Galen Rupp, Molly Huddle win 10,000m on U.S. Championships opening night

Galen Rupp
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Olympic medalist Galen Rupp and Molly Huddle won the 10,000m at the U.S. Championships in steamy Eugene, Ore., on Thursday night, leading qualifiers for August’s World Championships.

Athletes are aiming to finish in the top three of their events to make the U.S. team for the Worlds, Aug. 22-30 in Beijing. Full results from Thursday are here. The meet runs through Sunday.

Rupp, the Olympic 10,000m silver medalist, surged to the lead with less than three laps left and prevailed in 28 minutes, 11.61 seconds for his seventh straight U.S. title in the event (race video here). Temperatures were in the 90s at Hayward Field on Thursday night.

Rupp competed for the first time since ProPublica and BBC June 3 reports accusing his coach, Alberto Salazar, of violating medical and anti-doping rules, specifically with Rupp. Salazar responded to those reports with an 11,000-word open letter Wednesday.

Rupp and Salazar hugged shortly after the race.

“It’s definitely been hard with all that other stuff going on,” Rupp, a 29-year-old who has never failed a drug test and said three weeks ago that Salazar has never suggested he take banned substances, said in a post-race interview. “I really just try to keep focus on my track and always be professional. I still have a job to do here and can’t let it get in the way of that.”

“I think the truth will prevail,” Rupp later told media in Eugene. “I stand behind him [Salazar] 100 percent.”

Ben True finished second in 28:14.26 and Hassan Mead third in 28:16.54, both making their first Worlds teams.

In the women’s 10,000m, Huddle emerged from a three-woman pack at the start of the final lap to prevail in 31:39.20 for her first U.S. 10,000m title (race video here). The 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Shalane Flanagan was second (31:42.29), with Emily Infeld third (31:42.60).

Huddle, 30, made her third straight World Championships team and first in the 10,000m. Flanagan, 33, will go to Worlds for a sixth straight time. Infeld, 25, will make her Worlds debut.

Kenyan and Ethiopian women have won every Olympic and Worlds 10,000m medal since 2009.

In the U.S. men’s long jump final, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Marquise Goodwin placed fourth in his first competition since the London Olympics with a wind-aided 8.37m leap and will not go to the World Championships.

Every men’s and women’s 100m contender advanced out of the first round except for 2012 Olympic fifth-place finisher Ryan Bailey, who false started and was disqualified.

Baylor rising junior Trayvon Bromell clocked a personal-best 9.84 seconds to make him the fourth fastest U.S. man all time behind Tyson GayJustin Gatlin and Maurice Greene and tied for the 10th fastest man all time.

Bromell, 19, improved on his record for fastest time by a teenager by .06 despite slowing just before crossing the finish line to win his heat (race video here).

“I’m real surprised because when I slowed it down, I didn’t think I was going to run that fast,” Bromell, a shoe collector who has broken both knees and a forearm and cracked a hip, told media in Eugene. “I’m like, man, this is crazy, because I ain’t ever tried to run that fast in prelims.”

The women’s and men’s 100m semifinals start at 8 p.m. ET on Friday. The finals are at 10:21 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

Joe Kovacs’ emergence from family tragedy, Olympic miss to world leader

John McFall, Paralympic medalist, becomes first parastronaut in Europe

John McFall
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The European Space Agency made history Wednesday by selecting an amputee who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident to be among its newest batch of astronauts — a leap toward its pioneering ambition to send someone with a physical disability into space.

John McFall, a 41-year-old Briton who lost his right leg when he was 19 and later won a Paralympic 100m bronze medal in 2008, called his selection at Europe’s answer to NASA “a real turning point and mark in history.”

“ESA has a commitment to send an astronaut with a physical disability into space … This is the first time that a space agency has endeavored to embark on a project like this. And it sends a really, really strong message to humanity,” he said.

The newly-minted parastronaut joins five career astronauts in the final selection unveiled during a Paris news conference — the conclusion of the agency’s first recruitment drive in over a decade aimed at bringing diversity to space travel.

