Seb Coe insists track and field not in ‘terminal decline’

Seb Coe
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Sebastian Coe knows the next big track star is out there. The next enticing performance-enhancing drug? It’s out there, too.

The president of track is all too aware that his sport suffers from an image issue these days, with lingering doping scandals and corruption charges overshadowing the action around the oval.

For a weekend, though, Coe caught a glimpse of track as he envisions it — with 7,000 ardent fans cheering on every lap and leap at the World Indoor Championships.

The question is: can he clean it up so fans can truly believe in what they’re seeing.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, Coe discussed topics such as doping, the status of Russian athletes for the Rio Olympics, how to bring the sport into the 21st century and where Usain Bolt ranks in the pantheon of track’s elite.

“We must always, always remember that, yes, our product is athletics, but our business is entertaining people,” Coe said. “You would not have been sitting here [the other night], concluding we’re a sport in terminal decline. Because we’re not.”

Recent scandals have knocked it off course, though. The Russians didn’t compete at World Indoors after the IAAF suspended Russia in November following an independent report by a World Anti-Doping Agency panel detailing systematic corruption and doping cover-ups in the country.

Coe said a decision could come in May or early June whether Russia’s track and field program has done enough to repair its anti-doping measures and can compete in this summer’s Olympic Games.

And then there’s the issue of meldonium, an endurance-boosting drug Coe knew nothing about until tennis great Maria Sharapova tested positive for it at the Australian Open. The drug was added to the banned list in January, and athletes are being caught with it in track, too. At least one athlete missed the World Indoors over use of meldonium.

Asked if the sport could ever get to the point where there’s no talk of doping — where the athletes and their accomplishments grab the headlines — Coe said: “I would love to be able to tell you that has to be our ambition.

“But practically, I’m afraid there probably are always going to be a few people in a few systems that will want to try and buck the system. We have to be proactive, have to really throw every effort behind creating opportunities for clean athletes. This is all about protecting clean athletes.”

Some athletes have voiced their concern over taking the starting line against competitors they know are dirty and losing out on the medals and moments at big meets they’ll never get to treasure.

“It’s fundamentally about creating a platform for clean athletes to be able to show the world they’re extraordinary talents, without people necessarily sitting in the stands questioning whether what they’re watching has got anymore merit than professional wrestling,” Coe said.

Even more, Coe wants to take the sport into the 21st century by mixing it up a little bit. Make it quicker paced and more fan friendly.

Part of that was on display in Portland, when athletes were introduced in grand style before finals and medal ceremonies were held at a nearby plaza. It was another chance for fans to interact with medal winners.

Recently, the sport lost a Diamond League stop in New York when the organizers elected to hold a street race instead. If it sparks interest, Coe is all for it.

“We have to be realistic about this — a lot of people are not going as a first instinct, to come into our stadiums to watch track and field,” Coe said. “If they’re introduced to it, in and around shopping malls, in a big population center, if that helps us bring them into the stadium, that has to be a good thing. If New York is saying they can really create an exciting experience in the streets, that’s fine. That’s absolutely fine.”

Other topics discussed by Coe:

— On Ethiopia, Morocco, Kenya, Ukraine and Belarus being in “critical care” and needing to seriously improve their anti-doping programs: “It’s important that we understand where there are problems and how we can work together with the federation to fix them. That was the principle behind the discussion around those five countries.”

— On the controversy surrounding the bidding process for the 2021 World Championships that was awarded to the city of Eugene: “The council voted to go to Eugene and that’s where we are. We’re looking forward to being back here. If you can bring a few of these people [from Portland] as well — that will be one heck of a stadium.”

— On concerns over the Zika virus and political issues at the Rio Games: “It doesn’t really matter where you are in the world, doesn’t matter if it’s Madrid or Tokyo, it’s hard (to stage an Olympics). It’s the toughest thing any city has to pull off.”

As for his thoughts on Bolt being the best track athlete of all time, well, Coe didn’t want to go down that road. No, that would be a disservice to the likes of Jesse Owens, Haile Gebrselassie or Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

“We’re very lucky to be able to talk about generation after generation of athletes, across so many disciplines, that are frankly blowing our minds in terms of their genius ability to do what they do,” Coe said.

