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USA Swimming moves pre-Olympic training camp due to Zika virus

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ATLANTA (AP) — USA Swimming has moved a pre-Olympic training camp out of Puerto Rico because of the Zika virus.

There are no plans to bail on the Summer Games in Brazil, even though that country has been the epicenter of the outbreak.

Frank Busch, the U.S. national team director, sent out a letter Thursday to all national team athletes and coaches telling them of the change. The camp will now be held in Atlanta instead of Puerto Rico in late July.

“As part of our preparations for the Olympic Games this summer, we have been closely monitoring the current situation with the Zika virus,” Busch wrote in his letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press. “According to the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and other health experts in the field of science and medicine, our athletes would be highly exposed to the Zika virus in Puerto Rico.”

The U.S. team is still scheduled to hold a training camp in San Antonio from July 11-21.

After that, the team had been planning to make a stop in Puerto Rico for several more days of training before traveling on to Rio de Janeiro, where the Olympic swimming competition begins Aug. 6.

Now, that camp will be held at the Georgia Tech aquatic center, site of the 1996 Olympics and a meet just last weekend featuring gold medalists Katie Ledecky and Nathan Adrian.

“I think it’s the prudent thing to do,” said Bob Bowman, who coaches 18-time gold medalist Michael Phelps.

When asked about the seeming contradiction of canceling a camp in Puerto Rico because of Zika but going on to compete in the country hardest hit by the virus, Bowman said he believes the risk will actually be much lower at the Olympics.

“Honestly, we can control it better in Rio,” he said. “They’re taking every precaution they can. We’re talking about swimming in an indoor venue in the wintertime. Plus, we have other measures we can take. We just feel like that’s a much more controlled environment.”

USA Swimming’s decision follows a move by Major League Baseball to shift two regular-season games out of San Juan because of players’ concerns about the virus. The May 30-31 series between the Marlins and the Pittsburgh Pirates will now be played in Miami.

The Zika virus is carried by mosquitoes and has been linked to microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with undersized brains and skulls. There are also concerns that it might contribute to the Guillain-Barre syndrome in adults, a condition that leads to rapid muscle weakness caused by the immune system damaging the peripheral nervous system.

“The health and safety of our athletes is USA Swimming’s primary priority and responsibility,” said Scott Leightman, a spokesman for USA Swimming.

The Zika outbreak has been one of the major headaches facing Olympic organizers as they prepare for South America’s first Olympics. Brazilian officials insist that precautions will be taken to keep athletes safe and point to the onset of winter in Brazil as being helpful in reducing the mosquito population.

But a Canadian professor, in an article published last week by the Harvard Public Health Review, warned that the Olympics should be postponed or moved until the virus is under control. Amir Attaran of the University of Ottawa warned that the influx of visitors to Brazil will result in the avoidable births of malformed babies.

Brazil is by far the country most affected by Zika, though hundreds have now been infected in Puerto Rico, including the U.S. commonwealth’s first confirmed death from the virus.

Busch wrote that a number of factors went into the decision to go to Atlanta, including the flight time to Rio (about 9 1-2 hours nonstop), the world-class facilities at Georgia Tech and hotel availability. Bowman also pointed out there’s only a one-hour time difference between Rio and Atlanta.

While no prominent national team members have expressed concerns about competing in Rio, Busch stressed that preventing athletes from being infected while at the Olympics was a top priority.

“We will also educate Olympic team members about Zika and provide them with multiple tools to reduce the risk of being bitten by mosquitoes while in Rio,” he wrote.

Busch said the setup in Atlanta will allow the powerful U.S. team to develop the sort of camaraderie that is so important heading into the Olympics. The squad will be determined at the eight-day trials in Omaha, Nebraska, which begin June 26.

“Team culture is one of the things that sets Team USA apart,” Busch wrote. “We want to make sure our camp creates that unity as we head into the Olympic Games.”

Bowman said it was also important to eliminate any potential distractions heading into Rio. If the camp had stayed in Puerto Rico, some athletes might have worried about contracting Zika before they even got to the Olympics.

“We want to make sure camp preparations are not compromised, even by the mental stress of worrying about it,” Bowman said. “We feel like we’ll have a good, solid camp in Atlanta. That’s the best way to prepare for the games.”

MORE: Michael Phelps’ concussion, more highlights from Bob Bowman’s book

Mondo Duplantis, Sandi Morris miss attempts at pole vault records

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Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis and U.S. athlete Sandi Morris took turns attempting world records in the pole vault Wednesday at the Meeting d’Athlétsime Hauts-de-France Pas-de-Calais meet at Arena Stade Regional in Liévin, France, but both were unable to clear the bar.

Duplantis, aiming to set the world record for third time in February, had no misses leading up to his record attempts. U.S. vaulter Sam Kendricks, who has won the last two world championships, cleared 5.90m but dropped out after one attempt at 5.95m. Duplantis passed on that height, then cleared 6.07m to warm up for his shot at 6.19m, just shy of 20 feet, 3 3/4 inches.

Morris’ attempt to tie Jennifer Suhr‘s world indoor record of 5.03m from 2016 was more of a surprise. Morris holds the U.S. outdoor record at 5.00m but had never done better than 4.95m indoors. She won Wednesday’s competition with a clearance of 4.83m and asked to go immediately to 5.03m, or 16 feet, 6 inches.

