Alberto Salazar
Getty Images

Alberto Salazar, track coach and marathon champion, gets four-year doping ban

1 Comment

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Renowned track coach Alberto Salazar, who trained four-time Olympic champion Mo Farah, along with a gold medalist and other top contenders at this week’s world championships, has been kicked out of the competition after being handed a four-year ban in a case long pursued by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

USADA said in a news release early Tuesday that an arbitration panel decided on the four-year penalty for Salazar and endocrinologist Jeffrey Brown for, among other violations, possessing and trafficking testosterone while training top runners at the Nike Oregon Project (NOP).

Brown did consulting work for the NOP and was a personal physician for some of the runners.

Among the seven runners listed as members of Salazar’s team are Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands, who won the 10,000m on Saturday night, and is entered to run later this week in the 1500m; and Donavan Brazier and Clayton Murphy of the U.S., each scheduled to run the 800m final Tuesday.

The USADA ban went into effect Monday, and track’s governing body, the IAAF, moved quickly to revoke Salazar’s credential for the final six days in Doha. The Athletics Integrity Unit, which oversees anti-doping in track, was preparing to notify the Salazar athletes that they could not associate with their coach because of his ban.

In a statement released by NOP, Salazar said he was shocked by the arbitration outcome, and that he would appeal. He said throughout a six-year investigation, he and his athletes “endured unjust, unethical and highly damaging treatment from the USADA.”

“The Oregon Project has never and will never permit doping,” Salazar said.

Hassan released a statement saying she was aware of the USADA investigation when she joined Salazar’s team “and have always had a clean conscience, knowing we are being monitored to the absolute fullest by USADA and” the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“I am saddened by the timing of USADA as it brings my championship out of balance,” she said.

The existence of the long-running USADA investigation became public after a 2015 report by BBC and ProPublica that detailed some of Salazar’s practices, which included use of testosterone gel and infusions of a supplement called L-carnitine that, when mixed with insulin, can greatly enhance athletic performance.

Distance runner Kara Goucher and a former NOP coach, Steve Magness, were among the witnesses who provided evidence for the case. USADA said it received information from 30 witnesses. Goucher left NOP in 2011, and in the ProPublica piece, she called Salazar a “sort of a win-at-all-costs person and it’s hurting the sport.”

Farah, who runs for Britain, worked with the Nike Oregon Project while he was racking up six world and four Olympic titles. During that period, UK Athletics did its own investigation into Salazar and gave Farah the OK to continue working with him. Farah parted ways with Salazar in 2017, saying he wanted to move back home.

On Tuesday, Farah released a statement saying he has “no tolerance for anyone who breaks the rules or crosses a line.”

Salazar also coached two-time Olympic medalist Galen Rupp of the U.S., who in the past has strongly denied any wrongdoing.

The 61-year-old Cuban born coach was a college star at Oregon, who went on to win four major marathon titles, in New York and Boston, from 1980-82.

USADA’s dogged pursuit of him in a difficult case that never directly implicated any of his athletes was a reminder of how track’s doping issues stretch well beyond the Russian scandal that has overtaken the sport over the last several years. The other four Salazar athletes in Doha this week are from Ethiopia (Yomif Kejelcha), Germany (Konstanze Klosterhalfen) and the United States (Jessica Hull and Craig Engels).

USADA said it relied on more than 2,000 exhibits between the two cases and that proceedings included nearly 5,800 pages of transcripts.

“The athletes in these cases found the courage to speak out and ultimately exposed the truth,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said. “While acting in connection with the Nike Oregon Project, Mr. Salazar and Dr. Brown demonstrated that winning was more important than the health and wellbeing of the athletes they were sworn to protect.”

MORE: Top 400m runner forced to 200m at worlds due to testosterone rule

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Lin Dan, badminton legend, retires: ‘It is very difficult to say goodbye’

Lin Dan
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lin Dan, arguably the greatest badminton player in history, announced retirement Saturday, citing “pain and injuries” in bowing out a year before the postponed Tokyo Olympics.

“I have been with the national team from 2000 to 2020, and it is very difficult to say goodbye,” 36-year-old Lin wrote to his four million Weibo fans, according to Badminton World Federation (BWF) translation. “Pain and injuries no longer allow me to fight with my teammates. I have gratitude, a heavy heart and unwillingness.”

Lin, nicknamed “Super Dan,” won Olympic singles titles in 2008 and 2012, plus five individual world titles. It’s the greatest resume for any badminton player from China, which owns twice as many medals as any other nation in the sport that debuted at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

He competed at the last four Olympics, won the sport’s Super Grand Slam (nine major titles) and had his own wax figure at Madame Tussauds in Shanghai.

