Yohan Blake

Yohan Blake, Lolo Jones beaten at Adidas GP; no high jump WR

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NEW YORK – Yohan Blake suffered a surprising 100m defeat at the Adidas Grand Prix, while Lolo Jones placed a satisfactory third in the 100m hurdles less than 24 hours after flying in from China.

Blake, the Olympic 100m silver medalist, stumbled out of the blocks and clocked a slow 10.21 at Icahn Stadium on Randall’s Island on Saturday evening. He finished second to countryman Nesta Carter, who ran 10.09.

“Everybody saw what happened at the start,” said Blake, in a hurry to escape the media mixed zone. “There’s not much more to say.”

Blake, the top rival to Usain Bolt since 2011, owns a personal best of 9.69 from 2012. He missed most of last season with a hamstring injury.

Blake and Bolt likely will not race against each other this season. Bolt recently pulled out of meets in June and July due to a lack of training coming off a foot injury. The next Diamond League meet, in Lausanne, Switzerland, on July 3, features a 100m showdown between top Americans Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay, who did not run at the Adidas Grand Prix.

In other events Saturday, Jones placed third in the 100m hurdles in 12.77, her first Diamond League meet of the season. Queen Harrison won in 12.62, .01 better than 2008 Olympic champ Dawn Harper-Nelson. World champion Brianna Rollins wasn’t in the field.

Jones, who finished 11th in the Sochi Olympic bobsled competition, flew in from a TV appearance in China on Friday.

“At the start line I was seeing 20 hurdles,” said Jones, whose next meet is the U.S. Championships in Sacramento, Calif., in two weeks. “My body just fell apart at the end [after the first five hurdles].”

The most exciting event was the men’s high jump, where Ukraine’s Bohdan Bondarenko and Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim took a combined five attempts at a new world record of 2.46m. All failed. Both cleared 2.42m, with Bondarenko getting the win with fewer overall misses.

Mary Cain, the 18-year-old who became the youngest athlete to make a U.S. World Championships team last year, was fourth in an 800m. Cain takes her driver’s test Friday, graduates from high school Saturday and plans to run the 1500m at the U.S. Championships.

“[Coach] Alberto [Salazar] wants me to take it slow,” said Cain, adding she wasn’t tapered for Saturday. “We’re training to peak in August.”

David Rudisha notched his first Diamond League victory in more than one year, essentially going wire-to-wire in the 800m in 1:44.63. Rudisha, the Olympic champ and world record holder, suffered a knee injury running in Central Park this time last year. The Adidas Grand Prix was his second Diamond League meet back.

Beijing Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt won for the third time in four Diamond League 400m races this season. Merritt clocked 44.19 against a field that did not include Grenada rival Kirani James.

“For me, it’s not really about times; I just wanted to get the victory,” said Merritt, who will run in the Czech Republic on Tuesday. “It’s a matter of getting these races in and handling business.”

World Indoor champ Francena McCorory captured her 400m by more than one second in 50.15. The field did not include Jamaican world leader Novlene Williams-Mills, who has run 50.04, or U.S. Olympic champion Sanya Richards-Ross.

Tori Bowie continued her surging season by winning the 100m in 11.07. Bowie competed at the World Indoor Championships in March in the long jump. But in the outdoor season she has won three Diamond League sprints with personal bests in the 100m and 200m and the fastest time in the world in the latter.

Olympic and World 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce withdrew from the Adidas Grand Prix 200m earlier this week, citing injury.

Jamaican Warren Weir won the 200m in 19.82, the fastest time in the world this year.

Olympic pole vault champion Jenn Suhr was beaten in her Diamond League season debut by Brazilian Fabiana Murer. Suhr, who cleared 15 feet, 6 inches (4.72m) outside in Herald Square on Wednesday, posted 4.70m Saturday and failed at three 4.80m attempts.

Puerto Rican Javier Culson upset Olympic and World silver medalist Michael Tinsley, winning the 400m hurdles in 48.03, the fastest time in the world this year. Tinsley, previously the world leader, was second in 48.56.

New Zealand’s Valerie Adams won her 50th straight shot put competition. Adams, whose brother is Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams, hasn’t lost since 2010.

Ethiopian-born Swede Abeba Aregawi bounced back to win the 1500m in 4:00.13. Top American Jenny Simpson was third in 4:02.54. At the Prefontaine Classic, Aregawi lost her first Diamond League 1500m since Aug. 17, 2012 to Kenyan Hellen Obiri, who was not in Saturday’s race.

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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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