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Kelly Clark and long, halfpipe road to Olympics No. 5

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VAIL, Colo. (AP) — For the better part of a month, Kelly Clark needed help for everything. She wasn’t allowed to sit up straight, and her feet were bound together to avoid compromising tissue around her newly repaired hip that needed rest and plenty of hard work to become functional again.

This is the price the 33-year-old snowboarding icon was willing to pay to go for a fifth trip to the Olympic halfpipe.

And though Clark – with her gold medal and the two bronze medals that she values every bit as much – has nothing left to prove to anyone but herself, this is the road she was willing to travel to make sure she leaves the competitive side of her sport on her terms.

“A very limiting, humbling experience,” Clark called the seven-month repair-rehab-and-recovery process that began with surgery last March. Among the fixes: Repair the labrum – the cartilage around the hip socket that holds the leg – and reattach part of the hamstring tendon that had torn away from the bone.

“I had to reevaluate what success looks like,” Clark said. “If I kept the same measure of success of, `I’m this amazing athlete,’ – well, I was not an amazing athlete. I was a person who needed a lot of help to get through the day, whether it was emotionally, mentally or physically.”

Nobody inside the snowboarding world would be surprised if Clark does what no snowboarder has done and makes a fifth Olympic team. And nobody would be surprised if she’s at the top of the podium in the mountains of Korea next February: After getting healthy, Clark returned this season to win an Olympic test event in Korea and a U.S. Grand Prix contest at Mammoth Mountain, California.

But in a year where the bulk of the attention has gone to Chloe Kim, the 16-year-old phenom whose parents are from South Korea, Clark has stayed somewhat under the radar. Her reaction to the Kim sensation: “I was a (teenager) at one point, too.”

As Clark puts it, she was snowboarding before snowboarding was cool . Before it was an Olympic sport and before most resorts even allowed the then-renegades on the mountain.

At 18, Clark helped change all that, coming into her own in the 2001-02 season by winning the last two Olympic qualifiers, the Winter X Games, the Olympics and the U.S. Open. Her victory at the Salt Lake City Games, which came about 24 hours before the U.S. men swept the medals on the halfpipe, officially put snowboarding on the map.

Her prescient comments from that day: “Maybe it will shine a light on snowboarding, and people will look at it in a different way.”

Snowboarding hasn’t been the same since then and, in a way, the journey Clark has taken from her home in West Dover, Vermont, through the upper echelons of the sport has included many of the same growing pains.

“She didn’t seem to be getting any fulfillment or joy out of it,” said longtime U.S. halfpipe coach Rick Bower, speaking about the period between 2003-06, when Clark struggled to adjust to life as an Olympic champion. “It seemed like she was going through the motions. I kept wondering, does she want to keep doing this?”

Clark had a winning run going at the 2006 Turin Games before falling on her last jump – a slip-up that left her in fourth place behind Americans Hannah Teter and Gretchen Bleiler, along with Kjersti Buaas of Norway. Certainly, the next generation of snowboarders had caught up and passed the 2002 champion.

But no.

Clark finished third at the next two Olympics and, in between those games, put together a 16-contest winning streak, the likes of which may never been seen again on the halfpipe.

For all those victories, though, she insists the Olympic bronze medals were as meaningful as any win “because you value things based on what they cost you.”

On a mushy halfpipe in Vancouver, Clark closed with a frontside 900 jump on her second and final opportunity after falling hard and hurting her wrist on the same jump in the previous run. “She was definitely scared and crying and feeling pressure immensely,” Bower said. “To be able to put a run down under those circumstances and get on the podium, it was pretty cool.”

On an equally poor halfpipe in Sochi, she won bronze after falling six straight times – five during practice runs, then once in competition.

“I could have just said, `It’s over, thanks for coming,”‘ Clark said. “But when I look back at that performance, it was what I personally overcame that night that made it such a victory.”

So, it makes perfect sense that a gold medal in Korea isn’t what’s motivating Clark these days.

She overcame the difficult hip surgery to give herself a chance in 2018 and ensure she wouldn’t be bailing out of the sport for health reasons.

And 15 years after making the halfpipe part of the mainstream conversation in American sports, she has remained a central part of that conversation.

“If it was only about winning things, I probably should’ve stopped a long time ago,” Clark said. “The motivators change over the years. But I think I still have something left to contribute, and I haven’t hit my potential, and that’s why I’m still here.”

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Tori Bowie upsets Elaine Thompson; Gatlin, Felix struggle at Pre

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Tori Bowie ran a statement 200m at the Pre Classic, clocking the fastest-ever time before the month of June and upsetting Olympic champion Elaine Thompson of Jamaica.

And she called it a training race.

“My coach made it clear that we were just training for nationals,” Bowie, huffing and puffing after winning in 21.77 seconds, told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “No pressure at all.”

Bowie, the Olympic 100m silver medalist and 200m bronze medalist, beat her personal best by .22 of a second.

While Bowie starred, U.S. stalwarts Allyson Felix and Justin Gatlin dropped to fifth-place finishes Saturday.

Full Pre Classic results are here.

Athletes are preparing for the U.S. Championships from June 23-25, a qualifying meet for the world championships in London in August.

Felix finished fifth in the 200m behind Bowie, Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller, Thompson and Olympic 200m silver medalist Dafne Schippers.

“Not that great, not that great today,” Felix said, according to meet officials. “I feel like my training is going well, it was good to get out here and see where I was at.”

Felix has a bye into the worlds in the 400m as defending world champion but is no longer a medal favorite in the 200m, where she won Olympic silver in 2004 and 2008 and gold in 2012. She clocked 22.33 seconds for fifth Saturday, which was .35 behind third-place Thompson.