MORE: U.S. Olympic track and field uniforms unveiled

2023 French Open men’s singles draw, scores

French Open Men's Draw
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The French Open men’s singles draw is missing injured 14-time champion Rafael Nadal for the first time since 2004, leaving the Coupe des Mousquetaires ripe for the taking.

The tournament airs live on NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel through championship points in Paris.

Novak Djokovic is not only bidding for a third crown at Roland Garros, but also to lift a 23rd Grand Slam singles trophy to break his tie with Nadal for the most in men’s history.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Women’s Draw

But the No. 1 seed is Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who won last year’s U.S. Open to become, at 19, the youngest man to win a major since Nadal’s first French Open title in 2005.

Now Alcaraz looks to become the second-youngest man to win at Roland Garros since 1989, after Nadal of course.

Alcaraz missed the Australian Open in January due to a right leg injury, but since went 30-3 with four titles. Notably, he has not faced Djokovic this year. They could meet in the semifinals.

Russian Daniil Medvedev, the No. 2 seed, was upset in the first round by 172nd-ranked Brazilian qualifier Thiago Seyboth Wild. It marked the first time a men’s top-two seed lost in the first round of any major since 2003 Wimbledon (Ivo Karlovic d. Lleyton Hewitt).

All of the American men lost before the fourth round. The last U.S. man to make the French Open quarterfinals was Andre Agassi in 2003.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Men’s Singles Draw

French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw

Coco Gauff, Iga Swiatek set French Open rematch

Coco Gauff French Open

Coco Gauff swept into the French Open quarterfinals, where she plays Iga Swiatek in a rematch of last year’s final.

Gauff, the sixth seed, beat 100th-ranked Slovakian Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 7-5, 6-2 in the fourth round. She next plays the top seed Swiatek, who later Monday advanced after 66th-ranked Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko retired down 5-1 after taking a medical timeout due to illness.

Gauff earned a 37th consecutive win over a player ranked outside the top 50, dating to February 2022. She hasn’t faced a player in the world top 60 in four matches at Roland Garros, but the degree of difficulty ratchets up in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.

Swiatek won all 12 sets she’s played against Gauff, who at 19 is the only teenager in the top 49 in the world. Gauff said last week that there’s no point in revisiting last year’s final — a 6-1, 6-3 affair — but said Monday that she should rewatch that match because they haven’t met on clay since.

“I don’t want to make the final my biggest accomplishment,” she said. “Since last year I have been wanting to play her, especially at this tournament. I figured that it was going to happen, because I figured I was going to do well, and she was going to do well.

“The way my career has gone so far, if I see a level, and if I’m not quite there at that level, I know I have to improve, and I feel like you don’t really know what you have to improve on until you see that level.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Also Monday, No. 7 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia dispatched 36th-ranked American Bernarda Pera 6-3, 6-1, breaking all eight of Pera’s service games.

Jabeur, runner-up at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year, has now reached the quarterfinals of all four majors.

Jabeur next faces 14th-seeded Beatriz Haddad Maia, who won 6-7 (3), 6-3, 7-5 over Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo, who played on a protected ranking of 68. Haddad Maia became the second Brazilian woman to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal in the Open Era (since 1968) after Maria Bueno, who won seven majors from 1959-1966.

Pera, a 28 year-old born in Croatia, was the oldest U.S. singles player to make the fourth round of a major for the first time since Jill Craybas at 2005 Wimbledon. Her defeat left Gauff as the lone American singles player remaining out of the 35 entered in the main draws.

The last American to win a major singles title was Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open. The 11-major drought matches the longest in history (since 1877) for American men and women combined.

In the men’s draw, 2022 French Open runner-up Casper Ruud reached the quarterfinals by beating 35th-ranked Chilean Nicolas Jarry 7-6 (3), 7-5, 7-5. He’ll next play sixth seed Holger Rune of Denmark, a 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (7) winner over 23rd seed Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina.

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