Lolo Jones

American Track League debuts in Indiana with Lolo Jones

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The new American Track League bills itself as “a track meet within a rock concert.”

The show starts Friday with the first of at least five scheduled meets, highlighted by Lolo Jones, a house band and a 40-yard dash in Bloomington, Ind.

The league, which also has dates set in Charlottesville, Va.; Atlanta and Austin and Houston in Texas, provides more opportunities for home fans to watch athletes from the greatest track and field nation in the world.

“I’m just tired of the U.S. fans saying, ‘Hey, when can I see you run?'” Jones said in a press conference. “I’m like, well, every four years at the Olympics, on TV. Having track races in the U.S. on a regular basis allows our fans to not only watch us every four years. That’s huge.”

Jones is scheduled to make her season 100m hurdles debut after losing more than 20 pounds since placing 11th in bobsled at the Sochi Olympics in February. Jones participated in a shuttle hurdles relay at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa, last Friday.

She’ll be joined in Bloomington by Olympic 400m hurdles silver medalist Lashinda Demus, 400m bronze medalist DeeDee Trotter, 4x100m relay silver medalist Trell Kimmons and 1500m runner Morgan Uceny, among others.

Olympic champions Sanya Richards-Ross and Ashton Eaton are slated for league meets later this spring, and Usain Bolt may run in a league meet in August, The Associated Press reported.

”Usain wants to figure out how to be involved,” agent Paul Doyle, the league creator, told the AP. ”We’re discussing different ways to get him in.”

The league was designed to bring more fan interaction to track and field, with fans allowed down on the track, and to cut lag time between events and fit the entire competition in a two-hour window. There will be a house band — The Velveteen Playboys — and a dance team.

“If we can get people to fill the seats, and us on the other end perform at the top of our capability, I think it will work brilliantly,” Demus said.

The U.S. has led the medal table in track and field at the last six Olympics. The American Track League gives the world’s best athletes a chance to regularly compete at home, if it can be sustained through initial hurdles such as a fraction of prize money compared to European meets and the search for a title sponsor.

There are other track meets in the U.S., such as Diamond League competitions in New York and Eugene, Ore. Many stars also enter open college meets in the spring before heading to Europe in the summer.

“We can basically have a platform to stand on outside of just being a lot of individual athletes running in circles,” Trotter said. “This is a great opportunity for us to actually expand and bring a lot of visibility to everyone here in the States.”

One of the intriguing facets of the Bloomington meet will be a 40-yard dash open to anybody to qualify for the men’s 100m, creating a chance to upstage an Olympian in a race.

“It blows my mind,” Jones said. “If they get beat by a regular Joe Schmoe off the couch, their pride is going to be so damaged.”

Sprinters say they’re often asked what their 40-yard dash time is. Kimmons, who owns a 100m personal best of 9.95 seconds, said he has never been clocked in the 40 before.

“I’m going to prove to the world … that [NFL running back] Chris Johnson‘s not the fastest 40,” Kimmons said.

Johnson set the NFL Combine 40 record of 4.24 seconds in 2008.

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French Open: Karolina Pliskova, top player sans Slam, again exits early

Karolina Pliskova
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No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova exited yet another Grand Slam in the early stages, falling to 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in the second round at Roland Garros on Thursday.

Ostapenko, whose only match wins at the French Open before this week came in her title run three years ago, bounced the big-serving Czech 6-4, 6-2.

Pliskova put fewer than half of her first serves in play, while Ostapenko fired 27 winners to 19 unforced errors. Pliskova was on the ropes in her first round, too, needing three sets to get past an Egyptian qualifier.

“Maybe same level as the match before, but of course [Ostapenko] is much better player,” Pliskova said. “Not much to say about this match.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Later Thursday, top-ranked Novak Djokovic had a second straight win ceding just five games, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 over Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis. Djokovic undefeated in 2020 save his U.S. Open default for smacking a ball that inadvertently struck a linesperson, next gets Colombian lucky loser Daniel Elahi Galán.

Nobody else in Djokovic’s half of the draw at the start of the tournament made a French Open semifinal before.

Pliskova is the highest-ranked player of either gender (No. 4) without a Grand Slam title, yet hasn’t made it past the fourth round at a major since the 2019 Australian Open.

She’s played six Slams as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, one shy of Caroline Wozniacki‘s total before she broke through at the 2018 Australian Open and two shy of Simona Halep‘s total before she won the 2018 French Open.

Ostapenko, meanwhile, is having a very different career.

She won the 2017 Roland Garros title, two days after turning 20, while ranked 47th. She hasn’t gotten past the third round of a major since 2018 Wimbledon, including first-round French Open exits the last two years, and is back down to No. 43 in the WTA rankings.

“It’s hard to compare with 2017. As I said, it was like three years ago, and I was much younger, and also I was fearless. Nobody knew me,” Ostapenko said. “The world doesn’t stop with winning only one Grand Slam. Of course I want to achieve more, and I want to be back in top five, top 10.”

She dropped just nine games in four sets this week.

Ostapenko gets 87th-ranked Spaniard Paula Badosa in third round. Badosa dispatched 2018 French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix fields look very different this season

Nathan Chen
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Before Nathan Chen is expected to go for a historic fifth straight U.S. figure skating title in January, he will, in a first, compete against most of his top countrymen later this month.

Fields for the Grand Prix Series, figure skating’s autumn international circuit, were published Thursday. As expected, every top skater entered will compete in his or her home country, or nearest to where he or she trains, and in one of the six events.

Traditionally, skaters compete in two of the six events and are scattered among competitions in the U.S., Canada, France, Russia, China and Japan based on world rankings.

But the International Skating Union restricted travel this season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Skaters are limited to compete locally. And the Grand Prix Final at the conclusion of the Grand Prix Series has been postponed from its scheduled December setting in Beijing.

That means that Chen vies for a record-tying fourth straight Skate America crown in Las Vegas in three weeks against a field mostly made up of countrymen, including Olympic teammate Vincent Zhou and U.S. bronze medalist Tomoki Hiwatashi.

In all, there are eight U.S. men entered in Skate America, 11 women (including past national champions Bradie Tennell and Gracie Gold), six pairs and nine ice dance couples (including U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue), plus some skaters from other nations who train in the U.S.

Traditionally, a country has no more than three entries per discipline at a Grand Prix event.

GRAND PRIX FIELDS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Sochi Olympian Jason Brown, who trains in Toronto, is entered in Skate Canada the week after Skate America.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix Series until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

All of the reigning Olympic champions are absent from the series.

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan previously announced he wouldn’t compete due to virus-related travel risks. Russian Alina Zagitova extended her indefinite break from competition dating to last autumn, rather choosing to participate in a skating-themed TV series.

Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada retired. The German pairs’ team of Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot last competed in the 2018 Olympic season.

Instead, the headliners include Chen, the two-time world champion undefeated since placing fifth in PyeongChang. And a deep crop of Russian teenage women, all of course entered in the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in November.

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