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.”

MORE: Nike lawsuit behind him, Boris Berian competes at Olympic Trials

Grigory Rodchenkov, Russian doping whistleblower, still lives in fear

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His head covered in a black balaclava, adjusting dark goggles obscuring his eyes, Grigory Rodchenkov grows anxious if any part of his face can be seen.

Exposing Russia’s state-sponsorship doping scheme forced Rodchenkov into hiding in the United States five years ago. Revealing his current identity is still too risky for the chemist turned whistleblower, even in a video interview from an undisclosed location.

“It’s my security measures because I have physical threats to be assassinated,” Rodchenkov told The Associated Press. “And I want to live.”

Evidence from Rodchenkov that has already turned Vladimir Putin‘s Russia into international sporting outcasts continues to be used in cases against athletes along with data from his former laboratory in Moscow.

“Putin, he is quite logical. He separates opposition in two ways — enemies … betrayers,” Rodchenkov said. “I am falling in the betrayers’ category and all betrayers should be beheaded, cut, dead. So there is no doubt that he wants me to be dead.”

It has not deterred him from documenting his life story in “The Rodchenkov Affair: How I Brought Down Putin’s Secret Doping Empire,” revisiting how he conspired with his country to corrupt sports and then tries to show contrition by turning star witness.

Rodchenkov was the brains behind the Duchess cocktail of anabolic steroids and cover-up that turned Russia into a medal machine at the home Olympics in Sochi in 2014, topping the standings with 13 gold medals before disqualifications.

Russian spies ensured the Duchess would not be detected in doping tests as FSB agents used a hole in the wall of the Sochi laboratory to swap out the dirty samples with clean urine at night.

“For me, it was the end of doping control,” Rodchenkov said. “If we can do it, why others cannot?”

The doping cover-up extended beyond the Winter Olympics, into the Summer Games, Paralympics, world track and field championships and every major sport.

Some Russians were barred from competing at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games and 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games as the International Olympic Committee remains opposed to blanket bans on countries.

So Russian athletes can still compete on the international stage if they can show they are clean, despite a four-year ban from major international sporting events being imposed on the nation last year for a fresh cover-up, including tampering with data gained from Rodchenkov’s former lab in Moscow.

“Sport is a part of Putin’s politics and showing to the West how good Russia is,” Rodchenkov said. “You cannot trust Russia. You cannot trust the certification authorities, and (anti-doping) laboratories cannot be allowed to be restored within the foreseeable future.”

Especially now, according to Rodchenkov, following constitutional changes allowing Putin to run for two more six-year terms, in 2024 and 2030,

“Until 2036,” Rodchenkov said, “no trust.”

But why now trust Rodchenkov as he presents a virtuous image at odds with his deep collusion with the state to cheat?

“When you are laboratory director and you have 50 employees and you are reporting to your high ups at the ministry, I could not even think about morals,” he said, dismissing concerns about any long-term damage to the health of athletes he allowed to be pumped with steroids.

“It’s extremely debatable and still ungrounded,” he said. “We see the generation who is now in the end of their lives of 70s and 80s, which are still … in a good physical condition after steroid programs.”

Go back four decades and Rodchenkov was starting out in a Soviet system learning how to manipulate doping controls.

“I had honestly, I’m sorry, but I had huge feelings of accomplishment,” he said. “Those athletes I helped to (win) were extremely talented and I could not understand, with the coach, how he or she may lose to others. The only explanation was doping. Then using some programs, we won gold medals. Honestly it was like leveling the field.

“Again, ‘morals’ is maybe vocabulary from American life but not from Soviet and Russian. In (the) Soviet (Union) it was the Soviet moral, in Russia there is no morals.”

It helps when the athletes are compliant.

“This is the huge problem of the militarization of Russia sport,” Rodchenkov said. “They follow orders, they are disciplined but they cannot tell the truth because they have given the oath to the Russian state and consider foreigners as potential enemies or even actual enemies. That’s why in Russia there are three ways – lying, cheating and denying.”

Rodchenkov has had to convince the world he has shed those ways and is coming clean. More of the cases he helped to cover-up could soon come to light after the World Anti-Doping Agency shared data – of samples tested up to 2015, and tampering that continued into 2019 – that was retrieved from the Moscow testing lab at the heart of the state-backed doping program.

“The problem is that the people from outside cannot understand what is going on inside sports,” he said. “Only whistleblowers could do that. But in corrupted countries you have to escape and we need to be preserved.”

For Rodchenkov that means living a life constantly in fear of being recognized as happened on a train in the US.

