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USADA survey: U.S. athletes feel pressure of win-at-all-costs culture

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A majority of U.S. athletes responding to an anti-doping survey said they feel pressure from higher-ups to win medals, and the spotlight shines only on those who pile up victories.

Though athletes have often cited the win-at-all-costs culture as a reason they cheat, only a slim number of those surveyed said they would be tempted to take performance-enhancing drugs.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency received responses from 886 athletes in a wide-ranging survey, released Tuesday, that gauged their feelings about a number of issues regarding performance-enhancing drugs.

Sixty-five percent agreed when asked if the U.S. Olympic Committee and individual sports federations pressured elite athletes to win medals; 61 percent agreed with the statement: “When I am failing people are less interested in me.”

Travis Tygart, the CEO of USADA, said he wasn’t surprised at the high percentage of athletes who feel they’re part of a “win-at-all-costs” culture.

“It is exactly what we hear from athletes about why they chose to dope when they have, and why we must change this culture if we hope to fully return the playing field to clean athletes,” he said.

But when asked if they would be tempted to use PEDs under a variety of circumstances, including if their coach recommended it, no more than 9 percent of the athletes responded “yes” to any of the scenarios.

USADA billed this as the largest survey of its kind. It was sent last year to 2,000 athletes in the U.S. testing pool. It got the most responses (149) from track and field.

Only 7 percent of the respondents said they had been tested more than 50 times over their career — an interesting figure during a summer in which Serena Williams has suggested she’s discriminated against because she gets tested more than most tennis players.

The plurality, 36 percent, said they’d been tested between once and five times. Authorities commonly increase the number of tests for high-ranked players and players coming off long layoffs.

When asked how other anti-doping programs compare to USADA, 34 percent said they were less effective or not effective, while 49 percent replied “I don’t know” — a high number in an era in which Olympic sports have been bombarded by a stream of reports about Russian doping. Thirty-five percent disagreed with the notion that their international competitors were adequately tested when compared to themselves.

“Certainly, the Russian state-sponsoring doping scheme showed that there are major international players not running an effective anti-doping program, but actually running a “dope to win” program,” Tygart said.

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Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s first Olympic track and field medalist, has coronavirus

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Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s lone Olympic track and field medalist, tested positive for the coronavirus, according to World Athletics and an Iranian news agency.

“We’ve received word from several Asian journalists that Iranian discus thrower Ehsan Hadadi has tested positive for coronavirus,” according to World Athletics. “[Hadadi] trains part of the year in the US, but was home in Tehran when he contracted the virus.”

Hadadi, 35, became the first Iranian to earn an Olympic track and field medal when he took silver in the discus at the 2012 London Games. Hadadi led through four of six rounds before being overtaken by German Robert Harting, who edged the Iranian by three and a half inches.

He was eliminated in qualifying at the Rio Olympics and placed seventh at last fall’s world championships in Doha.

Jordan Larson preps for her last Olympics, one year later than expected

Jordan Larson
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Whether the Tokyo Olympics would have been this summer or in 2021, Jordan Larson knew this: It will mark her final tournament with the U.S. volleyball team, should she make the roster.

“I’m just not getting any younger,” said Larson, a 33-year-old outside hitter. “I’ve been playing consistently overseas for 12 years straight with no real offseason.

“I also have other endeavors in my life that I want to see. Getting married, having children, those kinds of things. The older I get, the more challenging those become.”

Larson, who debuted on the national team in 2009, has been a leader the last two Olympic cycles. She succeeded Christa Harmotto Dietzen as captain after the Rio Games. Larson started every match at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

As long as Larson was in the building, the U.S. never had to worry about the outside hitter position, said two-time Olympian and NBC Olympics volleyball analyst Kevin Barnett.

“She played as if she belonged from the start,” he said. “They will miss her all-around capability. They’ll miss her ability to make everyone around her better. She’s almost like having a libero who can hit.”

Karch Kiraly, the Olympic indoor and beach champion who took over as head coach after the 2012 Olympics, gushed about her court vision.

“It’s a little dated now, but somebody like Wayne Gretzky just saw things that other people didn’t see on the hockey rink,” Kiraly said in 2018. “And I remember reading about him one time, and the quote from an opposing goalie was, oh my god, here he comes, what does he see that I don’t see right now? She sees things sooner than most people.”

Larson grew up in Hooper, Neb., (population 830) and starred at the University of Nebraska. She was a three-time All-American who helped the team win a national title as a sophomore. She had the opportunity to leave Nebraska and try out for the Olympics in 2008 but chose to remain at school for her final season.

She earned the nickname “Governor” as a Cornhusker State sports icon.

Larson helped the U.S. win its first major international title at the 2014 World Championship. She was also part of the program’s two stingers — defeats in the 2012 Olympic final and 2016 Olympic semifinals, both matches where the U.S. won the first set (and convincingly in 2012).

“It just gives me chills thinking about it now,” Larson said of the Rio Olympic semifinals, where Serbia beat the U.S. 15-13 in the fifth. “That team, we put in so much. Not just on the court but off the court working on culture and working on how are we best for each other. How can we be the best team? How can we out-team people? Certain teams have a better one player that’s a standout that we maybe didn’t have or don’t have. So how can we out-team the other teams? We had just put in so much work that was just heartbreaking.”

Larson and the Americans rebounded to win the bronze-medal match two days later.

“I don’t know anybody that didn’t have their heart ripped out. It was just a soul-crusher of a match,” Kiraly said of the semifinal. “More meaningful was what a great response everybody, including Jordan, mounted to the disappointment of that loss.”

The U.S. took fifth at worlds in 2018 and is now ranked second in the world behind China.

Larson spent the past club season in Shanghai. The campaign ended in mid-January. She hadn’t heard anything about the coronavirus when she took her scheduled flight back to California, learning days later that LAX started screening for it. Now, she’s working out from her garage.

Larson is in line to become the fifth-oldest U.S. Olympic women’s volleyball player in history, according Olympedia and the OlyMADMen.

Her decade of experience could go a long way to help the next generation of outside hitters, led by three-time NCAA champion and Sullivan Award winner Kathryn Plummer.

“If you’re coming into the USA program as an outside hitter, in the next year or the quad or the quad after that,” Barnett said, “the measuring stick is going to be Jordan Larson.”

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