Trayvon Bromell

Are Trayvon Bromell, Zharnel Hughes the future of sprinting?

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source:  Trayvon Bromell has never heard of Zharnel Hughes, but they combined to put track and field on notice over two days and two countries last week.

The Baylor freshman Bromell ran a 100m heat in 10.02 seconds in Austin, Texas, with a legal wind of +.9 meters per second (+2.0 is the maximum legal wind reading) on Friday.

Hughes, from the Caribbean island of Anguilla, won the 100m final at the prestigious Jamaican Boys and Girls Championships in 10.12 seconds later Friday night (+1.3 wind). He erased Olympic 100m silver medalist Yohan Blake‘s meet record of 10.21. (video here)

Bromell, who is three days older than Hughes, returned for his final at the Texas Relays on Saturday. He ran 10.01 seconds (+1.5 wind), equaling the world junior 100m record despite a minor stumble out of the blocks. (video here)

Bromell and Hughes are both 18, and they are one-two in the (very early) season world rankings for the 100m. A sub-10-second 100m is considered elite, and they are approaching the barrier several years before sprinters usually hit their primes.

The top-end global sprint scene has gone largely unchanged the last five years. Usain Bolt wins just about everything, and Blake and Americans Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin have been his closest chasers.

Bolt is 27. It was revealed he’s been dealing with a foot injury hours before Bromell’s first race Friday, and he might not race until June. It’s hard to believe the injury will cost Bolt too much, but it’s a reminder that time eventually catches up to all sprinters. Bolt has talked about possibly retiring after the 2016 Olympics.

Gay and Gatlin are 31 and 32, aging for 100m sprinters. Blake is 24 and, though he’s coming off an injury-plagued 2013, may not have peaked yet.

The next several years, perhaps the next two before the Rio Olympics, will offer increasing space for new blood in the most prestigious track and field event to the U.S. audience.

So, will we one day look back at Bromell and Hughes dusting their personal bests on the same weekend as significant? Are they the future of sprinting?

“I am very wary of young sprint prodigies,” NBC Olympics track and field analyst Ato Boldon said. “Many of them don’t pan out.”

At first glance, Bromell and Hughes are very different. Bromell is 5-foot-9 and runs with a headband. Hughes is 6-foot-3, two inches shorter than Bolt, to whom he has drawn many comparisons.

Bromell’s success is startling given his track record of injuries. He broke his left knee in eighth grade doing backflips, broke his right knee and forearm in ninth grade playing basketball and in 10th grade cracked a hip during a race.

“I was pretty much out like three years,” Bromell said.

Bromell was a slot receiver at (St. Petersburg, Fla.) Gibbs High School and said he drew interest from schools such as West Virginia. But he gave up football his senior year to focus on sprinting.

He won the Class 3A state 100m title. In another meet, he became the first U.S. high school sprinter to run the 100m in under 10 seconds, though the wind was over the legal limit.

Bromell was named the Gatorade National Track Athlete of the Year and was one of six finalists for the Gatorade Male Athlete of the Year, won by basketball player Andrew Wiggins.

Bromell chose Baylor, a school known for its 400m tradition, because of its loyalty to him during recruitment. Coaches call him a “track rat” who studies film and asks what he could have done better in the immediate aftermath of winning races.

Clyde Hart is in his 51st year at Baylor. His pupils included Olympic champions Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner. The 2004 Olympic 400m champion Wariner is still active and has been a bit of a mentor toward Bromell.

Hart has seen all of Bromell’s collegiate races and compared him to Harvey Glance, who was 5-foot-8, 148 pounds and fourth in the 1976 Olympic 100m.

source:
Trayvon Bromell’s next race will be a 100m at the Florida Relays on Friday. Will he break 10 seconds? (Photos courtesy Baylor Athletics)

“I don’t really like to put a kid in a box and say we expect this or that,” Hart said. “I think he’s going to get better. He’s going to get a lot stronger. In my opinion most sprinters don’t get their prime until 24, 25 years old. He’s only 18. He’s just a fast kid. You can see it. His mechanics are good.”

Bromell went into last weekend’s Texas Relays expecting fast times at a meet known for high winds.

“I wanted to shock the world,” said Bromell, who owns more than 50 pairs of shoes. “Push the limit and go under 10 [seconds].”

The heat time of 10.02 stunned his coaches. They said it was more impressive than his 10.01 the next day. They came to Austin hoping for something in the 10.1-10.2 range to better his personal best of 10.27.

