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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Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff set Australian Open duel

Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff
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Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff will meet in the third round of a second straight Grand Slam, this time at the Australian Open on Friday.

Osaka, the defending champion and world No. 4, and Gauff, the 15-year-old American phenom, each won second-round matches in Melbourne to reach the final 32.

Osaka swept Chinese Zheng Saisai 6-2, 6-4 on a windy Wednesday afternoon. Later, Gauff followed her first-round win over Venus Williams by eliminating Romanian veteran Sorana Cirstea 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

“I know what to expect,” Gauff said. “I’m excited.”

Osaka beat Gauff 6-3, 6-0 in the U.S. Open third round on Aug. 31. In the most memorable moment of that night, Osaka urged Gauff to share the on-court victor’s interview at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“It’s better than going into the showers and crying,” Osaka told Gauff in front of a packed crowd. “Let these people know how you feel.”

Gauff obliged after at first declining.

“I’m not the type of person who wants to cry in front of everyone,” she said later. “I didn’t want to take that moment away from [Osaka], as well.”

Gauff, ranked No. 684 at this time last year, is now No. 67. She broke through by beating Williams in the Wimbledon first round, then reaching the round of 16.

Gauff won a lower-level WTA Tour event in October and now ranks fifth in U.S. Olympic singles qualifying. The top four after the French Open qualify for the Tokyo Games, though Gauff has fewer than half the points as No. 4 Alison Riske.

“It’s been really cool to watch her grow because it’s happened so fast,” Osaka said.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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John Isner leaning toward skipping Olympics again

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John Isner, the highest-ranked U.S. male singles tennis player, is considering skipping the Olympics for a second straight time.

“I haven’t put a ton of thought into it, but as of right now, I think I’m leaning towards not playing,” the 19th-ranked player said at the Australian Open on Tuesday. “It’s about scheduling. I know the Olympics, it’s a fantastic honor. There’s no doubt about that. … Right now, at this stage in my career, it’s not a huge priority for me. So that’s probably the main reason I won’t be going. I certainly love playing in the summer in America, and I’m going to focus on that.”

The Tokyo Games take place the same week as a lower-level ATP Tour event in Atlanta that Isner, a former University of Georgia star, has won five times.

Other notable male players already said they will pass on Tokyo, including Sam Querrey, the top American in Olympic qualifying standings.

Austrian Dominic Thiem, a two-time French Open finalist, is prioritizing an ATP event in Kitzbühel the week of the Olympics. The U.S. doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan are not planning to play the Olympics in their final season before retirement, their manager said in November.

“The Olympics is very tough on the schedule … especially with Davis Cup,” Isner said in 2016, according to USA Today. “I think the fact that they have no [ATP ranking] points [at the Olympics], to be honest, was a pretty big factor as well. Obviously the Olympics is not about the money, but no points I think hindered me a bit.”

Isner, who turns 35 on April 26, is likely giving up his last chance to play Olympic singles. In his only Olympic participation, he reached the quarterfinals of the 2012 London Games, plus lost an opening-round doubles match there with Andy Roddick.

The top four U.S. men qualify for Tokyo, assuming they are among the top 60 overall qualifiers (maximum four per country) after this spring’s French Open.

Taylor FritzReilly Opelka, Steve Johnson and Tommy Paul are the U.S. men currently in Olympic qualifying position if excluding Querrey and Isner.

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