Marvin Bracy

Five events to watch at World Indoor Track and Field Championships

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There are no Olympics or World Outdoor Championships for track and field this year, making this weekend’s World Indoor Championships a major highlight on the 2014 calendar.

The competition in Sopot, Poland, lacks sprint stars such as Usain BoltYohan BlakeJustin Gatlin and Allyson Felix. But the athletes who traveled to the Baltic Sea city include Olympic and world champions and rising stars who could be medal threats come Rio 2016.

The U.S. won 18 medals at the 2012 World Indoors, twice as many as any other nation, including 10 golds (no other nation had three). It is in line to win the medal count again.

World Indoor Championships broadcast schedule

Here are five events to keep an eye on:

1. Men’s Heptathlon, Friday and Saturday

Two years ago, Ashton Eaton won his first major international championship at World Indoors in Istanbul, doing so in world-record fashion. It catapulted Eaton to unprecedented outdoor success, a decathlon world record at the Olympic Trials followed by Olympic gold.

Eaton, 26, is back to defend his heptathlon title. His still-standing world record from 2012 in the seven-event competition is 6,645 points.

The top total from the rest of the eight-man field in Sopot is 6,372. It would be a shock if Eaton doesn’t win his fourth straight major multi-event championship.

Eaton’s wife, Canadian Brianne Theisen-Eaton, will compete in the pentathlon Friday.

Don’t take your eyes off Eaton the rest of the year, either. He’s said he wants to try running the 400m hurdles in the outdoor season.

2. Men’s 60m final, Saturday, 2:57 p.m. ET

The World Indoors schedule is smaller than the Olympics or World Outdoor Championships, with 13 events each for men and women. In sprinting, this means no 100m or 200m, but there is a 60m.

The men’s field is missing not only Bolt, Blake and Gatlin, but also the two fastest 60m sprinters this year — Great Britain’s James Dasaolu and France’s Jimmy Vicaut.

That makes American Marvin Bracy the frontrunner. Bracy, 20, won the U.S. Championship in a personal-best 6.48 seconds in Albuquerque, N.M., on Feb. 23.

Bracy is a former Florida State football recruit who turned professional in track in 2013, after his freshman year. He could very well be the future of U.S. sprinting with Gatlin and Tyson Gay being 32 and 31 years old.

The key for Bracy’s star will come in the outdoor season in the 100m, where his personal best is 10.09. He needs to be able to run sub-10 consistently to make waves there.

In Sopot, Bracy’s biggest competition will come from fellow American Trell Kimmons, who lost to Bracy by .01 at the U.S. Championships, as well as 2012 world silver and bronze medalists Jamaican Nesta Carter and Brit Dwain Chambers.

3. Women’s Pole Vault, Sunday, 9 a.m. ET

U.S. Olympic champion Jenn Suhr could win her first World Championship with 2012 and 2013 World Indoor and Outdoor champion Yelena Isinbayeva on a break.

But Suhr will face stiff competition from Olympic silver medalist Cuban Yarisley Silva, 2012 World Indoor bronze medalist Brit Holly Bleasdale  and crowd favorite Anna Rogowska, the 2009 World Outdoor champion and one of Poland’s most decorated track and field athletes ever.

Suhr broke the world record last year, but Rogowska owns the top mark of 2014.

4. Men’s 3000m final, Sunday, 10:10 a.m. ET

Bernard Lagat is still running at 39, and he’s the two-time defending champion in this event. Lagat won the 3000m title at the U.S. Championships in Albuquerque, two seconds better than Olympic 10,000m silver medalist Galen Rupp, who is 27.

If Rupp can’t challenge Lagat in Sopot, look for Kenyans Augustine Choge and Caleb Ndiku and Ethiopians Dejen Gebremeskel and Hagos Gebrhiwet. Choge took silver behind Lagat at the 2012 World Indoors. Gebremeskel won silver in the 2012 Olympic 5000m. Gebrhiwet, 19, is the 2013 World Outdoors silver medalist in the 5000m.

The women’s 3000m final (Sunday, 10:50 a.m. ET) could also be exciting as Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba has already broken the world record this season.

5. Women’s 60m final, Sunday, 12:05 p.m. ET

This field is loaded. It includes Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who swept the 100m and 200m at the 2013 World Outdoor Championships, 2014 world 60m leader Murielle Ahoure of the Ivory Coast and American Tianna Bartoletta, who won 60m bronze in 2012 as Tianna Madison.

Most eyes could be on the defending champion, though. Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown is competing for the first time since it was revealed June 14 that she tested positive for a banned diuretic May 4.

Campbell-Brown, the most decorated Jamaican Olympic champion of all time with seven Olympic medals, was cleared to resume competing by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in February. In June, a spokesman for track and field’s international governing body told The Associated Press the case appeared to involve a “lesser” offense of unintentional use of a banned substance.

“I press on,” Campbell-Brown, 31, said in a February statement. “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of the redemptive quality of unearned suffering, and I must say I am redeemed.”

U.S. female star pulls out of World Indoors

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

Lin Dan
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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?

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

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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

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