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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Ashley Wagner eyes history at Grand Prix Final after ‘disaster’ in Japan

Ashley Wagner
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Ashley Wagner can next week become the first U.S. singles skater to make four straight Grand Prix Final podiums, but not if she performs like she did last weekend at NHK Trophy in Japan.

“NHK was a disaster,” the three-time U.S. champion said Tuesday, “but that was kind of a one-time deal.”

Wagner backed into the Grand Prix Final as the sixth and final women’s qualifier by finishing fourth at NHK Trophy on Saturday, snapping her streak of 10 straight podium finishes in Grand Prix events. She had won Skate Canada four weeks earlier.

The Grand Prix Final is the most prestigious annual figure skating competition outside of the World Championships and an event that Wagner calls a preview for Worlds (in Boston in late March/early April).

In Japan, Wagner had trouble cleanly landing and fully rotating jumps in both programs, and though she didn’t fall, her mental state was clearly shaken even before the free skate Saturday.

Japanese legend Mao Asada (one of three women to make four straight Grand Prix Final podiums, along with Irina Slutskaya and Michelle Kwan) skated immediately before Wagner.

The home crowd was at its loudest after Asada rebounded from her own poor short to move into the lead (temporarily, Asada finished third).

“I didn’t know how Mao had skated,” said Wagner, who was in third after the short program. “I figured I needed to at least get on the podium [to definitely make the Grand Prix Final], and I knew that I could probably afford a fourth place [to still make the Final]. I think that is where I went wrong. I should have just put my head down, started fresh and gone into that long program not focusing on, OK, well, I can get as low as this and I’ll make it to the [Grand Prix] Final. I think that didn’t really get me into the fighting spirit that I’m so used to competing with. When I focus on the results and not how I’m going to get there, it usually doesn’t go so well for me. It was a rookie mistake.

“I think I was playing it safe and trying to avoid making a mistake, and of course that’s exactly what I ended up doing.”

Wagner placed fifth in the free skate and fourth overall. She actually could have finished sixth overall and still made the Barcelona Grand Prix Final.

So she goes into next weekend’s competition as an underdog to Russians Yevgenia Medvedeva and Yelena Radionova, the last two World Junior champions. Plus countrywoman Gracie Gold and Asada.

Wagner’s confidence that the NHK hiccup won’t repeat could be bolstered by last season, when she was also the last qualifier into the Grand Prix Final (before Gold withdrew), was in last place after the Final short program but starred in the free skate to grab bronze.

“I like it when I have something not go so well,” she said. “When things are too perfect for too long, in a way it kind of freaks me out a little bit.”

Wagner called the women’s field in Barcelona “wide open.” It may be, given six different women won the six qualifying events, the first time nobody doubled up since 2006.

However, Wagner tapped Asada when asked to name her biggest competition. Wagner, 24, and Asada, 25, are the only women’s Grand Prix Final qualifiers older than 20.

“When she’s on, [Asada] has the whole package,” Wagner said of the three-time World champion who took last season off from competition. “She knows how to put on a performance. The audience loves her. Technically, she’s very strong. I think that If I had to pinpoint someone, Mao Asada on one of her good days, is definitely going to be one of the top girls.”

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Travis Ganong on the rise, leads U.S. men into Beaver Creek

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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) — Before checking into his Colorado hotel, Travis Ganong made a quick pit stop with his doctor to get the stitches removed from his surgically repaired right thumb.

The digit remains extremely swollen even two weeks after a training crash. So much so that he can barely push out of the starting gate.

Not that anyone could tell in Lake Louise, Alberta, last weekend, when Ganong finished third in a downhill race and came within a wisp of another podium spot in the super-G.

Stitches removed and confidence soaring, Ganong’s eager to take on the demanding course in Beaver Creek over the weekend. This is a place where last February he earned a breakthrough silver medal in the downhill at World Championships (video here).

”It’s really nice to have these solid results so early in the season. It takes the edge off,” Ganong said. ”Before you have the first result, you’re always questioning yourself. Now I can relax and that’s when the really good skiing comes.”

The 27-year-old from Squaw Valley, California, has been a rising force on the U.S. speed team since a fifth-place finish at the 2014 Sochi Games.

In such a fast sport, though, he’s taken a gradual approach to his development – never racing outside his comfort zone until he was good and ready. That was all part of his calculated plan, which came to fruition last season as he won his first World Cup downhill race in Italy and earned his first medal at Worlds.

”I was always building, building, building, getting better and better incrementally,” Ganong said. ”Last year I was like, ‘OK, my time is now. I need to try something new.’

”Bam, I won a race. But then I would have a horrible race. … Now this year it’s all about bringing that consistency back to the top, top level.”

Growing up in Squaw Valley, Ganong could always be found somewhere on the mountain, whether it was skiing powder in the back-country with his father, cross-country skiing (he was good, too), snowboarding (yep, he tried that), going over moguls or training with his team.

”We had this two- or three-inch rule where if it snowed that much, we didn’t worry about setting up gates. We’d go freeskiing and chase each other around the mountain,” Ganong said. ”That’s the No. 1 reason why so many good skiers come out of there.”

Like longtime U.S. skiing great Daron Rahlves, one of Ganong’s idols as a kid. The two talk all the time about ways Ganong can uncover more speed.

”I really excel on the steeper, more gnarly courses,” Ganong said. ”I need to try to figure out a way to bring that same intensity to the easier hills that are a little flatter and not my strong suit. Daron and I, that’s all we talk about when we talk about ski racing.”

Ganong broke through last weekend in Lake Louise, which is more of a glider’s course.

Not bad considering his recent wipeout. He tumbled during an early morning training session in Vail when he didn’t pick up a roll in the terrain. He needed surgery to fix a torn tendon and ligaments. He also bruised his left knee.

So he didn’t have all that high of expectations going into Lake Louise.

”For me to have that kind of speed on that kind of hill, yeah, that was a little surprising,” Ganong said. ”I skied really relaxed and just kind of within myself.”

No one could catch Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, though, who came away with wins on both days as he returns to the World Cup circuit after tearing his Achilles tendon last season while juggling a soccer ball.

”Aksel just knows how to let the skis go,” Ganong said. ”But Beaver Creek? It’s a different hill.”

Ganong’s kind of hill.

”Beaver Creek is way more my style of skiing and my style of hill,” said Ganong, who was fifth last December in a World Cup downhill at Birds of Prey. ”I’m trying to not think too much about it, just keep working hard, and keep thinking I’m an underdog and have something to prove.

”Hopefully, that’s a good mentality to keep me fired up.”

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