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.”

Jenn Suhr enters U.S. Championships with new pole, unfinished story

14 Olympic silver medalists with best chances for gold in Rio

Silver medalists
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The difference between winning and losing can be minuscule. Olympic gold could have easily been silver if not for an inch here or another second there.

While some athletes can seemingly win gold every time they step into competition, other Olympians are left collecting silver. They’re still remarkable athletes, but gold eludes them.

Some of the world’s best have another shot (for some, their last) at claiming the cherished Olympic gold medal over the next few weeks in Rio. Here are 14 such athletes to watch, in no particular order:

Tony Azevedo, United States, water polo
He’ll become the first five-time Olympian in U.S. water polo history, and he was born in and resides in Rio. It’d be a great place for Azevedo to win his first Olympic gold medal. The U.S. won silver in 2008 before a disappointing eighth-place result four years ago. The American men aren’t favored for gold like their female counterparts, but after taking second in the 2016 FINA World League, they’ve got a shot. Maybe Azevedo’s last shot.

Jordan Larson, United States, volleyball
The third-leading scorer for the U.S. women in 2012 as they fell to Brazil in the second consecutive Olympic gold-medal match, Larson will be just one of four women in Rio from that silver-medal squad. They’re favored to win the first Olympic gold for U.S. women’s indoor volleyball, being the top-ranked team in the world and reigning world champions. But to get that gold, Larson and the U.S. will likely need to take down Brazil in front of their raucous home crowd.

April Ross, United States, beach volleyball
She took silver at the London Games with partner Jen Kessy, losing to compatriots Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings in the final. But Ross is now teamed up with Walsh Jennings, who’s looking for her fourth straight Olympic gold medal. They’ll be the No. 3 seed in Rio –behind two Brazilian teams who, again, will have a boisterous crowd on their side.

Sarah Hammer, United States, cycling
She left London four years ago with two silver medals, but heads to Rio with two chances to grab gold. Hammer placed second the omnium and was on the women’s team pursuit unit that placed runner-up to Great Britain. But Hammer and three new teammates are the reigning team pursuit world champions. She also took bronze at the 2016 Worlds in omnium, so gold in that event in Rio wouldn’t be out of the question either.

Neymar, Brazil, soccer
He was supposed to get his gold in London, but the star-studded Brazilian side was shocked by Mexico, 2-1, in the final. So Neymar is back, competing as one of his team’s three over-23 players, seeking Brazil’s first Olympic gold in soccer (men or women). He was second on the squad with three goals in London; more in Rio would help his nation end the drought.

Marta, Brazil, soccer
A five-time FIFA World Player of the Year, Marta is a two-time Olympic silver medalist. She helped Brazil to runner-up status in 2004 and ’08, before struggling to sixth in 2012. The U.S. won each of those gold medals, as well as the 2015 World Cup (where Brazil was eliminated in the round of 16), leaving it as the decided favorite for Rio. But Brazil seeks its first Olympic soccer gold medal, playing the country’s most popular sport in front of the world’s most passionate fans, so Marta and Brazil certainly have a shot.

Alison Cerutti, Brazil, beach volleyball
He nearly had gold in London with beach legend Emmanuel Rego, but the Brazilians fell in the third set in the final to a German pair. Now, Alison has Bruno Oscar Schmidt by his side and the reigning world champions will be the No. 1 men’s seed on home sand at Copacabana Beach.

Yohan Blake, Jamaica, track and field
The runner-up to compatriot Usain Bolt in both the 100m and 200m four years ago, Blake did win a gold medal with Bolt on his team in the 4x100m relay. But he’s never won individual Olympic gold. He owns world championship gold, as Blake took the 100m at the 2011 Worlds after Bolt was disqualified for a false start. But Bolt may be at his most vulnerable in his Olympic career, so Blake, three years younger, hopes to capitalize.

Anita Włodarczyk, Poland, track and field
She’s the world record holder in hammer throw and favored for gold as the reigning world champion, especially considering the defending Olympic champion is Russian and won’t be present in Rio. Tatyana Lysenko won gold in London after defeating Wlodarczyk by .58 of a meter, but her country’s doping scandal will keep her home.

Caster Semenya, South Africa, track and field
Known for a gender-testing controversy that has followed her since 2009, Semenya is the favorite in the women’s 800m, and she could race the 400m too. She took silver in the 800m at the London Games, finishing behind Russian Mariya Savinova and ahead of Russian Ekaterina Poistogova. Neither of those women will be in Rio due to Russia’s doping scandal. Semenya owns three of the four fastest 800m times this year.

Laszlo Cseh, Hungary, swimming
Were it not for a guy named Michael Phelps, Cseh would’ve won three gold medals at the 2008 Games. Instead, he owns five career Olympic medals (three silver, two bronze) all in races won by Phelps. But Phelps enters his final Olympics not nearly as intense as in years past. That could be a good thing or a bad thing, but Cseh has a shot at knocking off Phelps in the 100m and 200m butterfly. Phelps holds the best time in the 100m since 2013 (50.45) while Cseh is third (50.86); Cseh owns the best time in the 200m since 2013 (1:52.91) while Phelps is second (1:52.94).

Qiu Bo, China, diving
Of the eight diving events at the Olympics, China won gold in six at the 2012 Games and claimed silver in the other two. Qiu Bo was one of the two to take second, as he was edged by American David Boudia in the 10m platform. Qiu has since earned gold at the 2013 and 2015 Worlds, relegating Boudia to silver both times. The two should do battle again in Rio.

Pau Gasol, Spain, basketball
Gasol’s chances of obtaining gold are slim considering the U.S. men’s dominance in international hoops, but Spain’s chances of cracking Team USA are better than anyone else’s. Spain has met the U.S. in the past two Olympic finals and actually stayed with the Americans until the fourth quarter both times. The 2016 U.S. team is thought to be its weakest since 2004, though it’s still heavily favored.

Lee Chong Wei, Malaysia, badminton
Lee owns two silver medals after losing in the 2008 and ’12 Olympic finals. He also holds three silver medals from world championships, falling in the final at the past three such competitions (2011, ’13 and ’15). Lee was knocked off by China’s Lin Dan in four of those events, including both Olympics, and by China’s Chen Long at the 2015 Worlds. But his hope for Olympic breakthrough comes from these rivals’ most recent meeting at the 2016 Asian Championships – Lee took out Lin in the semis and defeated Chen in the final. Lee will be the No. 1 seed in Rio.

MORE: Rio Olympics schedule highlights, daily events to watch

Anderson Varejao will miss Olympics

Anderson Varejao
AP
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One of Brazil’s most recognizable Olympians (to a U.S. audience, at least) will miss the Rio Games.

Golden State Warriors big man Anderson Varejao will miss the Olympics due to a back injury, the NBA team said Wednesday.

The Brazil men’s basketball team is now down two of its top four scorers from the 2012 Olympics.

The team was already without Atlanta Hawks big man Tiago Splitter, who underwent NBA season-ending hip surgery in February.

Splitter and Varejao were the third- and fourth-leading scorers on Brazil’s 2012 Olympic team that was eliminated in the quarterfinals after not qualifying for the Games in 2000, 2004 and 2008.

Brazil’s Olympic roster includes four other NBA players — Leandro Barbosa, Marcelo HuertasNenê and Raul Neto.

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