Aries Merritt
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Aries Merritt faces more hurdles in months after kidney transplant

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EUGENE, Ore. — Aries Merritt said his doctors are “very, very concerned” and “troubled” if he goes to Rio after a September kidney transplant, because he is more susceptible to infections, including the Zika virus, than the normal person.

“They’ve asked me many times, have you considered not going,” he said Wednesday. “I’m like, that’s not an option.”

Merritt also takes a risk every time he takes on a hurdle in competition. Should he crash and hit somebody, or some thing, it could damage the kidney.

“If I was playing football, I wouldn’t be able to play football anymore,” Merritt said. “I I got hit one time [playing football], I’d lose a kidney.”

Merritt races at the Olympic Trials on Friday and Saturday at Hayward Field, where he must finish in the top three to defend his Olympic 110m hurdles title in Rio.

He is ranked No. 3 in the U.S. this year, making him a contender, arguably a favorite to make the team, but not necessarily to win the event.

In a way, Merritt is reminded of his kidney transplant every time he clears a hurdle. The thigh of his right trail leg rises toward his lower abdomen, near the scar from his Sept. 1 procedure.

“I do feel the incisional area,” Merritt said, adding that he also feels kidney spasms outside of races, as surrounding muscles continue to move back into place. “There has been discomfort.”

Yet Merritt says he’s healthy and training just as he was in 2012, except for two setbacks in the 10 months since receiving a kidney from older sister LaToya Hubbard. Doctors told him then he should wait until 2017 to compete again.

Merritt had none of it with an Olympic year coming up. About six weeks after the transplant he jogged, only to find out he needed a follow-up, mid-October surgery due to a hematoma that had developed that was crushing the kidney.

He returned to full training in January and in the spring raced in three meets, each occasion running faster than the previous. He reached 13.24 seconds on May 18, ranking him second among Americans for the year at that point (but still well off his 12.80 world record one month after the London Olympics).

Merritt then raced at the Prefontaine Classic here in Eugene on May 28 and finished fourth in 13.51 seconds. He hobbled over the final six hurdles after straining a groin on hurdle four (video here). It was unrelated to his kidneys (the non-functioning ones were not removed in the transplant surgery).

Track and Field Trials: Daily Schedule | TV Schedule

Merritt said it took two to three weeks to return from that injury. He hasn’t raced since May 28, but Merritt doesn’t look at what’s happened in the last 10 months as a disadvantage heading into his first-round heat at Trials on Friday afternoon.

“If I step on the line, I’m as vulnerable as they are,” he said. “The 10 barriers are your biggest enemies, not the people you’re competing against.”

Yet there’s no question the Rio favorite is Jamaican Omar McLeod, who owns the five fastest times in the world this year with a best of 12.98. The Merritt of four years ago was easily capable of beating that.

At the 2015 World Championships, Merritt took bronze in 13.04 seconds (McLeod was sixth). He had the kidney transplant four days later.

Merritt used the word “ugly” to describe what it will be like if he gets to Rio and becomes the first man to repeat as Olympic 110m hurdles champion since Roger Kingdom in 1988.

“I’ll be on the track crying somewhere,” Merritt said, “because of all the pain, all the suffering and all the depression I went through to get to this point.”

MORE: After Trials, it’s Caster; U.S. women’s 800m team gets no break in Rio

Rewind: Australia’s Steven Bradbury gains gold and lasting fame after pileup takes out Apolo Ohno

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Heading into the 2002 Winter Olympics, young American Apolo Ohno was a phenom with a legitimate shot at multiple medals in short-track speedskating.

The 1999 world junior champion and future “Dancing with the Stars” champion had finished first in the World Cup season standings in all three individual disciplines in the 2000-01 season. In the 2001 world championships, he took gold in the relay and the 3,000m (a non-Olympic event), silver in the 1,000m and fourth in the 1,500m.

Australia’s Steven Bradbury was at the other end of his career, enduring all sorts of misfortune in the years that followed — a 1995 accident in which he needed more than 100 stitches after a skate blade sliced his thigh, then a 2000 accident in which he broke two vertebra in his neck. 

The highlights of Bradbury’s career were relay world championships medals — gold in 1991, bronze in 1993, silver in 1994. He and his relay teammates also took Olympic bronze in 1994.

Bradbury barely advanced to one individual final, the 1,000m in 2002. He advanced from the quarterfinal when Canadian favorite Marc Gagnon was disqualified. He advanced from the semifinal when multiple skaters fell.

In the final, Bradbury was matched up against three outstanding skaters, including Ohno and Li Jiajun of China, who won this event and the overall title at the 2001 world championships. Ohno and Li had finished 1-2 in the 1,000m World Cup standings in 2001.

Bradbury couldn’t keep up. The other four skaters were in a pack, making dangerous passes among each other, while Bradbury fell further and further behind.

Those dangerous passes finally caught up to the rest of the field in the final turn. Li bumped into Ohno, which would lead to Li’s disqualification. After the lead pack jockeyed for position through the entire race, all four tumbled to the ice.

Bradbury, the last man standing, crossed the finish line first.

 

From the tangled pile-up, Ohno managed to fling himself, skate-first, across the finish line to take silver. Canada’s Mathieu Turcotte made it across for bronze.

Ohno wasn’t done in Salt Lake City. He won the 1,500m gold after the disqualification of Kim Dong-Sung, a controversial decision that made Ohno the object of South Korean derision.

Less controversially, Ohno won three more individual world championship events from 2005 to 2009, plus two relay golds, and the overall world title in 2008. In the Olympics, he took six more medals, including gold in the 500m in 2006 and silver in the 1,500m in 2010.

Bradbury missed the finals in the other two events in Salt Lake City, but his name lives on in the Urban Dictionary and elsewhere as a synonym for an improbable and even accidental victory. He embraced his unique place in history to carve out a career as a motivational speaker delivering more than 1,000 speeches in 19 countries, according to the International Skating Union and has even seen his win commemorated in Legos.

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Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier form new figure skating pair

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A few weeks after her husband and skating partner, Chris Knierim, stepped away from competitive figure skating, Alexa Scimeca Knierim has a new partner.

Brandon Frazier, who was also looking for someone to form a new pair after longtime partner Haven Denney stepped away from competition, at least temporarily, will join Scimeca Knierim on the ice whenever they’re able to train and compete again.

Frazier is a longtime friend of Chris Knierem. Scimeca Knierim told U.S. Figure Skating’s FanZone that Frazier had played a pivotal role in kindling the Knierem’s off-ice romance.

Denney and Frazier won the U.S. championship in 2017 and finished 20th in the world championships that year. They finished third in their two Grand Prix assignments last fall — Skate America and the Internationaux de France. They were runners-up in the 2019 U.S. championships and fifth this year, when they revived their “Lion King” free skate.

The Denney-Frazier pair took an unusual path to figure skating, starting as roller skaters.

The Knierims won their third U.S. championship in January but handed their slot in the world championships to Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson when Chris Knierim, struggling with his form and depression, decided he was unable to continue beyond the Four Continents Championship. The world championships were later canceled due to the spread of the coronavirus.

READ: Resilient Knierims withdraw from world championships

The couple had earned attention for their romance and for their inspirational returns from illness and injury. Their U.S. championship win earlier this year was their third.

Skate America, the first event on the Grand Prix circuit, is scheduled to start Oct. 23 in Las Vegas.

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