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Brianna McNeal, after strange year off, returns to clearing hurdles

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Brianna McNeal will race internationally on Friday for the first time in 625 days, since leading a U.S. sweep of the 100m hurdles at the Rio Olympics.

She headlines one of the fastest fields in history at the Diamond League opener in Doha (11:15 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold, and noon, Olympic Channel).

McNeal never thought she would take this long of a competition break after claiming gold in 12.48 seconds in Brazil, when she was known as Brianna Rollins. She looked forward to 2017. She could capitalize financially on that Olympic title on the track. She would marry Bryce McNeal off of it.

But first came September 2016. McNeal was not present when drug testers showed up at her Georgia home twice in the month after the Rio Games.

McNeal, already with a missed test from April 2016, received her second and third strikes. Three missed tests in a 12-month period can be tantamount to a failed test.

McNeal had failed to update her whereabouts on an online system so drug testers could find her for out-of-competition visits on all three occasions. In September, she was at “Brianna Rollins Day” in her Florida hometown and at the traditional Team USA visit to the White House on the days drug testers arrived in Georgia, where she had said she would be.

She had never failed a drug test, and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report on her strange case labeled her “a brilliant athlete who is not charged or suspected of using banned substances of any kind.”

“However,” the report continued, “while there is much at stake for [McNeal], there is not much in dispute as to the facts or law of this case.”

McNeal, speaking by phone Thursday from Doha, could not recall exactly where she was when she learned of her third missed test. But she remembered what went through her head.

“I was actually, like, thinking back throughout the year how many [misses] I had, and then I think I emailed my agent,” she said. “I think I had three missed tests, but I wasn’t sure.”

McNeal’s agent went through her log. McNeal had missed a test a few years ago — many athletes have, for reasons ranging from being unable to hear a doorbell to being unable to provide a sample due to kidney stones — but all that mattered here was whether she had missed at least two others in the previous 12 months. She had.

“I was trying to stay optimistic,” McNeal said. “Hopefully I was going to end up winning [the arbitration].”

The standard penalty is a two-year suspension, but given McNeal’s circumstances and spotless reputation, it was cut to a one-year ban in arbitration. She would have to sit out all of 2017.

“When that happened, that’s when the emotions came,” she said of the decision rendered April 14, 2017, nearly eight months after her third missed test. “I was a little upset, of course, but at the end of the day, it was my responsibility to update my whereabouts. I have to deal with the consequences. I was content with it.”

McNeal said the four-month arbitration process was more difficult than the four months of outdoor meets she had to pass up.

“There’s been athletes that have tested positive for things, and they get a less sanction or suspension than I do,” she said. “I just wasn’t home. I wasn’t dodging them or anything like that. It was a mistake. I just forgot. I’m human. Everybody forgets certain things. I do think it was unfair, but whom am I, I guess.”

This year is what’s called the fallow year in track and field. No Olympics. No world outdoor championships. But McNeal found motivation when watching the 2017 World Championships 100m hurdles final go on without her.

She saw a strong U.S. foursome that included the world-record holder (Kendra Harrison), Rio silver medalist (Nia Ali) and 2008 Olympic champion (Dawn Harper-Nelson) beaten by Australian Sally Pearson.

She texted her coach.

“Let’s get ready to win this Diamond League next year so I can get the bye for the 2019 World Championships,” she said.

Historically, the reigning world champion and Diamond League season champion in every event get automatic byes into the next worlds, as long as they’re not from the same country. Since an American did not win the world title, every American is vying this Diamond League season to get a bye into worlds.

Which brings us to Qatar. McNeal will line up against the other four fastest active U.S. female hurdlers — Harrison, Harper-Nelson, Jasmin Stowers and Sharika Nelvis. The last time they entered the same meet, McNeal won the 2016 Olympic Trials (and none of the other four even made the Olympic team).

McNeal is off to her fastest start ever for a season, winning her first two domestic meets in 12.62 and 12.43 seconds. Those are the two fastest wind-legal times in the world this year. Harrison, once a teammate of McNeal’s at Clemson, clocked 12.40 and 12.37 with too much tailwind in different meets.

“I already feel like within myself that I’m back,” said McNeal, who went about six months between clearing hurdles intensely in 2017, her longest break since being forced to redshirt her freshman year at Clemson with a back injury. “Yes, the 12.43 solidifies that, but I don’t need too much reassurance from anyone.”

Beating Harrison or taking her world record is not the goal. She would rather become the first woman to win multiple Olympic 100m hurdles titles.

“Records are always broken,” she said. “My gold medal, no one can take that away from me.”

