Yohan Blake

Carl Lewis, Jamaican sprinters trade more verbal jabs

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The friction between Carl Lewis and Jamaican sprinting reappeared in India and the Bahamas last week.

First, the nine-time Olympic champion Lewis was asked about Usain Bolt during a media tour in India last week. He was also asked about Jamaican sprinting’s recent doping issues.

In one interview, Lewis was reported as saying of Bolt, “He needs to back up now and maybe respect me a little bit more.” The question referred to Bolt saying in 2012 he “lost all respect” for Lewis after Lewis made comments such as this to Sports Illustrated after the Beijing Olympics:

I’m still working with the fact that [Bolt] dropped from 10-flat to 9.6 in one year [personal best of 10.03 in the 100m in 2007 to a world record 9.69 in 2008]. I think there are some issues. I’m proud of America right now because we have the best random and most comprehensive drug testing program. Countries like Jamaica do not have a random program, so they can go months without being tested. I’m not saying anyone is on anything, but everyone needs to be on a level playing field.

Lewis was also asked about Bolt and then Jamaica’s doping issues in a TV interview in India.

On Bolt: “A lot of the things that he does and is able to do, there is no way an American could do. An American could not say, ‘I am a legend.’ … We would get crucified. It’s a different era. You’re allowed to talk about yourself more now. It’s just something that we couldn’t have ever done.”

In August, the World Anti-Doping Agency said “serious issues” were raised in a report that Jamaica carried out one out-of-competition drug test in the five months leading up to the 2012 Olympics.

That report proved Lewis’ comments after Beijing somewhat prophetic, comments he referenced in the India TV interview.

“A couple of years ago, I was attacked, especially by the Jamaicans and Usain, about my comments,” Lewis said. “But all of a sudden when what I said was true, everyone went silent. I think their issue should be, let’s go back and ask them [Jamaica] to show that they’re doing what’s supposed to be done because I don’t know of any country that’s had as many positive tests in the last three or four years than their country.”

Several sprint stars failed drug tests last year, including Jamaicans Veronica Campbell-Brown, Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson, American Tyson Gay and Trinidad and Tobago’s Kelly-Ann Baptiste.

Campbell-Brown was cleared due to flaws in test collection procedures and possible contamination of her urine sample. Powell and Simpson were suspended 18 months but have reportedly appealed.

Jamaican sprinters at last weekend’s World Relays in Nassau, Bahamas, responded to Lewis.

“He [Lewis] has been talking a lot of smack,” Olympic 100m and 200m silver medalist Yohan Blake said, according to the Jamaica Gleaner. “Even the other day in India, he said some things about Bolt, but we know we are clean, and we know we are good for the sport. We feel like we always have something to prove. We are taking all his records. There is no more for him.”

Blake and the Jamaica 4x200m relay team at the World Relays broke a world record held by a group that included Lewis from 1994, wiping Lewis’ name from the outdoor track and field world-record book.

Bolt and Lewis will continue to be intertwined going to the 2016 Olympics, where Bolt could tie the record for career track and field golds. Lewis and Finnish distance legend Paavo Nurmi each have nine. Bolt has six.

Video: Track runners collide at World Relays

Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross beat top-ranked Brazilians for first time

Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross
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Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross beat Brazil’s best beach volleyball team for the first time and extended the longest winning streak of their partnership in winning the Moscow Grand Slam on Sunday.

“That just shows our growth,” Ross said. “We’re still on the up and up.”

Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic champion, and Ross, an Olympic silver medalist, beat Olympic qualifying top seed Larissa and Talita 22-20, 21-17 in the final for their third straight international title.

Walsh Jennings and Ross have now won 22 straight FIVB World Tour matches, the best run of their three-year parternship. Walsh Jennings last reached a streak this long from 2007 to 2010, when she won 78 straight international matches with Misty May-Treanor and Nicole Branagh, according to BVBInfo.com

The Americans had lost all three of their previous matches (one a one-set exhibition) versus Larissa and Talita:

Feb. 27, 2015 — 26-24 in Rio de Janeiro
Aug. 23, 2015 — 21-18, 21-16 in Long Beach, Calif.
March 20, 2016 — 22-20, 21-19 in Vitoria, Brazil

“You know what makes me happy? This is done. Now we’ve done it, we’ve beaten them and put it to rest,” Walsh Jennings said, according to USA Volleyball.

Larissa and Talita, seeking to become Brazil’s first Olympic women’s beach volleyball champions in 20 years, have won 12 of their 20 international tournaments since pairing in July 2014.

The FIVB World Tour continues in Hamburg, Germany, next week, the final event in Olympic qualifying. Walsh Jennings and Ross are expected to play there.

