Usain Bolt

Ato Boldon: Impact of Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell positive tests on Usain Bolt, others in track and field

Leave a comment

In the aftermath of one of the lowest days of track and field since the BALCO scandal, OlympicTalk editor Nick Zaccardi reached out to NBC Olympics track and field analyst Ato Boldon for his observations of what’s next after Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell‘s positive drug tests.

I had people asking me today, “How come Usain Bolt‘s not testing positive if all these other Jamaicans are?”

Wait a minute. They may run for the same country, but they’re not all sleeping in the same bed. Bolt and Powell obviously come from rival camps, Racers and MVP.

Bolt has never had anything remotely around him in either his junior or senior career indicating something like this. It’s not exactly fair to him to say, well, look at all these Jamaicans.

You can’t blame Bolt for something Powell does any more than you could have blamed Gay when Justin Gatlin tested positive in 2006.

I was in the sport at the time of BALCO, and I can name three or four guys who lined up with me on a weekly basis, who I considered my peers, who were very much involved in BALCO. Does that mean I was involved in BALCO? No.

I understand the doping questions are going to be asked of Bolt, and it’s unfortunate.

Another question I was asked, back when Veronica Campbell-Brown‘s positive test was revealed in June, was if I would be surprised by anybody failing a drug test in track and field anymore.

I said no, but it wasn’t because of Campbell-Brown’s case. Let me explain this. The fact is that the culture of track and field, especially right now, is that there are a ton of elite athletes who are scared to lose their legacy forever and lose their medals. They will not go into the steroid/human growth hormone area. They will not risk it.

However, they will take supplements. I took supplements every year of my career. It’s not a coincidence that Campbell-Brown, Powell and Gay, assuming this all comes out as stimulants, that they are all pushing the envelope of 30 or older. They’re trying to extend their careers a little bit.

What you’re seeing is people thinking this supplement is fine and are assured it’s not going to register a positive.

I pride myself on being clued into the sport, but I found out about the trainer for Powell and Sherone Simpson who was questioned in Italy with everybody else. And now reports say the hotel they were staying at has been raided.

The bottom line is people seek out these clubs and seek out these stars. It wasn’t always supplements when I worked out at UCLA back in the day. It was, “I have this new thing, and it’s going to help you train better, recover better.” There’s always something that somebody with a product is trying to pass off on elite athletes.

One change I’d like to see from all of this is a distinction to be made between supplements and stimulants and what we call “the hard stuff” — steroids and human growth hormone.

A lot of people are waking up today, seeing the headlines scream “Gay” and “Powell” and “positive.” The average fan thinks, oh, steroids.

On the Olympic testing level, if steroids or human growth hormone are a nine or a 10, what Powell took is in the four or five range.

Today, there are a lot of pro track and field athletes who are saying, “If I can’t be 100 percent sure this supplement won’t test positive down the road, I’m done. I’m not taking any supplements.”

Sixty percent of athletes are doing that today. The other 40 percent are trusting what they’ve been taking, with no issues, sticking to that script and not adding any new stuff. Now you’ve got a divide.

It’s a joke within the track and field community that civilians probably couldn’t pass a drug test because of what’s in their medicine cabinet. Now is the time to make a big distinction, to allow athletes to take certain supplements up to a certain category. Anything past that level, don’t ask for leniency.

As for punishments, I would be surprised to see any of Gay, Powell or Campbell-Brown get more than six months, certainly nowhere near the possible two years. Go away and atone for your sins this year. We’ll see them back next year, hoping the public and the sponsors forgive them and that they’ve learned the error of their ways.

Adidas suspends its sponsorship of Tyson Gay

Lin Dan, badminton legend, retires: ‘It is very difficult to say goodbye’

Lin Dan
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lin Dan, arguably the greatest badminton player in history, announced retirement Saturday, citing “pain and injuries” in bowing out a year before the postponed Tokyo Olympics.

“I have been with the national team from 2000 to 2020, and it is very difficult to say goodbye,” 36-year-old Lin wrote to his four million Weibo fans, according to Badminton World Federation (BWF) translation. “Pain and injuries no longer allow me to fight with my teammates. I have gratitude, a heavy heart and unwillingness.”

Lin, nicknamed “Super Dan,” won Olympic singles titles in 2008 and 2012, plus five individual world titles. It’s the greatest resume for any badminton player from China, which owns twice as many medals as any other nation in the sport that debuted at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

He competed at the last four Olympics, won the sport’s Super Grand Slam (nine major titles) and had his own wax figure at Madame Tussauds in Shanghai.

Lin’s outbursts on and off the court led to some calling him the John McEnroe of badminton, but he is revered. In 2015, he was the second athlete on Forbes China‘s most popular celebrities list behind tennis player Li Na.

Lin’s pursuit of a fifth Olympics in Tokyo was looking out of reach. He dropped to No. 26 in the Olympic qualifying rankings, trailing four countrymen, including No. 5 Chen Long (Rio Olympic champion) and No. 11 Shi Yuqi (2018 World silver medalist). A nation can qualify a maximum of two individual players per gender for the Games.

“From where came his mastery? In short, his prowess was essentially due to the completeness of his game – in skill, physical ability and mental strength,” the BWF wrote in a press release. “Such was his craft that even well into his 30s, normally considered an advanced age for men’s singles, he could outplay younger and fitter opponents.”

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

MORE: Who is China’s greatest Olympian?

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MyKayla Skinner’s motivation for Tokyo: her Rio Olympic experience

MyKayla Skinner
Getty Images
Leave a comment

MyKayla Skinner remembers the little room at the SAP Center in San Jose. She remembers the wait, somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes.

After the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics Trials, the competitors (14 total performed) assembled while a selection committee convened in another space.