Baylor assistant coach Michael Ford, who recruited Bromell, said the freshman can improve mechanically, citing not only his small stumble in the final but also taking steps to the side out of the blocks and not running hard through the finish in Texas. He could have run a legal 9.9.

“He’s humble, but he’s cocky at the same time,” Ford said. “He knows his ability. He’s always willing to learn.”

About 1,500 miles from Austin, the Anguillan Hughes became the star of the revered Jamaican Boys and Girls Championships last weekend, commonly referred to as “Champs.”

Hughes’ 10.12 in the 100m final Friday may not have been as fast as Bromell, but was arguably more impressive given the increased pressure of the meet.

Hughes trains in Jamaica under the same coach as Bolt, but he was born and raised in Anguilla, a British overseas territory in the Lesser Antilles that’s 16 miles long and 3 miles wide. Anguilla does not have its own Olympic Committee, so Hughes would have to compete for Great Britain at an Olympics, if he continues to progress.

The Telegraph points out that Hughes’ mother is Jamaican, so he could apply for citizenship and represent Jamaica at an Olympics.

“It is something I always think about,” Hughes told the BBC. “I think that [competing for Great Britain] would be the best choice.

“It is something I need to think about before I jump to conclusions and something I have to talk to my coaches about.

“It would be a great experience to represent Great Britain at an Olympics, at the same time representing Anguilla.”

It’s not a decision Hughes would have to make any time soon. He can represent Anguilla at this summer’s Commonwealth Games and the World Junior Championships.

Bromell is also targeting the World Junior Championships in Eugene, Ore., in late July, where the American and Anguillan could finally become familiar with each other.

Caution is key, though.

“For every Sanya [Richards], Bolt and Allyson Felix, there are 1,000 you don’t see,” Boldon said. “The onus now is on the coaches to not have them become a statistic.”

Boldon would know. His Trinidad and Tobago countryman, Darrel Brown, first set the world junior 100m record that Bromell matched on Saturday. Brown held just about every age-group record from 13 to 18, and ran his 10.01 at the 2003 World Championships, where he won a silver medal at age 18.

Brown is now 29 but without the senior success of Bolt, Blake, Gay or Gatlin. His personal best is 9.99, set when he was 20, and he was eliminated in the quarterfinals at Beijing 2008 in his only Olympic 100m appearance.

“I’m not so sure tha these kids are going to follow in those sort of footsteps, but the reality is that being fast at a young age is fine, but it’s not an automatic guarantee of success at the next level,” Boldon said.

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2021 Burton U.S. Open snowboarding event canceled

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The Burton U.S. Open, snowboarding’s most storied event, canceled its 2021 competition due to uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

“The truth is, we just can’t be sure it will be safe from a public health standpoint for us to host the event in 2021,” a statement read.

The U.S. Open, held since 1982, is usually around the first weekend in March, making it the season-ending event for many riders. Halfpipe champions include Shaun WhiteChloe KimKelly Clark and Ross Powers, who also earned Olympic gold medals.

Other 2020-21 winter sports events affected by the coronavirus pandemic include figure skating’s Junior Grand Prix. The first two stops of that eight-event series, scheduled for late August and early September in Canada and Slovakia, have been canceled.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation, which is due to put on the February 2021 World Alpine Skiing Championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo, made a formal request on Monday to postpone the event until March 2022, one month after the next Winter Olympics in Beijing. The International Ski Federation (FIS) council will decide July 1.

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Kara Eaker eschews fear, back on balance beam to resume Olympic quest

Kara Eaker
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Kara Eaker hasn’t qualified for an Olympics yet, but she is already part of a historic club of U.S. gymnasts. The list goes, most recently, Eaker, Simone BilesKyla RossAly RaismanNastia LiukinShawn JohnsonShannon Miller and Dominique Dawes.

Those are the women who qualified for back-to-back balance beam finals at the sport’s highest level: Olympics or world championships. For Eaker (pronounced like acre), they came in her first two years as a senior gymnast in 2018 and 2019 (Biles and Johnson are the only other U.S. women to do that in the last 25 years.)

This was supposed to be Eaker’s Olympic year, but the coronavirus pandemic postponed the Games to 2021, after her Missouri high school graduation. It also kept her out of the gym for nearly two months until the GAGE Center reopened last week in Blue Springs, near Kansas City.

