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

Jamaican bobsledders want to return to the Olympics, so they’re pushing a Mini Cooper

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The Jamaican bobsled team’s push for the next Winter Olympics took a detour to the roads of Great Britain.

Numerous British media outlets reported in the last week on Shanwayne Stephens and Nimroy Turgott, who have been pushing cars, including a Mini Cooper, in Peterborough.

“We had to come up with our own ways of replicating the sort of pushing we need to do [in bobsledding amid the coronavirus pandemic],” Stephens, a reported British resident since age 11, said, according to Reuters. “So that’s why we thought: why not go out and push the car?

“We do get some funny looks. We’ve had people run over, thinking the car’s broken down, trying to help us bump-start the car. When we tell them we’re the Jamaica bobsleigh team, the direction is totally different, and they’re very excited.”

The Jamaican bobsled team rose to fame with its Olympic debut at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, inspiring the 1993 Disney film, “Cool Runnings.” At least one Jamaican men’s sled competed in every Olympics from 1988 through 2002, then again in 2014, with a best finish of 14th.

A Jamaican women’s sled debuted at the Olympics in 2018, driven by 2014 U.S. Olympian Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian. A Jamaican men’s sled just missed qualifying for PyeongChang by one spot in world rankings.

Stephens, a driver, is 51st and 56th in the current world rankings for the four-person and two-man events, respectively.

He competed in lower-level international races last season with a best finish of sixth in a four-person race that had seven sleds. One of Stephens’ push athletes was Carrie Russell, a 2018 Olympian in the two-woman event and former sprinter who won a world title in the 4x100m in 2013.

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MORE: Sam Clayton, Jamaica’s first bobsled driver, was ‘a pioneer of pioneers’

Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich and a Tour de France rivalry that brought tears

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Lance Armstrong reportedly breaks down into tears in Sunday’s second episode of his ESPN documentary, discussing his closest rival during his run of seven Tour de France titles, all later stripped for doping.

Armstrong visited Jan Ullrich in Germany in 2018, after Ullrich was released from a psychiatric hospital following multiple reported arrests over assault charges.

“The reason I went to see him is I love him,” Armstrong said, followed by tears, according to reports. “It was not a good trip. He was the most important person in my life.”

Ullrich struggled with reported substance abuse, saying in a 2018 letter in German newspaper Bild that he detoxed in a Miami facility and that he had “an illness.”

Ullrich, after winning the 1997 Tour de France, finished second to Armstrong in 2000, 2001 and 2003.

He retired in 2007. In 2013, he admitted to doping during his career (which had been widely assumed), five months after Armstrong confessed in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.

“Nobody scared me, motivated me. The other guys … no disrespect to them, didn’t get me up early,” Armstrong said in the ESPN film, according to Cycling Weekly. “He got me up early. And [in 2018] he was just a f—ing mess.”

Armstrong and Ullrich’s most notable Tour de France interactions: In Stage 10 in 2001, on the iconic Alpe d’Huez, Armstrong gave what came to be known as “The Look,” turning back to stare in sunglasses at Ullrich, then accelerating away to win the stage by 1:59.

In Stage 15 in 2003, Armstrong’s handlebars caught a spectator’s yellow bag. He crashed to the pavement. Ullrich and others slowed to allow Armstrong to remount and catch up. Armstrong won the stage, upping his lead from 15 seconds to 1:07, eventually winning the Tour by 1:01, by far the closest of his seven titles (again, all later stripped).

For Armstrong, Ullrich began transforming from rival to friend in 2005. After Armstrong won his last (later stripped) Tour de France that July, he was told Ullrich wanted to show up at Armstrong’s victory party in a luxury Paris hotel. Ullrich wanted to say a few words in front of hundreds of Armstrong supporters.

“If you know Jan, you know that his English is not great,” Armstrong said in a 2017 episode of one of his podcasts. “I’m just going, no, this can’t be happening. This is not real. Jan showed up and took the mic and gave a speech and talked about me and talked about us. It was the classiest thing that anybody ever did for me in my cycling career. I’ll never forget it. I love him for it.

“I wasn’t man enough to do that. If the roles were reversed, there’s no way I would have done that. But for him to do that, that’s something that I’ll never forget the rest of my life.”

In 2017, Armstrong was upset that Ullrich wasn’t invited to appear at the Tour de France’s opening stages, held in Germany that year. In 2013, when Ullrich fessed up to doping, he said of his chief rival and fellow cheater, “I am no better than Armstrong, but no worse either.”

Ullrich (and other dopers) kept his Tour de France title, a fact that Armstrong has brought up in interviews since his confession. Ullrich was reportedly asked in 2016 by CyclingTips if he considered Armstrong a seven-time Tour de France champion.

“This is a hard question,” he said, according to the report. “It’s not good, that in all those years, you have no winner. It’s not good for history, it’s not good for the Tour de France. I have heard all the stories about Lance. It’s a hard question. I don’t know the answer. I’m not the judge. But for the history of the Tour de France, it’s not good that there is no winner.”

TIMELINE: Lance Armstrong’s rise and fall

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