Tori Bowie

Tori Bowie is new sprint sensation at U.S. Championships

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The public address runner introductions at the Prefontaine Classic 200m went in descending order, beginning from lane eight. For terrified Tori Bowie, in lane one, that only enhanced the audible sense of her much more accomplished competition.

Bowie, about to start the second 200m race of her pro career, looked out on the revered Hayward Field track during applause for the women who preceded her on May 31. To her right stood the World, Olympic and NCAA champions in the event.

“I really need to run well,” Bowie thought. “Or I’m going to get embarrassed. I never want to be last.”

Bowie, predominantly a long jumper until the last two months, hadn’t been told she was added to the Prefontaine 200m field until about 48 hours before the race.

She won it, in 22.18 seconds. Bowie slashed .39 of a second off her previous 200m race time and posted the fastest 200m of the year. The time would have won a silver medal at the 2013 World Championships.

“Did this really just happen?” she thought after. “This really just happened.”

Bowie, 23, also won 100m sprints in Rome and New York the next two weeks.

The Mississippian who finished 12th in the 100m and fourth in the long jump at last year’s U.S. Outdoor Championships is the sprint revelation of this non-Olympic, non-World Championships season. She is the best U.S. women’s sprinter of 2014, so far.

Bowie is entered in the 100m again at this week’s U.S. Outdoor Championships in Sacramento, Calif. The first round is Thursday night, and the semifinals and finals Friday.

USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships broadcast schedule

Bowie is also on the start lists for the 200m and long jump but said earlier this week she only planned to compete in the 100m. Maybe next year she will contest all three events. Maybe in two years.

“I’m penciling her in as one of the first names to make the team in Rio,” NBC Olympics analyst Ato Boldon said. “She’s here to stay. She’s not just a 2014 story. This is a name that everybody else is going to have to remember.”

Bowie goes by a shortened version of her given name Frentorish (“I want you to have a name that no one else has,” her father said). She was left by her biological mother at a foster home with her sister at age 2. Her paternal grandmother took custody one year later in Sandhill, Miss., a community with a 24-word Wikipedia entry.

“The closest Walmart to us is probably 15 miles away,” said Julie Crockett, a secretary at Bowie’s high school and her godmother.

Bowie grew up with her best friend sister, Tamarra, who is 11 months younger, and about 30 extended family members. They played basketball, shot BB guns and picked blackberries.

The sisters were dragged to track and field by their high school basketball coach, who made it mandatory if nothing else for conditioning. They considered boycotting, Tamarra said, because of the short shorts. Their grandmother, their moral compass, wouldn’t let them.

“It wasn’t so bad,” said Tamarra, a triple jumper now trying to get into law school. “We started winning everything.”

“My first track experience wasn’t actually a track experience,” Bowie, a sophomore then, said. “It was kind of like my basketball coach taking me out to this grassy area and making us run in a circle.”

Pisgah High School didn’t have a track. Yet Bowie still won a state long jump title (in the third or fourth meet of her life, she estimates) and then two more as a junior and senior.

“It was kind of overwhelming,” Bowie said, “because who wins state championships their first year competing and has absolutely no idea what they’re doing?”

Athletes to watch at U.S. Championships

Bowie’s name is on five or six banners inside the Pisgah High School gym wall for track and basketball.

“She was by far one of the best athletes,” Crockett said. “It was just, how far can this go?”

At first, about 100 miles south. Bowie, a homebody, joined the track and field team at Southern Miss.

Southern Miss coach Kevin Stephen marveled at Bowie’s ability to power through grueling workouts and said in her first race or two as a freshman, she dropped two seconds off her high school best in the 200m.

Stephen told Bowie she could be world class in the 200m if she focused on it, but she humbly brushed away the notion and continued to focus on the long jump, winning the 2011 NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Championships.

“She’s not about second place,” Stephen said. “She’s all about putting in the work to get that top spot. … We only scratched the surface the type of athlete she was.”