It was the longest Eaker had been off a regulation beam (and out of the gym) since she could remember. She began competing at age 5.

Eaker’s mom, Katherine, said her daughter never feared the four-inch-wide beam, but Eaker said the thought of returning last week “was definitely kind of scary at first.” That is, until one of her coaches eased her back with basics and work on a floor beam, one that’s not raised as high as the four feet you see in competition.

“By the time we were ready, and she was comfortable putting us back up there, it wasn’t scary,” Eaker said. “It felt normal.”

Eaker, adopted from a Chinese orphanage around age 1 in 2003 (her parents’ travel then delayed by SARS), excels on the senior elite stage with a level of normalcy.

Which is not entirely normal in this sport. She lives with her family, 10 minutes from her world-class gym. She still attends regular high school. She’s committed to continue gymnastics at the University of Utah after the Tokyo Olympics.

“I started out in dance, actually,” said Eaker, whose hobbies include robotics and calligraphy. “A little, little girl with the stuffed animal, twirling around in the dance room. And then we had our little recital and I just wasn’t … I couldn’t do the standing in front of an audience kind of thing.”

Her mom believes it was around Christmas. Eaker was 3 or 4.

“She just froze like a deer in the headlights, and all the other girls froze, too, because they were used to following her,” Katherine said. “Then she tried gymnastics. We had to drag her out [of the gym]. From then on, it was always, she’s first one in, last one out. Still is.”

The family, including Eaker’s father, Mark, retired Navy and a flight engineer, and younger sister, Sara, moved three times within Missouri in part to get Kara closer to GAGE to pursue what would eventually become an Olympic dream.

Gymnastics meets were appointment TV before Eaker entered kindergarten. She watched the Beijing Olympics, or perhaps an even earlier meet, while dancing around the living room in a leotard. Sometimes she mimicked the gold medalists by doing back bends. She continued to watch Beijing highlights, with Liukin and Johnson, on replay on YouTube.

Back at the gym, Eaker developed with the help of her coaches, plus future University of Nebraska gymnast Catelyn Orel, her “gym mom” under the GAGE program to pair older and younger athletes. Orel was a state champion on beam. Eaker proved a natural, too.

“A lot of the girls would get up there and have trouble balancing, but she just always seemed to do it just like she was on the floor,” her mom said. “She’s never really had a fear. Some girls get up there and are nervous. She just never seemed to be that way.”

In 2018, Eaker was 15, old enough to start competing on the senior level with the likes of Biles. Exactly 10 years after she would have watched Johnson win the Beijing Olympic beam title, Eaker finished second on beam at nationals behind Biles. She was invited to the world championships team selection camp, where she had the top beam score and placed sixth in the all-around. Six gymnasts would be chosen by a committee to travel to the world championships.

Eaker didn’t expect to make the team. In a large meeting with coaches and staff, the roster was announced. Eaker made it as the youngest member.

“It was a goal, but there were so many other girls and it was my first year as a senior,” she said. “I was very happy and surprised to make that team.”

Eaker again won beam at the 2019 World Championships selection camp. If Eaker endured adversity those first two years, it came at worlds.

In 2018, she fell on her mount in the beam final. The rest of her routine was medal-worthy gymnastics. She waited an eternal three minutes for her score, which placed her sixth. Eaker’s routine from the team final earlier that week would have earned silver.

In 2019, Eaker again qualified for the eight-woman beam final. The U.S. federation submitted an inquiry on her qualifying score, contesting a lower start value given to her. That backfired. Judges lowered Eaker’s score even more upon review, which took her out of the final. However, another gymnast who had qualified later withdrew due to injury. Eaker was back in the final, where she placed fourth.

She was asked afterward what she would take away from the meet.

“Just the experience of it all,” she said, composed. “How it makes me feel. How to use that [in the future].”

In 2021, Eaker will have to prove to a selection committee that she can be reliable on all four apparatuses. The Olympic team event size is four — with three gymnasts going per apparatus in the Olympic final — down from five in 2016, putting a greater emphasis on the all-around. Eaker could also be a candidate for one separate spot in individual events only.

“I definitely want to be seen as a great beam worker, but I also need to be a great all-arounder because they’re going to be looking at not just your one event,” said Eaker, who was third in the all-around at the 2019 Worlds selection camp. “You have to be able to benefit the team with your other events, even if they aren’t as strong as your [best] one.”

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