“It was a student,” he recalled. “I told him, `Forget you are meeting me, yes it’s me, don’t tell anyone.’ … I disappeared again.”

MORE: Russia track and field faces expulsion if it misses deadline

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Noah Lyles, more world champs race in Monaco; TV, live stream schedule

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Noah Lyles headlines a bevy of world champions slated for the first full-on Diamond League meet of the abbreviated track and field season, live on NBC Sports on Friday.

Monaco hosts the strongest fields of any meet since the world championships 10 months ago. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports Gold air coverage on Friday at 2 p.m. ET.

Reigning world champions include Lyles (200m), Grant Holloway (110m hurdles), Donavan Brazier (800m) and Sam Kendricks (pole vault), and those are just the Americans.

Swede Mondo Duplantis, who twice raised the pole vault world record in February, takes on Kendricks in Monaco. Distance stars Sifan Hassan, Hellen Obiri, Beatrice Chepkoech, Timothy Cheruiyot and Joshua Cheptegei dot the fields, too.

The Diamond League season was due to start in April, but the coronavirus pandemic halted large-gathering track meets until now. Repurposed versions of Diamond League meets in Oslo and Zurich were held the last two months with fewer events and athletes and some entrants racing from different countries.

After Monaco, more Diamond League meets are scheduled for Stockholm (Aug. 23), Lausanne (Sept. 2), Brussels (Sept. 4), Naples (Sept. 17), Doha (Sept. 25) and China (Oct. 17).

Here are the Monaco entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

1:40 p.m. ET — Men’s Pole Vault
2:03 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
2:05 — Women’s High Jump
2:12 — Men’s 800m
2:17 — Women’s Triple Jump
2:19 — Women’s 5000m
2:42 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
2:50 — Women’s 100m
2:57 — Men’s 1500m
3:07 — Women’s 400m
3:13 — Men’s 5000m
3:32 — Men’s 200m
3:39 — Women’s 100m
3:47 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase

Here are five events to watch (statistics via Tilastopaja.org):

Men’s Pole Vault — 1:40 p.m.
The top field event of the meet includes the reigning Olympic champion (Brazil’s Thiago Braz), reigning world champion (Kendricks) and the world-record holder (Duplantis, who must be the favorite here). Kendricks and Duplantis already went head-to-head this spring, competing virtually from respective home pole-vault setups. Kendricks took their first six head-to-heads, back when Duplantis was a teenager, but the Louisiana-born Swede won all four of their indoor duels in February. Duplantis is the clear Tokyo Olympic favorite until proven otherwise.

Men’s 800m — 2:12 p.m.
The top four from the 2019 World Championships are entered. Brazier, 23, caught fire the last year. He broke the American record to win the world title. He broke his own American indoor record in February. Then, last month, Brazier took 1.33 seconds off his 1500m personal best. Nobody in the Monaco field has beaten Brazier since the start of 2018.

Women’s 5000m — 2:19 p.m.
Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan in world champion at 1500m and 10,000m, but she’s lost four of five meetings with two-time world champion Hellen Obiri of Kenya at 5000m. Hassan appears to be gearing up to race the 5000m in Tokyo, though, saying last month her eye was on a 1500m-5000m Olympic double had the Games been held this year. The 1500m preliminary heats and the 5000m final are separated by about 12 hours at the Olympics next year. Also in this field: three-time Olympian and former American record holder Shannon Rowbury, set for her first Diamond League race in nearly three years and since the birth of daughter Sienna.

Men’s 1500m — 2:57 p.m.
Last we saw Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot in a 1500m, he led wire-to-wire en route to a 2.12-second victory in the world championships final. Only one man has beaten Cheruiyot in three years, countryman Elijah Manangoi, who is provisionally suspended due to whereabouts failures. The Monaco field does include Norwegian Jakob Ingebrigtsen (second-fastest man of 2019), Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha (indoor mile world-record holder), Pole Marcin Lewandowski (world bronze medalist) and Craig Engels (2019 U.S. champion who was 10th at worlds).

Men’s 200m — 3:32 p.m.
Lyles and younger brother Josephus Lyles go head-to-head for the first time since January 2017. Noah has lost just one outdoor 200m since placing fourth at the 2016 Olympic Trials coming out of high school. Josephus, primarily a 400m sprinter in his developmnt, last month took a half-second off a five-year-old 200m personal best. His new best time — 20.24 seconds — would have placed third at the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships behind Noah (19.78) and Christian Coleman (20.02).

MORE: Trayvon Bromell’s return from destruction, death to sprinting

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