Bowie graduated with a psychology degree in December 2012, but before that she couldn’t eat, speak or compete that summer. She suffered a broken jaw in an off-the-track freak accident and missed the Olympic Trials.

She watched the London Olympic long jump, won by fellow Magnolia State native Brittney Reese, and thought, I could beat these women.

She showed professional promise in the long jump and finished second at the U.S. Indoor Championships in February (Reese did not compete there). But she wasn’t satisfied enough and considered quitting the sport in her first year as a pro. Her grandmother wouldn’t allow it.

“She’s the greatest support system I’ve ever had, and she’s never been to the track,” Bowie said.

In March, Bowie finished last in long jump qualifying at the World Indoor Championships in Sopot, Poland, and called her agent who had lobbied on behalf of her sprinting potential. She was ready for a change, ready to run.

Bowie moved from the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., and began working with sprint coach Lance Brauman in Clermont, Fla., full time in the spring. Brauman is best known as the coach of Tyson Gay, a longtime rival of Usain Bolt who just finished a one-year doping suspension.

“It has been the piece that’s been missing from the puzzle,” said Bowie, working in particular to develop her start technique. “I was so used to training on my own and not having anyone to push me.”

Bowie said she feels no added pressure with her ascent over the last two months, with victories in Rome, New York and Oregon. She hasn’t changed. She still picks up her phone before and after races and calls her grandmother, who cries out of joy. She still carries books in her purse, three currently, and leans on inspirational phrases.

“My deepest fear is not that I am inadequate,” Bowie texted, paraphrasing a line from Marianne Williamson‘s “A Return To Love.” “My deepest fear is that I am powerful beyond measure.”

Bowie has not forgotten the long jump. She plans to jump again at European meets later this season, but the focus this week is on the 100m. Her sister flies to Sacramento to watch the semis and finals Friday.

“It’s like I run the race with her,” Tamarra said. “When she’s on that line, I’m about to run it, too. It’s always been like that.”

Bowie’s performances are well-known at Pisgah High School, where the principal has staff laminate and post Bowie’s articles and results around the halls.

“Do I feel like I have what it takes to beat the best? Yes, I do feel that way,” Bowie said. “I just didn’t expect it to happen right now.”

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Pressure on Ashley Wagner at world championships

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Ashley Wagner‘s four-year plan has her peaking in 2018, not at the 2017 World Championships, but many call Wagner to carry the U.S. women at worlds in Helsinki next week.

“Next year is the year that I am, like, in it to kill,” she said. “This year is maintaining. This year is my chance to work out all of the kinks, figure out where I want to be mentally going into next year.”

Wagner, the 2016 World silver medalist, is the only skater of three American women on this year’s worlds team with prior worlds experience. She is the only one ranked higher than 20th in the world this season.

Normally, figure skating is an individual sport. But next week, the top two U.S. women’s results must add up to no greater than 13 (Wagner places third, and either U.S. champion Karen Chen or U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell places 10th or better, for example).

If not, the U.S. will have two rather than the maximum three women’s entries at the PyeongChang Olympics. The U.S. had three spots at four of the last five Olympics.

Anything less than three in 2018 would mean the U.S. is not keeping up with world power Russia and maybe even Canada and Japan. And it becomes that much harder for Wagner and everyone else to make the Olympic team.

“I know that I have a huge role in these three spots at these world championships,” Wagner said. “I need to set this team up as good as I possibly can, so that way the pressure’s off the other girls.”

The others are the 17-year-old Chen, the surprise winner at the U.S. Championships in January, who then placed 12th at February’s Four Continents Championships, an event that doesn’t include Europeans. Chen said she suffered from nerves, a flu and foot pain caused by broken boots at Four Continents.

And Bell, who took silver at October’s Skate America behind training partner Wagner. Bell, 20, finished sixth at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea, where she competed with an amount of pressure she had never before felt.

Of skaters entered at worlds, Bell has the 10th-best total score this season. The skater with the 12th-best total in the worlds field is more than nine points shy of Bell. Chen comes in seeded 16th.