The committee finalized the five-woman Olympic team (plus three alternates), marched into the athletes’ room and delivered the verdict.

“They say the first four names, and then there’s that one spot left,” Skinner recalled. “I’m like, is it going to be me? You’re so tense just waiting there. All of us holding each other’s hands in the room. We’re all sitting there. It’s just, like, frozen dead silent. Then they say that fifth spot.”

Skinner doesn’t remember who was the fifth name. Just that it wasn’t her.

“I just broke down crying,” she said in a recent interview. “All that hard work I put in still wasn’t good enough. Even though it was. It’s just who they needed for the team.”

Skinner placed fourth in the all-around at those Olympic Trials, the highest finisher who was not named to the Olympic team. She was one of three alternates. If the Olympic team was chosen by all-around standings, a selection committee would not be necessary. Instead, gymnasts are puzzle pieces, chosen as who best fits the Olympic format: three gymnasts per apparatus in the team final and up to two per nation per individual final.

Skinner’s mind raced while she waited for the committee’s decision. She eventually settled on a gut feeling, that she would not make the team.

“I thought that it should be enough, but at the same I didn’t think that it would be,” said Lisa Spini, Skinner’s coach at Desert Lights Gymnastics in Chandler, Arizona. “I thought the team was already decided before the Olympic Trials.”

Spini said it was her toughest night as a gymnastics coach.

“Being an alternate is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in gymnastics,” said Skinner, who traveled to Brazil and, with fellow alternates Ashton Locklear and Ragan Smith, trained separately from the Olympic team. “The whole time I was in Rio, I probably cried every single night

“The Olympics should be something so special, but I feel like it was definitely miserable at times. It was really hard to enjoy being an alternate. With this comeback, that has pushed me so hard just because I was so close.”

You may have read about Skinner back in the spring, after the Tokyo Olympics were postponed to 2021.

It’s a devastating delay for a female gymnast, whose peak often lasts for one Olympic cycle (sometimes even shorter). Skinner is an exception, excelling for the better part of a decade on different levels.

She made her first world championships team in 2014. After Rio, she matriculated at the University of Utah, where she was twice an NCAA all-around runner-up and hit an NCAA record 161 straight routines without a fall. In 2019, she decided to come back to international competition — for an Olympic run — with one year left of NCAA gymnastics.

She is 23, the oldest of the 16-woman U.S. national team. She is trying to become the oldest woman to make a U.S. Olympic gymnastics team since 2004. And the first with NCAA experience to do so since Alicia Sacramone in 2008.

“The reason why a lot of college gymnasts couldn’t come back and do it is they’ve been so injured over the years,” Spini said. “Their body wouldn’t hold up. She’s been really lucky that way.”

Skinner could have easily followed the path of so many other stars who signaled the end of an elite career by going to college, where training and routines are less demanding.

She questioned herself often after the Tokyo postponement whether it was worth it to return to elite training. The Olympic team event roster size has been cut from five to four. Simone Biles is an overwhelming favorite to earn one spot. In the face of those odds, Skinner can’t shake a memory from Rio.

“I just go back to the moment of when I was sitting in the stands,” watching the Final Five earn gold, Skinner said. “I was so close to making the team. This has been my dream ever since I went to Desert Lights when I was 12.”

Skinner’s comeback is already a success. Last year, on three months of elite training, she placed eighth at the U.S. Championships. She was convinced to accept an invitation to the world championships selection camp, where six women would make the traveling team (one later named an alternate).

Like in 2016, Skinner placed fourth in the all-around competition before the roster was chosen.

Again, the gymnasts gathered for the announcement. This time, Skinner made the cut as the sixth woman named. Biles, the other 20-something at the camp and a friend, jumped in excitement.

The team traveled to Germany in late September. After training, one woman had to be designated the alternate. High performance team coordinator Tom Forster took Skinner aside one day on the way to lunch. She knew what was coming and broke down in tears, flashing back to 2016.

“Simone was like, hey, let’s go to the bathroom. She helped talk me through it and helped me calm down and definitely made me a feel a lot better,” said Skinner, who supported Biles and the U.S. team that competed in Stuttgart. She then wed Jonas Harmer in November and decided what must be done to make the Olympic team.

“We’re going to try to add in some big skills, which will put her difficulty level, probably, second only to Simone,” Spini said.

Skinner is documenting her last year-plus in elite gymnastics on a YouTube channel with 29,000 subscribers. She has been fortunate during the coronavirus pandemic to train at her gym if no more than 10 people were present. Many other gymnasts — and athletes across Olympic sports — spent weeks or months out of their facilities.

“I definitely don’t think I would have been able to have that much time off,” she said. “That’s really hard with gymnastics because you feel like, you take two days off, and it’s like you had a year off.”

One day this spring, Skinner’s mom called, in tears, fearing for her life with an illness that turned out to be the coronavirus. Both of her parents, in their 60s, had it and briefly lost their senses of taste. Her mom had breathing problems, but they recovered.

One night last month, Skinner had a dream about next year’s Olympic Trials. The Final Five all came back to compete, and Skinner was again named an alternate. She woke up. Skinner doesn’t know how she would handle that kind of disappointment in real life, again.

“So it’s kind of scary,” she said. Then Skinner thinks back to Rio, and that burning she felt while watching the Final Five win gold medals.

“This is what I’m supposed to do. This is what I’m meant to do is elite gymnastics,” said Skinner, who was born via life-threatening, early-labor C-section, needing to be revived by doctors. “I think it’s cool that I can have this opportunity to go and push myself one last time so I can reach that end goal.”

MORE: Gymnast Grace McCallum won a coin flip to become world champion

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!