Felix missed the 2016 Olympic team in the 200m by .01 while slowed by an ankle injury. But in 2015, a healthy Felix ran faster than 22.33 in all four of her 200m races.

Gatlin finished fifth in the 100m in 9.97 seconds, continuing his slowest season in recent years. At 35 years old, he is no longer looking like the top rival to Usain Bolt, who debuts in his farewell season June 10.

In fact, Gatlin may be in danger of not making the U.S. team in the 100m, which will be the top three finishers at nationals in four weeks.

In contrast, American Ronnie Baker is looking like a medal contender. He won Saturday in 9.86 seconds, which would be the fastest time in the world this year if not for too much tailwind (2.4 meters/second).

Baker, 23, has been a surprise this season, breaking 10 seconds a total of three times including Saturday. He was eliminated in the 2016 Olympic Trials semifinals and had not broken 10 seconds with legal wind before this year.

“My thoughts were, I’ve got every chance to win this just as much as everyone else does,” Baker told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “9.86 is unbelievable.”

Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen, a 16-year-old, became one of the youngest-ever to break four minutes in the mile. He finished 11th against a field of older runners.

Four-time Olympic champion Mo Farah held off Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha to extend his 5000m winning streak to 11 meets dating to 2013. Farah clocked 13:00.7 to Kejelcha’s 13:01.21.

It marked Farah’s last track race in the U.S. as the Oregon-based Brit plans to switch to marathon running after the world championships in August.

Rio gold medalist Caster Semenya barely extended her 800m undefeated streak to 16 finals. The scrutinized South Africa edged Olympic bronze medalist Margaret Wambui by one tenth of a second, clocking 1:59.78.

Olympic champion Omar McLeod took the 110m hurdles in 13.01 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year. McLeod beat a field that included Aries Merritt, the 2012 Olympic champion and world-record holder (12.80), and 2013 World champion David Oliver.

Christian Taylor, a two-time Olympic champion, recorded the third-best triple jump of all time, 18.11 meters.

Rio bronze medalist Sam Kendricks won the pole vault against a field that included Olympic champion Thiago Braz of Brazil, world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France and Swedish phenom Armand Duplantis, a Louisiana high school junior. Kendricks cleared 5.86 meters.

Olympic bronze medalist Ashley Spencer won the 400m hurdles in 53.38 seconds, a personal best and the fastest time in the world this year. Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad was fifth in her first 400m hurdles race of the year.

In the shot put, Olympic champion Ryan Crouser unleashed a 22.43-meter throw to beat a field including world champion Joe Kovacs.

Jasmin Stowers won the 100m hurdles in 12.59 seconds, .03 off the fastest time in the world this year. The field lacked suspended Olympic champion Brianna Rollins and world-record holder Keni Harrison, who recently suffered a broken hand.

Russian Maria Lasitskene won the high jump in her first competition outside of Russia since 2015, when she was world champion. Lasitskene competed as a neutral athlete Saturday as Russia is still banned from international competition due to its poor anti-doping record. Her 2.03-meter clearance matched the best in the world since June 2013.

The Diamond League continues in Rome on June 8, with coverage on NBC Sports Gold.

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Mo Farah on Oregon Project allegations: ‘I’m sick of it’

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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — As he prepares for what could be his final track race on U.S. soil, Mo Farah remains dogged by doping allegations surrounding his team.

The British Olympian will race the 5000m Saturday at the Prefontaine Classic, the only U.S. stop in the elite Diamond League series (NBC, NBC Sports Gold from 4-6 p.m. ET).

Farah has said that 2017 will be his last year on the track, with an eye on the world championships in London this August. The 34-year-old plans to transition after that to marathons.

Farah defended his 5000m and 10,000m titles at the Rio Olympics last August, becoming the first British track and field athlete to win four Olympic gold medals. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth last December.

But at a news conference for the Prefontaine, Farah faced questions about allegations that paint his team, Nike’s Oregon Project, in a bad light.

Details have emerged from a 2016 report prepared by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency on practices by the team, led by decorated U.S. marathoner Alberto Salazar. Allegations have also surfaced recently based on information obtained by the hacking group known as Fancy Bears.

“I just get sick of it, really, to be honest with you,” Farah said. “As an athlete you just want to do the best as you can, and that’s what I want to do. But it’s nothing new. It’s something the press likes to be able to twist it and add a little bit of spices and add stuff on it. Being an Olympic champion, four-time Olympic champion, you do get a lot of that stuff. But at the same time you just have to do the best that you can. I believe in clean sports.”

He said he has not read the USADA report that has shown up online.

“It’s nothing new. You tell me something new. Since 2011 it’s the same stuff,” Farah said, clearly exasperated. “It’s all right. That’s what you get being an Olympic champion, and what we do.”

Farah has been training for the past five months in Flagstaff, Ariz., for the outdoor season and his final bow at the worlds. He hopes to run both of his signature races, the 5000m and 10,000m, if his body lets him, he said.

Saturday’s Prefontaine will be bittersweet.

“I don’t like to think like that, but it will be, my last,” he said. “It will probably be very emotional knowing that will be my last track racing in the U.S. But you know, tomorrow (I) just can’t be worrying about anything. I just have to concentrate on the race and getting the job done.”

Farah will be part of a stellar field that includes Paul Chelimo, the 5000m silver medalist in Rio, and Kenyan Paul Tanui, the Rio silver medalist in the 10,000m.

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VIDEO: Runner clocks No. 2 time ever … after stopping to fix shoe