“The tough thing about this worlds is that we have two rookies going into a very stressful event,” Wagner said. “So these two girls are in a really tough position, and I really feel for them. It’s kind of like you have to buckle up and deal with this, and that’s like your only option.”

There is reason for optimism, should Wagner put up something close to the performance of her life from last year’s worlds, where she became the first U.S. women’s medalist in a decade.

“Success in Finland is getting onto that podium,” Wagner said.

But Wagner is nearing the end of her (so far) least impressive season in probably six years. She is seeded eighth at worlds by this season’s top international scores.

She failed to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final for the first time since 2011. She was beaten at nationals despite longtime rival Gracie Gold underperforming.

However, Wagner’s goal at nationals wasn’t to win, but to finish in the top three to make the worlds team. She called the runner-up result “perfect.” She focused the last two months on firming up the areas where she lost points.

“Even though to some on the outside looking in, it wouldn’t look like it was the most successful season for me,” Wagner said. “I think at the end of the day this season has been exactly what I needed it to be.”

The favorite in Helsinki is clearly Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva, who hasn’t lost since November 2015 and can become the first repeat world champion since Michelle Kwan in 2001.

Wagner said she hasn’t watched any of Medvedeva’s programs this season.

“The only thing that I know about is her long program music is not my favorite piece of music,” Wagner said, alluding to Medvedeva’s choice of sound from “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” a 2011 film relating to the 9/11 attacks. The music includes, at one point, the voice of George W. Bush declaring that two airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center.

But Wagner was effusive of Medvedeva, the latest in a string of Russian Olympic and world champions dating to the Sochi Olympics.

“She is a set bar that everybody is chasing after, and I think in years past that bar was always changing,” Wagner said. “Now it’s one set thing I know exactly the quality of skating I have to reach, I know exactly the technical program that I have to be able to accomplish.”

Wagner, a seasoned 25 years old, noted a key point this week. She is the only active women’s skater in her class, with her length of experience, who hasn’t taken a break.

Italian Carolina Kostner is 30, but she’s competing at worlds for the first time since 2014, following two seasons off. Japan’s three-time world champion Mao Asada is 26, but she took a season off after Sochi and this year failed to make the worlds team.

Wagner reflected on her world silver medal and her three national championships. She knows they mean nothing next week.

“I have to prove myself all over again,” she said.

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NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

More Russians retroactively disqualified from 2012 Olympics

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MOSCOW (AP) — Three Russian athletes have been disqualified from the 2012 Olympics after failing doping retests, the country’s track and field federation said.

Hammer throwers Maria Bespalova and Gulfiya Khanafeeva and triple jumper Viktoria Valyukevich were all disqualified. None were medalists.

The disqualifications of Bespalova and Khanafeeva mean all three Russian women who competed in the hammer throw in 2012 have tested positive for doping. Tatyana Lysenko was the original winner, but was stripped of her gold medal in October.

Valyukevich, a former European indoor champion, was eighth in the triple jump at the 2012 Olympics and finished two places ahead of Russian teammate Tatyana Lebedeva, who has been stripped of two medals from the 2008 Beijing Games for doping.

In Tuesday’s statement, Russian officials didn’t say which substances were involved. The International Olympic Committee had no immediate comment.

It is the third time Khanafeeva, who won European championship silver in 2005, has been found guilty of a doping offense. She previously served bans in 2002 for a positive test and in 2008 for providing someone else’s urine in a drug test sample.

Bespalova is currently serving a four-year ban after testing positive for a banned steroid in 2015.

Since the IOC started retesting samples from the 2008 and 2012 Games last year, more than 30 Russians in various sports have tested positive. That makes them the largest group out of more than 100 positive tests. Seven more Russians have been disqualified for other doping offenses.

Russia has lost 26 Olympic medals as a result, most of them in track and field. Many of the cases involve turinabol, a substance which former Moscow anti-doping laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov has admitted supplying to athletes in a steroid cocktail.

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