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2018 U.S. Gymnastics Championships results

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Results from the 2018 U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Boston …

Senior Women
All-around

  1. Simone Biles — 119.850
  2. Morgan Hurd — 113.300
  3. Riley McCusker — 112.750
  4. Grace McCallum — 111.650
  5. Shilese Jones — 109.850
  6. Jade Carey — 109.700
  7. Kara Eaker — 109.650
  8. Trinity Thomas — 109.600
  9. Alyona Shchennikova — 108.100
  10. Ragan Smith — 107.200
  11. Jordan Chiles — 106.850
  12. Shania Adams — 105.900
  13. Margzetta Frazier — 105.650
  14. Audrey Davis — 104.550
  15. Maddie Johnston — 102.250
  16. Sloane Blakely — 101.700
  17. Luisa Blanco — 101.000
  18. Olivia Dunne — 98.750

Vault

  1. Simone Biles — 31.125
  2. Shilese Jones — 29.050
  3. Grace McCallum — 29.000
  4. Morgan Hurd — 28.800
  5. Jordan Chiles — 28.750

Uneven bars

  1. Simone Biles — 29.400
  2. Riley McCusker — 29.300
  3. Morgan Hurd — 29.150
  4. Trinity Thomas — 27.900
  5. Alyona Shchennikova — 27.750

Balance beam

  1. Simone Biles — 30.100
  2. Kara Eaker — 28.650
  3. Riley McCusker — 28.500
  4. Morgan Hurd — 27.650
  5. Grace McCallum — 27.500

Floor exercise

  1. Simone Biles — 29.150
  2. Jade Carey — 28.300
  3. Morgan Hurd — 27.700
  4. Grace McCallum — 27.600
  5. Kara Eaker — 26.950

Senior Men
All-around

  1. Sam Mikulak — 172.900
  2. Yul Moldauer –168.150
  3. Allan Bower — 166.950
  4. Donothan Bailey — 166.800
  5. Alec Yoder — 166.550
  6. Akash Modi — 165.550
  7. Cameron Bock — 163.200
  8. Colin VanWicklen — 163.050
  9. Genki Suzuki — 162.800
  10. Kanji Oyama — 162.150
  11. Sean Melton — 161.300
  12. Robert Neff — 161.050
  13. Trevor Howard — 160.550
  14. Grant Breckenridge — 159.950
  15. Kiwan Watts — 159.500
  16. Tanner Justus — 158.650
  17. Anthony Stephenson — 158.300
  18. Alexei Vernyi — 157.800
  19. Shane Wiskus — 157.750
  20. Gage Dyer — 157.650
  21. Jacob Moore — 157.450
  22. Bennet Huang — 156.500
  23. Seth Delbridge — 153.500
  24. Jake Brodarzon — 150.600
  25. Kyte Crigger — 148.350
  26. Jalon Stephens — 109.850

Floor exercise

  1. Sam Mikulak — 29.100
  2. Yul Moldauer — 28.750
  3. Kanji Oyama — 28.650
  4. Allan Bower — 28.350
  5. Akash Modi — 28.300

Pommel horse

  1. Alec Yoder — 29.850
  2. Allan Bower — 29.200
  3. Ellis Mannon — 28.850
  4. Sam Mikulak — 28.600
  5. Donothan Bailey — 28.050

Still rings

  1. Trevor Howard — 29.200
  2. Alex Diab — 28.950
  3. Yul Moldauer — 28.650
  4. Sam Mikulak — 28.600
  5. Donnell Whittenburg — 28.550

Vault

  1. Anthony Stephenson — 29.550
  2. Yul Moldauer — 29.150
  3. Colin VanWicklen — 28.900
  4. Sean Melton — 28.700
  5. Donothan Bailey — 28.650

Parallel bars

  1. Sam Mikulak — 29.550
  2. Donothan Bailey — 28.350
  3. Yul Moldauer — 28.100
  4. Alec Yoder — 27.950
  5. Trevor Howard — 27.800

Horizontal bar

  1. Sam Mikulak — 28.400
  2. Donothan Bailey — 27.550
  3. Colin VanWicklen — 27.000
  4. Genki Suzuki — 26.950
  5. Akash Modi — 26.850

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GYM NATIONALS: Where Are The Final Five?

Sun Yang requests second national anthem after flags fall in Asian Games medal ceremony

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JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Sun Yang thought he’d seen it all in his glittering swimming career. That was until Sunday’s opening night of swimming finals at the Asian Games.

In an embarrassing technical blunder for games organizers, the flag hoist collapsed during the playing of the Chinese national anthem as Sun stood atop the podium after winning the 200m freestyle. Video is here.

Officials picked the flags up off the pool deck and hastily reattached them to the broken metal hoist but were unable to raise them again while the anthem was played for a second time, to the bemusement of Sun and spectators watching in the stands.

Diplomatically, Sun played down the incident when quizzed by reporters, saying he was just relieved to finally win the 200m free title which had eluded him in the two previous editions of the Asian Games.

Even though he is the reigning Olympic and world champion, Sun had never won the four-lap race at the Asian games, finishing runner-up to South Korea’s Park Tae-hwan in 2010 and second again to Japan’s Kosuke Hagino four years ago.

“I’ve waited eight years for this title,” Sun said. “It also gives me a golden grand slam of Olympic, world and Asian titles. It’s a perfect result, a dream. It’s unbelievable.”

Officials held the flags up in their hands for the subsequent medal ceremony before locating a replacement hoist for the remaining presentations. By the end of the night, China edged Japan 4-3 in the first seven finals decided.

Sun, who is trying to win the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees in Jakarta, cruised to victory in one minute 45.43 seconds.

He was outside his best, but with a busy program the 26-year-old did enough to win comfortably and celebrated in animated fashion, clenching his fists and punching the air in delight.

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