Walsh Jennings and Ross and Larissa and Talita are already qualified for the Rio Games.

MORE: Logan Tom continues volleyball career in Indonesia

Star goalie Ashleigh Johnson set to make U.S. Olympic water polo history

Ashleigh Johnson
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LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. — Donna Johnson just wanted her five children to be safe around the pool at her Miami home. That was it, really, the first step in Ashleigh Johnson‘s path from prodigy to USA water polo.

Swim lessons turned into meets when their instructor told Donna Johnson her children were so good she had nothing left to teach them. When Ashleigh and her siblings continued to show athletic potential as they got older, Donna Johnson, a single mother and nurse from Jamaica, delivered a simple message to them.

“For everything that they do, it’s not about pressure, it’s about maximizing your potential,” she said.

Now her oldest daughter is about to make history this summer. Ashleigh, a goaltender blessed with jaw-dropping athleticism, is a lock for Rio de Janeiro, putting her on track to become the first black woman to play water polo for the U.S. Olympic team.

While this is just the fifth Games for the women’s tournament, Johnson’s ascension to elite goaltender is a welcome development for a sport looking for more diversity and growth outside of water polo-crazy Southern California.

Each of Johnson’s teammates is from the Golden State, and the same three Pac-12 schools — UCLA, Southern California and Stanford — dominate the roster. Seventy-five percent of USA Water Polo’s roughly 42,000 members live in California.

After starring at Ransom Everglades High School in Florida, Johnson opted for Princeton instead of USC.

“I think Ashleigh Johnson’s the future of our sport in the U.S.,” USA Water Polo CEO Christopher Ramsey said. “She’s an out-of-California athlete who grew up in Florida. She went to Princeton, high academic achiever from a different background than a lot of traditional water polo families are from.”

Just a short while ago, Johnson, 21, wasn’t interested in that future, at least with the national team. The thought of moving away from her tight-knit family and joining a new team in California wasn’t appealing to her, but several conversations with coach Adam Krikorian helped change her mind.

“I didn’t really know that the Olympics was a possibility for me,” Johnson said. “I thought it was just like coming and training like I had been doing for years, but just living out here, and he made me realize that the Olympics was a great opportunity and a possibility for me.”

Krikorian first heard of Johnson about 10 years ago when he was the head coach at UCLA. Nicolle Payne, one of his assistants with the Bruins and a former national team goaltender, was working a camp in Miami when she sent an email to Krikorian about America’s next great goaltender.

“She said, ‘Adam, keep this name in your mind,’ and she told me her name — Ashleigh Johnson,” Krikorian said. “‘She is the most amazing goalie I have ever seen.”‘

It’s easy to see what got Payne’s attention.

The 6-foot-1 Johnson has long arms, perfect for firing outlet passes for U.S. counterattacks and guarding the top parts of the goal, and she cuts through the water with impressive ease. Sick of swimming in high school, she was offered an out by her mother and coach if she won the 50-meter freestyle at states as a sophomore. So she won and walked away.

She collected 54 saves while helping the United States qualify for the Olympics at a tournament in the Netherlands in March, including 10 stops in an 11-6 victory over Italy in the final, capping an 8-0 performance for the Americans. But that gifted sprinter is still inside her.

At a recent practice, assistant coach Chris Oeding gave the team a chance to cut short the swimming portion of training if the players could assemble a sub-1:40 200-yard freestyle relay team. Krikorian and assistant coach Dan Klatt offered a nodding Johnson as a candidate, but four different players were chosen.

They made the time, but Johnson stole the show by swimming the second leg alongside the relay, leaving Krikorian and Klatt shaking their heads as she churned through the pool like a motorboat.

“She’s a freak,” Princeton coach Luis Nicolao said. “She’s just athletic. I often joke she could probably start for our basketball team, track team, swim team, she just has that natural ability to succeed at anything she does.”

Johnson and her sister, Chelsea, play for Nicolao with the Tigers. They have two older brothers, Blake and William, and one younger brother, Julius.

Their parents got divorced when Ashleigh was little, and Donna Johnson raised the kids mostly on her own. It’s a challenging juggling act not lost on her children.

“I mean she’s such a hard-working, loving and determined woman,” Ashleigh said, “and she’s taught me that hard work ethic and just to try my best at everything and love what I do.”

Chelsea Johnson, who joked that she followed her sister to Princeton because she didn’t want to play against her, said she sees similarities between Ashleigh and their mother.

“I think the biggest thing from her, she and Ashleigh, is that she’s always smiling, no matter what,” she said. “Like her and Ashleigh, not matter what they’re doing, no matter how hard the thing is, they’re always smiling and trying to make everyone around them feel better about whatever’s happening.”

VIDEO: Ashleigh Johnson stands out on U.S. water polo team