Yelena Isinbayeva still holds the outdoor record of 5.06m, set in 2009. Morris is second on the all-time list and is the only athlete other than Isinbayeva or Suhr to clear 5 meters either indoors or outdoors.

In the men’s pole vault, Duplantis’ clearance of 6.18m Feb. 15 in Glasgow is the best vault indoors or outdoors.  Sergey Bubka still has the highest clearance outdoors at 6.14m. Bubka also held the indoor record of 6.15m for more than 20 years, finally losing it to Renaud Lavillenie in 2014. Duplantis cleared 6.17m Feb. 9 in Poland, then added another centimeter last week in Glasgow.

READ: Duplantis raises record in Glasgow

Duplantis, Lavillenie and Bubka are the only vaulters to clear 20 feet. Kendricks cleared 6.06m, or 19-10 1/2, last summer, the highest outdoor clearance by anyone other than Bubka.

Duplantis grew up in Louisiana and attended LSU for one year, setting the NCAA indoor (5.92m) and outdoor (6.00m) before turning pro, though he was upset in the NCAA final by South Dakota junior Chris Nilsen.

Also at Wednesday’s meet:

Ronnie Baker ran 6.49 seconds in the 60m semifinals and lowered that to 6.44 in the final, second only to Christian Coleman this season. Demek Kemp finished second and tied his personal best of 6.50.

Nia Ali and Christina Clemons finished 1-2 in the women’s 60m hurdles with identical times of 7.92. Ali is the reigning world champion and Olympic silver medalist in the 100m hurdles. She also won world indoor titles in 2014 and 2016.

Two Ethiopian runners set the fastest times of the season Samuel Tefera in the 1,500m (3:35.54) and Getnet Wale in the 3,000m (7:32.80). Wale was fourth in the 3,000m steeplechase in the 2019 world championships.

Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, racing in his home country of France, won the 60m hurdles in 7.47, second this season to Grant Holloway‘s 7.38 last week.

The World Athletics Indoor Tour ends Friday in Madrid. The world indoor championships originally scheduled for March in Nanjing, China, have been postponed a year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Susan Dunklee extends decade of surprises for U.S. biathletes

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When Susan Dunklee‘s time held up for second place in Friday’s 7.5km sprint, she became the first U.S. biathlete to win two world championship medals in her career and earned the sixth medal for the U.S. in world biathlon championship history.

Four of those medals have come in the past eight years.

First was Tim Burke, who had gained some fame among biathlon fans with his three World Cup podiums in the 2009-10 season and his relationship with German biathlete Andrea Henkel, who would win two Olympic gold medals and eight world championships before retiring and marrying Burke.

In that season, Burke led the World Cup briefly but faded and didn’t do well in the Olympics. But in 2012-13, he finished 10th in the World Cup overall and ended the American drought in the world championships, finishing second in the individual behind dominant French biathlete Martin Fourcade, who won his 11th non-relay world title Wednesday in the individual.

In 2017, Dunklee became the first U.S. woman to win a non-relay medal, taking the lead in the mass start after quickly knocking down all five targets in the last shooting and holding on for second. She didn’t come out of nowhere, having taken a few World Cup medals. That season, she ranked 10th overall in the World Cup.

Then came the stunner. Lowell Bailey, who had just one World Cup podium in a long career coming into the 2016-17 season, had bib 100 in the individual, a spot usually reserved for non-contenders. But he hit all 20 targets, always important in a race that penalizes athletes one minute per miss, and gutted it out through the last lap to keep a 3.3-second advantage and win the first world championship for a U.S. biathlete.

Like Dunklee, Bailey earned his medal in the midst of a strong season. The individual was won of his four top-10 finishes in the world championships, including a fourth-place finish in the sprint. He wound up eighth overall in the World Cup.

Bailey and Burke each stuck it out to compete in their fourth Olympics in 2018, then crossed the finish line together in their final race at the U.S. championships.

This season is their first in management. Bailey, also a bluegrass musician, is now U.S. Biathlon’s director of high performance. Burke is director of athlete development.

Dunklee, on the other hand, isn’t done. Her results slipped a bit after her 2017 breakthrough, but she has had some top 10s. When she shoots clean, as she did Friday, she’s a contender.

The first U.S. medal was in the first women’s world championship in 1984, when Holly Beatie, Julie Newman and Kari Swenson bronze in 3x5km relay. Swenson also finished fifth in the individual that year and returned to compete in the next two world championships after a harrowing experience in which she was abducted and shot, a story that inspired a film starring Tracy Pollan.

The only other U.S. medal in the world championships before Burke, Bailey and Dunklee was Josh Thompson‘s individual silver in 1987. The only athletes other than Burke, Bailey, Dunklee and Thompson to have World Cup podiums (excluding relays) are Jeremy Teela in 2009 and Clare Egan, who was third in a mass start last spring and is competing in the world championships this year.

U.S. Paralympians broke through with two gold medals on the first day of competition in the 2018 Paralympics.

READ: Kendall Gretsch, Dan Cnossen take gold

Wednesday saw another surprise finish for a U.S. biathlete. Leif Nordgren, whose career-best finish outside the relays is 16th, was the only athlete to go 20-for-20 on the shooting range and placed eighth in the individual.

The championships continue through through Sunday with the single mixed relay on Thursday, the men’s and women’s relays on Saturday, and the men’s and women’s mass starts on Sunday.

WATCH: World biathlon championships TV schedule

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