McFall will follow a different path than his fellow astronauts because he will participate in a groundbreaking feasibility study exploring whether physical disability will impair space travel. It’s uncharted land, since no major Western space agency has ever put a parastronaut into space, according to the ESA.

Speaking with pride amid flashes of emotion, McFall said that he was uniquely suited to the mission because of the vigor of his mind and body.

“I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I lost my leg about twenty plus years ago, I’ve had the opportunity to be a Paralympic athlete and really explored myself emotionally … All those factors and hardships in life have given me confidence and strength — the ability to believe in myself that I can do anything I put my mind to,” he added.

“I never dreamt of being an astronaut. It was only when ESA announced that they were looking for a candidate with a physical disability to embark on this project that it really sparked my interest.”

The feasibility study, that will last two to three years, will examine the basic hurdles for a parastronaut including how a physical disability might impact mission training, and if modifications to spacesuits and aircraft are required, for example.

ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker said it was still a “long road” for McFall but described the fresh recruitment as a long-held ambition.

Parker said it started with a question. “Maybe there are people out there that are almost superhuman in that they’ve already overcome challenges. And could they become astronauts?”

Parker also says that he “thinks” it may be the first time the word “parastronaut” has been used, but “I do not claim ownership.”

“We’re saying that John (McFall) could be the first parastronaut, that means someone who has been selected by the regular astronaut selection process but happens to have a disability that would normally have ruled him out,” he said.

It will be at least five years before McFall goes into space as an astronaut — if he is successful.

Across the Atlantic, Houston is taking note. Dan Huot, a spokesman for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, home to the American agency’s astronaut corps, told the AP that “we at NASA are watching ESA’s para-astronaut selection process with great interest.”

Huot acknowledged that “NASA’s selection criteria currently remains the same” but said the agency is looking forward to working with the “new astronauts in the future” from partners such as the ESA.

NASA stressed that it has a safety-conscious process for vetting future astronauts who might be put in life-threatening situations.

“For maximum crew safety, NASA’s current requirements call for each crew member to be free of medical conditions that could either impair the person’s ability to participate in, or be aggravated by, spaceflight, as determined by NASA physicians,” Huot added.

NASA said future “assistive technology” might change the game for “some candidates” to meet their stringent safety requirements.

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Ilia Malinin in familiar position after Grand Prix Finland short program

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Ilia Malinin landed a quadruple Axel in his free skate to win his first two competitions this season. Less known was that the 17-year-old American had to come from behind to win each time.

An at least slightly injured Malinin looks up in the standings again after the short program of his third event, Grand Prix Finland. Malinin had erred landings on two of his three jumping passes in Friday’s short, where quad Axels are not allowed, then said he had a left foot problem, according to the International Skating Union.

“I’m a little bit injured, I’m playing it safe, protect it to make sure the injury doesn’t get worse,” he said, according to the ISU.

He tallied 85.57 points for second place, which is 3.39 fewer than leader Kevin Aymoz of France going into Saturday’s free skate.

Malinin, the world junior champion ranked No. 1 in the world in his first full senior season, merely needs to finish fourth or better (perhaps even fifth) to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final, which pits the top six per discipline in the world in a preview of March’s world championships.

Grand Prix Finland concludes with all of the free skates on Saturday.

GRAND PRIX FINLAND: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier Friday, world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium led the women’s short with 74.88 points, edging Mai Mihara of Japan by 1.3. Hendrickx and Mihara are in position to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. World champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan, South Korea’s Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito already have spots in the Final.

The world’s top ice dance couple this season, Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, improved on their world-leading rhythm dance score by tallying 87.80 points. They lead Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker by 6.87, with both couples in position to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini topped the pairs’ short program by 4.3 points over Americans Anastasiia Smirnova and Danil Siianytsia. The Italians rank fourth in the world this season behind three teams that aren’t in the Finland field but will be at the Grand Prix Final, including world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier of the U.S.

Smirnova and Silanytsia are competing in their lone Grand Prix this season after withdrawing before Skate America, making them ineligible for Grand Prix Final qualification. Their short program score ranks fourth among American pairs this season, putting them in contention for one of three spots on the team for worlds, to be decided after January’s national championships.

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