Injuries bite biggest Olympic track and field stars as Trials begin

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EUGENE, Ore. — Around the time Sanya Richards-Rosstorn right hamstring ended her career on the Hayward Field backstretch, Usain Bolt was being diagnosed with a torn hamstring of his own.

Allyson Felix, running in significant pain and in a 400m first-round heat following Richards-Ross, managed her injury to finish second and advance to Saturday’s semifinals, the second of a planned six races in nine days at Hayward Field.

An anticipated update from Felix on her grade-two right-ankle sprain with partially torn ligaments was not available. She left the track and did not pass by media. Word came that she was receiving treatment for the toughest injury of her decorated career.

The Rio Olympics open Aug. 5. Track and field is the marquee sport. And its headliners are ailing.

Not only Bolt and Felix, but also concerning is the form of Ethiopian distance queen Genzebe Dibaba, who failed to finish in her first race since March 20 and was wheeled out in a chair on Thursday.

In Eugene, the first day of Trials saw the end of Olympic careers for Richards-Ross, the 2012 400m gold medalist, plus lesser-known veterans — 2004 shot put gold medalist Adam Nelson and 2012 shot put bronze medalist Reese Hoffa.

Three more Olympic medalists in their twilights — Jeremy WarinerDeeDee Trotter and Bernard Lagat — came into races Friday as underdogs and remained that way afterward, though their Trials are not yet finished.

Richards-Ross’ right hamstring, torn in a 100m race June 4, would not let her accelerate to a speed fast enough to advance out of her heat Friday.

She came to a stop with about 150 meters to go. Her first thoughts?

“No Rio. No Rio,” she said. “That’s the toughest part for every athlete is you really want to go to the Olympics. No matter how banged up you are, you still think it’s possible.”

Richards-Ross, largely sidelined by toe problems since her London title, had said in April this would be her final season. She said Friday night, just before tears began flowing, that the Olympic Trials were her final meet.

Richards-Ross has a book coming out in 2017, wants to work in broadcasting and start a family with husband Aaron Ross, an NFL cornerback.

“This is really the end of it for me,” she said.

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Richards-Ross, 31, and Wariner, 32 and the 2004 Olympic men’s 400m champion, have long been stablemates under venerable Baylor coach Clyde Hart.

Wariner, too, is present for one more Olympic Trials. After being sick for a month and a half, he reached the 16-man 400m semifinals with the 12th-best time Friday. It took his best race of the season to advance. Wariner has no real expectations for the rest of the weekend.

“If I make the next round, enjoy it, run my heart out, leave it all on the track,” he said. “Then if I make final, do it again.”

Wariner has a Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches franchise in Dallas, Texas, waiting for once he completes his final lap.

“I’m looking for the future,” Wariner said, his trademark shades resting on his forehead while speaking to media for 20 minutes after his 46-second race, “but at the same time do what’s in the present.”

In the 10-day Trials’ very first event, Nelson returned to the shot put circle for qualifying in the morning, six days before his 41st birthday.

Nelson was here to bring more attention for athletes’ rights amid growing sponsorship and contract disputes. And to inspire younger athletes.

He was introduced in front of a sparse crowd as “Olympic champion Adam Nelson” for the first time. Nelson, originally the Athens 2004 silver medalist, was upgraded to gold in 2013 after Ukraine’s Yuriy Bilonog was stripped for doping.

“Waited a long time to hear that,” Nelson, the man known for his intense, shirt-ripping pre-throw routine, said as he fought to hold back tears. “As Olympians we have to know the process, and medals are just tangible reminders or a representation of everything that it took to get to that moment. For eight years in my life, a silver medal sort of changed the way I looked at things. It really inspired me to keep going in the sport.”

Nelson was later honored at the Trials’ opening ceremony with the medal presentation he should have received 12 years ago in Olympia. Then Nelson, recently slowed by a groin injury, finished an admirable seventh in the shot put final.

“Things don’t always hold together the way they’re supposed to,” Nelson lamented of aging.

Later Friday night, the 41-year-old Lagat dropped out of the 10,000m final that would be won by Galen Rupp for a second straight Olympic Trials. He didn’t cite injury, though Lagat had not raced since May 28, according to Tilastopaja.org, when he dropped out of the Prefontaine Classic 5000m with a cold.

Lagat, a 2000 and 2004 Olympic 1500m medalist when he represented Kenya, said he pulled the plug Friday night when he realized his chance of finishing in the top three to make the Rio team was weak. He’s conserving energy for the 5000m, which starts here Monday.

“I’m a guy that looks forward,” Lagat said. “I still have one more shot.”

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At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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