Aries Merritt faces more hurdles in months after kidney transplant

Aries Merritt
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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

Mikaela Shiffrin, three gates from gold, skis out of world championships combined

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Mikaela Shiffrin was three gates from a record-tying seventh world championships gold medal when she lost her balance and straddled a gate, skiing out of the first race of worlds on Monday.

Italian Federica Brignone won the women’s combined instead, prevailing by 1.62 seconds over Swiss Wendy Holdener, the largest Olympic or world championships men’s or women’s margin of victory in the event since it switched from three runs to two in 2007.

Austrian Ricarda Haaser took bronze in an event that is one run of super-G followed by one run of slalom.

At 32, Brignone, the 2020 World Cup overall champion, won her first global title and became the oldest female world champion in any event.

“What was missing in my career was a gold medal,” she said. “So I’m old. No, I’m just kidding.”

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Shiffrin was sixth fastest in the opening super-G run, 96 hundredths behind Brignone. She skied aggressively in the slalom in a bid to beat Brignone. Shiffrin cut the gap to eight hundredths by the last intermediate split with about 10 seconds left on the course in Meribel, France.

Shiffrin looked set to overtake Brignone until tripping up slightly with five gates left. It compounded, and Shiffrin couldn’t save the run, losing control, straddling the third-to-last gate and skiing out. The timing system still registered her finish — 34 hundredths faster than Brignone — but it was quickly corrected to the obvious disqualification.

Asked on French TV if she lost focus, Shiffrin said, “People are going to say that no matter what.”

“The surface changed a little bit on these last gates, so [on pre-race] inspection I saw it’s a bit more unstable on the snow,” she added. “I tried to be aware of that, but I knew that if I had a chance to make up nine tenths on Federica, or more than that, like one second, I had to push like crazy. So I did, and I had a very good run. I’m really happy with my skiing.”

It marked Shiffrin’s first time skiing out since she did so in three races at last February’s Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth in five races. At the Olympics, she skied out within the first 13 seconds in each instance. On Monday, she was more than 40 seconds into her run.

“What she did at the Olympics versus what she did in this run, two completely different things,” NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino said on the Peacock broadcast, adding that it was “an error of aggression.” “It certainly wasn’t nerves that sent her out. This was Shiffrin knowing that she had to have a huge run to get the gold medal.

“The way she went out this time, I think she can brush that one off.”

Shiffrin was bidding to tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12). Coming into Monday, she earned a medal in her last 10 world championships races dating to 2015.

Her next chance to match those records comes in Wednesday’s super-G, where she is a medal contender. Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel is the world’s top-ranked super-G skier through five races on the World Cup this season, though she was 71 hundredths behind Brignone in Monday’s super-G run.

Shiffrin has raced two super-Gs this season with a win and a seventh place.

She is expected to race three more times over the two-week worlds, which is separate from the World Cup circuit that she has torn up this season.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup wins in 23 starts across all disciplines since November, moving her one shy of the career victories record of 86 accumulated by Swede Ingemar Stenmark in the 1970s and ’80s. Again, world championships races do not count toward the World Cup, which picks back up after worlds end in late February.

Worlds continue Tuesday with the men’s combined.

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2023 World Alpine Skiing Championships results

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Top 10 and notable results from the 2023 World Alpine Skiing Championships in Meribel and Courchevel, France …

Women’s Combined
Gold: Federica Brignone (ITA) — 1:57.47
Silver: Wendy Holdener (SUI) — +1.62
Bronze: Ricarda Haaser (AUT) — +2.26
4. Ramona Siebenhofer (AUT) — +2.48
5. Franziska Gritsch (AUT) — +2.71
6. Michelle Gisin (SUI) — +3.43
7. Laura Gauche (FRA) — +3.71
8. Emma Aicher (GER) — +3.78
9. Elena Curtoni (ITA) — +4.05
10. Marie-Michele Gagnon (CAN) — +4.91
13. Bella Wright (USA) — +6.21
DQ (slalom). Mikaela Shiffrin (USA)
DNS (slalom). Lara Gut-Behrami (SUI)
DNS (slalom). Ragnhild Mowinckel (NOR)
DNS (slalom). Sofia Goggia (ITA)
DNF (super-G). Marta Bassino (ITA)
DNF (super-G). Breezy Johnson (USA)
DNF (super-G). Tricia Mangan (USA)

Men’s Combined (Feb. 7)
Women’s Super-G (Feb. 8)
Men’s Super-G (Feb. 9)
Women’s Downhill (Feb. 11)
Men’s Downhill (Feb. 12)
Team Parallel (Feb. 14)
Men’s Parallel (Feb. 15)
Women’s Parallel (Feb. 15)
Women’s Giant Slalom (Feb. 16)
Men’s Giant Slalom (Feb. 17)
Women’s Slalom (Feb. 18)
Men’s Slalom (Feb. 19)

ALPINE WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

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