together with the national Olympic committees, as they have normally to pay transportation and insurance for the athletes when they come to the Games, so I can imagine that some of the NOCs are also ready to spend some money there, so we have to go around and do some begging,” he said.

Fasel said the end of this year is the deadline to reach a deal because of the NHL’s need to draw up a calendar for the Olympic season.

“If you don’t have the best, (the Olympics) will be a different competition for sure,” he said, but warned: “At the end somebody has to pay. That’s the question. On my side I will do everything possible to make it happen.”

Fasel dismissed the suggestion that the World Cup of Hockey could offer some players less incentive to demand to be allowed to play at the Olympics.

“There is nothing like the Olympics,” he said. “I think for an athlete to win the gold medal is so different from winning the Stanley Cup. You can win the Stanley Cup every year.”

In Pyeongchang in 2018 and Beijing in 2022, the Winter Olympics move to Asia and away from the North American and European nations that have historically been the bedrock of hockey.

South Korea, which has built a team mixing import players with locals, plays in the second level of the IIHF’s world championship and hopes not to be a walkover in 2018. China is far less competitive. China will be in the fifth tier for next year and in 2022 could become the first Winter Olympic host not to enter a hockey team — a situation that worries the IIHF, given China’s potential to become a huge market for the sport.

“One thing they do not like is to lose the face, so they cannot do that,” Fasel said. “I hope and I think they will have a Chinese player, Chinese team in Beijing in 2022. We cannot put them on the ice and they will be beaten 15, 20-nothing. We cannot do that.”

Things are looking up for China, with increased government interest and the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League due to open a team there this year, but Fasel said the NHL is key to unlocking potentially vast commercial rewards in China.

“A North American brand in China has a very special taste. We can see that with the NBA,” he said. “I think what we need is to have a Chinese NHL player, like Yao Ming with basketball.”

MORE: 2018 Olympic men’s hockey groups determined