Dafne Schippers
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Dafne Schippers reminds Dutch of Olympic legend

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HENGELO, Netherlands (AP) — It was fitting that Dafne Schippers streaked away from her rivals to set the fastest 200m time in the world this year at the wet, windy and chilly FBK Stadion.

The stadium was named in honor of the great Fanny Blankers-Koen, who won four Olympic sprint titles at the 1948 London Games.

One close observer who can compare the Dutch sprinters is Jan Blankers, the 74-year-old son of the national legend, who told The Associated Press of Schippers: “Her style, her build. She reminds me of my mother.”

The similarities are giving sports fans in the Netherlands hope for gold on the track in Rio de Janeiro.

And Schippers continues to reinforce that hope, barely two months ahead of the Olympics in Rio, where she is a favorite in the 200m, a strong challenger for gold in the 100m and has an outside shot at a medal in the relay. With such a performance, she would break the recent stranglehold of U.S. and Jamaican athletes on Olympic sprinting.

Three Olympic medals would be a major achievement for Schippers, but may not have quite the same aura of four golds — after all, FBK is a tough act to follow after winning the 100m, 200m, 80m hurdles and relay in ’48.

The IAAF, the world governing body for track and field, elected Blankers-Koen as the top female athlete of the 20th century. Little wonder Schippers doesn’t want to race history too much.

“To be honest I haven’t looked back too much at the old reels,” Schippers said, avoiding being drawn into comparisons of powerful strides and strong physiques. Still, the 23-year-old Schippers was touched by the Blankers’ comparison. “Different times, but it is great to hear.”

After last Sunday’s top time of 22.02 seconds in the 200m, she left the provincial crowd behind and flew off to the United States, where she will face some of her toughest U.S. and Jamaican opponents at the Prefontaine Classic on Saturday.

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It will be another step in the unlikely transformation of an elite heptathlon competitor into the one of the world’s foremost sprinters — which Schippers now is since she won the 200m and took silver at the 100m at the World Championships in Beijing in August.

After capping an early career in the heptathlon with a bronze medal at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, she steadily found out that her extraordinary speed was better served focusing on the sprints rather than spread over seven disciplines. After a season of wavering, she finally decided to concentrate on the sprints.

The switch of events required a shift in her mental approach to competition, too. She had to leave behind the camaraderie of the heptathlon, which often concludes in a sweaty scrum of bodies at the end of their two-day competition, and learn to deal with the sometimes ice-old air and egos in sprinting.

Moving to the higher-profile 100m and 200m also meant changes off the track.

“I can no longer walk everywhere I want to walk,” she said, as she was mobbed by teenage fans who might hardly have recognized her as a heptathlete. “It is a totally different year, really. Everything is different.”

Demands from the media have increased, and her openness of years past has given way to pragmatism.

If doping controls already seemed intense to her last year, it has now gone to another level. She said two testers showed up within five minutes a few weeks ago — one international controller, another national. “That’s part of it,” Schippers said.

That’s why she loves coming to the FBK Stadion, where signing around the track during her 200m flashed up the message “Go Dafne,” and which is as close to a family meet as she’ll find anywhere. One hour before her race, she was still chatting and smiling with friends in the public stands, taking in the waft of quiche and beer. “My only thought was, ‘keep it away from me,'” she said, explaining she can have a tender stomach ahead of a race.

After the race is a different matter, though, as her food blog attests.

“I do crave chocolate,” she sighed. “It is horrible when I cannot touch it. So every now and then, I still grab a piece.”

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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Conseslus Kipruto tests positive for coronavirus, canceling world-record bid

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Conseslus Kipruto, the Olympic and world 3000m steeplechase champion, tested positive for the coronavirus without symptoms, which will keep him from a world-record chase on Friday, according to his social media.

The Kenyan was to race in the first in-person Diamond League meet of the year in Monaco on Friday.

“Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities,” was posted. “Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League.

“I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well.”

Kipruto, 25, is the 14th-fastest steepler in history with a personal best of 8:00.12. The world record is 7:53.63, set by Kenyan-born Qatari Saif Saaeed Shaheen in 2004.

Last year, Kipruto won the world title by .01, extending a streak of a Kenyan or Kenyan-born man winning every Olympic or world title in the event since the 1988 Seoul Games. He was sidelined by a stress fracture in his left foot until opening his season extremely late on Aug. 24.

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Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities. Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League on August 14th. I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well. Wish to thank Monaco for all the work they have done and I wish them and my colleagues a wonderful competition. Athletics is back and I will be back as well. Anyone willing to organise a steeple once I can be cleared? @diamondleaguemonaco #nike #quarantine #WR #Kenya

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