Venezuela’s Stefany Hernandez’s sacrifices pay off for World BMX Championship

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ZOLDER, Belgium — Stefany Hernandez of Venezuela claimed the women’s elite gold after a furious race at the World BMX Championships in rainy Zolder on Saturday.

For Hernandez, a first World title meant all the sacrifices made by her family and the frigid mornings training in France had yielded something she’d long had her sights set on.

“People watch the medals [and] the race, but they don’t look at what is behind it,” Hernandez, 24, said afterward (watch her victory from her helmet GoPro here). “I’m just happy. I feel like I deserve this win, this medal.”

Hernandez, who had third-place finishes this season at World Cups in Manchester, Great Britain, and Papendal, Netherlands, got an earlier start to the sport than most. Her mother, an avid BMX fan, started having contractions before Stefany’s birth while watching a local BMX race, and insisted she watch the end of the race before going to the hospital.

Her father once sold his car to pay for Hernandez’s fare to her first World Championships in 2001. Hernandez was unable to attend most of the World Championships as an amateur because of costs. But at 18, upon receiving funding from the Venezuelan government, she left home to train in France.

“I didn’t speak any French or any English,” she said. “I just wanted to ride my bike. My dream was to go to an Olympic Game.”

Hernandez competed at the London Games, but crashed in the semifinal, ending her chance of winning a medal. Venezuela, which has never had a female Olympic champion, earned one medal overall at the 2012 Olympics, a men’s fencing gold.

After a brief stint away from BMX, Hernandez resumed training in 2013. Her family in Venezuela has already purchased tickets for the Rio Games, Hernandez said.

“They say, ‘Even if we need to drive, we will go over there,’” she said (Venezuela borders Brazil to the northwest but is more than 2,000 miles from Rio de Janeiro, which is on the country’s southeast coast).

Hernandez is focused on landing more podium finishes in the Olympic qualifying cycle, which began in May 2014 and runs through May 2016, to earn a spot in Rio.

In the men’s elite race in Zolder, Dutch rider Niek Kimmann claimed his first World title (watch the race from his helmet GoPro).

Kimmann recently made headlines at the June World Cup in Papendal, where for the final he boldly chose lane eight, normally avoided by riders. He won and was awarded double the prize money for his efforts.

Kimmann, the junior World champion in 2014, edged countryman Jelle Van Gorkom for gold in Zolder. The defending World champion, Australia’s Sam Willoughby, crashed out.

Despite a strong field of Americans, including London Olympians Connor Fields, David Herman and Nic Long, none of the elite men made it into the eight-rider final. Brooke Crain finished just off the women’s podium in fourth, followed by Felicia Stancil in seventh.

Alise Post, who took silver in Friday’s time trial, looked solid heading into the final but tumbled off her bike while turning a corner of the rain-soaked track to place eighth. The BMX Supercross World Cup series continues in Engelholm, Sweden, in August.

Dutch cycling star eyes unprecedented addition for Rio Olympics

Asbel Kiprop, Olympic 1500m champ, banned 4 years

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Kenyan Asbel Kiprop, the 2008 Olympic 1500m champion and a three-time world champ, was banned four years after testing positive for EPO in November 2017, according to track and field’s doping watchdog organization.

The ban is backdated to Feb. 3, 2018, when the 29-year-old was provisionally suspended after the failed test.

Kiprop repeatedly denied doping since last May, when he first acknowledged the positive test. Most recently, a 3,000-word defense from his lawyer was posted on Kiprop’s Facebook page.

Kiprop’s defenses included saying he was a victim of extortion and that he was offered “a reward” of becoming an anti-doping ambassador if he admitted guilt. The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), the IAAF’s independent organization to monitor doping and corruption, denied the latter last May.

A disciplinary panel dismissed six defenses from exonerating him, including the possibility his sample was spiked, in handing out the four-year ban.

Kiprop, the pre-eminent 1500m runner of the last decade, can appeal the ban.

At 19, he finished second in the Beijing Olympic 1500m but was upgraded to gold a year later after Bahrain’s Rashid Ramzi failed a drug test. He is the youngest Olympic 1500m medalist of all time, according to the OlyMADMen.

Kiprop went on to earn three straight world titles in the 1500m in 2011, 2013 and 2015, matching the feats of retired legends Noureddine Morceli and Hicham El Guerrouj.

He struggled in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, finishing last in the London final with a hamstring injury and sixth in the Rio final won by American rival Matthew Centrowitz.

Kiprop has targeted El Guerrouj’s world record of 3:26:00, missing the mark by .69 of a second in 2015.

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Maggie Nichols is second woman in 20 years to repeat as NCAA all-around champ

Maggie Nichols
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Oklahoma junior and world champion gymnast Maggie Nichols became the first woman to repeat as NCAA all-around champion in 12 years, returning from a heel injury to compete on all four events for the first time since January on Friday.

Nichols, a Rio Olympic hopeful before being beset by a torn meniscus in 2016, joined 2004 Olympic silver medalist Courtney Kupets as the only women to win back-to-back NCAA all-arounds in the 2000s.

A junior, Nichols can next year join Jenny Hansen as the only women to three-peat in NCAA history.

Oklahoma goes for a third team title in four years on Saturday night against UCLA (featuring Olympic champions Madison Kocian and Kyla Ross), LSU and Denver.

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NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships Individual Results
All-Around
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma) — 39.7125
2. Lexy Ramler (Minnesota) — 39.6625
2. Kyla Ross (UCLA) — 39.6625
4. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 39.65
5. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 39.6

Vault
1. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 9.95
1. Derrian Gobourne (Auburn)
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)

Uneven Bars
1. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 9.95

Balance Beam
1. Natalie Wojcik (Michigan) — 9.95

Floor Exercise
1. Alicia Boren (Florida) — 9.95
1. Lynnzee Brown (Denver)
1. Brenna Dowell (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)