AP

Hein Verbruggen, cycling chief during Lance Armstrong era, dies

Leave a comment

BRUSSELS (AP) — Hein Verbruggen, the former president of the International Cycling Union who oversaw the worldwide spread of a sport often tainted by doping, has died. He was 75.

The UCI and the International Olympic Committee both reacted to the news on Wednesday, underscoring the Dutchman’s clout within both organizations.

The IOC flew its flag at half staff and Dutch King Willem-Alexander, a former IOC member, called him “a man with a big heart for the Olympic movement, for cycling and those close to him.”

Dutch cycling association spokesman Kevin Leenheers confirmed the death, saying Verbruggen died on Tuesday night.

Critics said Verbruggen was too close to those involved in doping. He was often confronted for his relationship with Lance Armstrong, the American rider who was the face of cycling with his seven Tour de France victories before he came to embody the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs.

Time and again Verbruggen faced accusers saying he was colluding with dopers instead of countering them. Just as often, he fought back to save his tarnished reputation. He proclaimed his innocence until his death.

Verbruggen was a consummate businessman all his life, yet he was never able to shake the doping scandals during his reign.

The reason for his opposition to doping was simple, he said.

“I want to get rid of doping because it prevents me from selling the sport,” Verbruggen said three decades ago, as he was making his way up the ladder in the cycling world.

As a sales manager at Mars food, he got into cycling and found a sport which was totally antiquated when others like tennis were developing with the times and becoming successful professional enterprises.

When cycling still centered mainly on France, Belgium and Italy for major races, Verbruggen was already dreaming about the world at large, driven by such ideas as World Cup rankings to get a more global appeal.

“Protect in Europe what we have, and then afterwards comes America,” he said.

And no one was bigger in America than Armstrong. With his fightback from cancer to become the dominant rider of his age, the storybook saga was cut out for Verbruggen to push the internationalization of the sport.

The two thrived together until the rumors of doping became overpowering. The strongest claims were that the UCI helped cover up an Armstrong positive test at the 1999 Tour de France, the Texan’s first victory, and at another race two years later. Verbruggen denied it.

Verbruggen served as UCI president for 14 years and stepped down after Armstrong’s seventh straight Tour win. Afterward, those years came to be defined as the doping era.

Two years ago, a year-long investigation found no proof that a payment Armstrong made to the UCI was to cover up a positive test even though it said the Verbruggen era was marked by “inadequate” policies on doping.

Beyond cycling, Verbruggen was also a major presence in the Olympic movement and was instrumental in the preparations for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“For this, he will be always remembered,” IOC President Thomas Bach said.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Four cycling events added for 2020 Olympics

Alysia Montano races pregnant again at USATF Outdoor Championships

Alysia Montano
NBC Sports
Leave a comment

U.S. Olympic 800m runner Alysia Montaño raced four months pregnant in 110-degree heat at the USATF Outdoor Championships in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday.

Montaño, who raced eight months pregnant at the 2014 USATF Outdoors also in Sacramento, finished last in her 800m first-round heat in 2:21.40. She was 10 seconds faster than her time three years ago.

In a Wonder Woman top, she gritted her teeth on the final straightaway and raised her arms crossing the finish line.

“[In 2014] women let me know that my journey and my story had inspired them in so many different ways,” Montaño told media in Sacramento, standing next to 2-year-old daughter Linnea. “I think there’s something about coming out to any venue, not really expecting to win, but just going along with the journey and seeing what comes out of it. And that’s the most beautiful part for me, being a track and field athlete, the platform that I have, I feel so responsible to be a representative for people who don’t have the same platform, don’t have the same voice that I do.

“I represent so many different people. I represent women. I represent black women. I represent pregnant women. … I think it’s my responsibility to make sure I’m a voice and advocate for them.”

Athletes are looking for top-three finishes to qualify for the world championships in London in August. Finals are later this weekend.

In the men’s 800m, two-time Olympian and 2013 World silver medalist Nick Symmonds was eliminated, 32nd-fastest of 33 runners in the first round.

Symmonds, in his final season, said he has one more race left — the Honolulu Marathon on Dec. 10.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

USATF OUTDOORS: Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview
Broadcast Schedule | Full Results

Lilly King to be less vocal on Yuliya Efimova topic this summer

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Expect to see Lilly King and Yuliya Efimova resume their breaststroke rivalry at the world championships next month.

It will look very different than in Rio, when King became a vocal opponent of doping and directed some of her words at the formerly suspended Russian Efimova.

“This summer, I’m not going to talk about everything that happened last summer,” King said, according to the Indianapolis Star. “I spoke my piece. I’ve said everything I need to say.”

Her focus needs to stay in the pool, where she must finish first or second at the USA Swimming National Championships next week to make it to worlds (broadcast schedule here).

King said in May her goal is to break world records at worlds in Budapest in July.

She may need to in order to defeat Efimova like in Rio.

Efimova has the fastest 100m breast time in the world this year, a 1:04.82 set on Sunday. The national record put her No. 3 on the all-time list (and .09 faster than King’s winning time in Rio).

King is in third place this year at 1:06.20, though she spent all winter focusing on NCAA competition in 25-yard pools.

In Rio, King said Efimova shouldn’t have been allowed to compete given her doping history.

Efimova served a 16-month ban for testing positive for the banned steroid DHEA in 2013. She again tested positive in February 2016 for meldonium, though she said she stopped taking it before it became a banned substance Jan. 1, 2016, and was absolved along with other athletes.

King memorably finger-wagged at an image of Efimova on a TV in the ready room before her 100m breast semifinal and relegated the Russian to silver the following the night.

“You’ve been caught for drug cheating, I’m just not a fan,” King memorably said in Rio, adding last November, “[Doping] was on all of our minds. We had team meetings talking about what it was going to be like. We were going to be racing dopers, and we all knew it.”

King struggled with her newfound fame after she returned home last summer, sobbing in a winter meeting with her University of Indiana coach, Ray Looze, according to the Indianapolis Star:

It was so hard to do normal activities in her hometown – go to the grocery store or eat at a restaurant – that she considered wearing a wig to disguise herself. Her likeness was on a bingo card at a fall festival, so people purposely looked for her. When in Evansville now, she said, she looks at the ground so no one will recognize her. After an initial wave of attention on IU’s campus, she can walk around without interruption.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Phelps takes on great white on Shark Week