Lin’s outbursts on and off the court led to some calling him the John McEnroe of badminton, but he is revered. In 2015, he was the second athlete on Forbes China‘s most popular celebrities list behind tennis player Li Na.

Lin’s pursuit of a fifth Olympics in Tokyo was looking out of reach. He dropped to No. 26 in the Olympic qualifying rankings, trailing four countrymen, including No. 5 Chen Long (Rio Olympic champion) and No. 11 Shi Yuqi (2018 World silver medalist). A nation can qualify a maximum of two individual players per gender for the Games.

“From where came his mastery? In short, his prowess was essentially due to the completeness of his game – in skill, physical ability and mental strength,” the BWF wrote in a press release. “Such was his craft that even well into his 30s, normally considered an advanced age for men’s singles, he could outplay younger and fitter opponents.”

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

MORE: Who is China’s greatest Olympian?

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MyKayla Skinner’s motivation for Tokyo: her Rio Olympic experience

MyKayla Skinner
Getty Images
Leave a comment

MyKayla Skinner remembers the little room at the SAP Center in San Jose. She remembers the wait, somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes.

After the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics Trials, the competitors (14 total performed) assembled while a selection committee convened in another space.

The committee finalized the five-woman Olympic team (plus three alternates), marched into the athletes’ room and delivered the verdict.

“They say the first four names, and then there’s that one spot left,” Skinner recalled. “I’m like, is it going to be me? You’re so tense just waiting there. All of us holding each other’s hands in the room. We’re all sitting there. It’s just, like, frozen dead silent. Then they say that fifth spot.”

Skinner doesn’t remember who was the fifth name. Just that it wasn’t her.

“I just broke down crying,” she said in a recent interview. “All that hard work I put in still wasn’t good enough. Even though it was. It’s just who they needed for the team.”

Skinner placed fourth in the all-around at those Olympic Trials, the highest finisher who was not named to the Olympic team. She was one of three alternates. If the Olympic team was chosen by all-around standings, a selection committee would not be necessary. Instead, gymnasts are puzzle pieces, chosen as who best fits the Olympic format: three gymnasts per apparatus in the team final and up to two per nation per individual final.

Skinner’s mind raced while she waited for the committee’s decision. She eventually settled on a gut feeling, that she would not make the team.

“I thought that it should be enough, but at the same I didn’t think that it would be,” said Lisa Spini, Skinner’s coach at Desert Lights Gymnastics in Chandler, Arizona. “I thought the team was already decided before the Olympic Trials.”

Spini said it was her toughest night as a gymnastics coach.

“Being an alternate is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in gymnastics,” said Skinner, who traveled to Brazil and, with fellow alternates Ashton Locklear and Ragan Smith, trained separately from the Olympic team. “The whole time I was in Rio, I probably cried every single night

“The Olympics should be something so special, but I feel like it was definitely miserable at times. It was really hard to enjoy being an alternate. With this comeback, that has pushed me so hard just because I was so close.”

You may have read about Skinner back in the spring, after the Tokyo Olympics were postponed to 2021.

It’s a devastating delay for a female gymnast, whose peak often lasts for one Olympic cycle (sometimes even shorter). Skinner is an exception, excelling for the better part of a decade on different levels.

She made her first world championships team in 2014. After Rio, she matriculated at the University of Utah, where she was twice an NCAA all-around runner-up and hit an NCAA record 161 straight routines without a fall. In 2019, she decided to come back to international competition — for an Olympic run — with one year left of NCAA gymnastics.

She is 23, the oldest of the 16-woman U.S. national team. She is trying to become the oldest woman to make a U.S. Olympic gymnastics team since 2004. And the first with NCAA experience to do so since Alicia Sacramone in 2008.

“The reason why a lot of college gymnasts couldn’t come back and do it is they’ve been so injured over the years,” Spini said. “Their body wouldn’t hold up. She’s been really lucky that way.”

Skinner could have easily followed the path of so many other stars who signaled the end of an elite career by going to college, where training and routines are less demanding.

She questioned herself often after the Tokyo postponement whether it was worth it to return to elite training. The Olympic team event roster size has been cut from five to four. Simone Biles is an overwhelming favorite to earn one spot. In the face of those odds, Skinner can’t shake a memory from Rio.

“I just go back to the moment of when I was sitting in the stands,” watching the Final Five earn gold, Skinner said. “I was so close to making the team. This has been my dream ever since I went to Desert Lights when I was 12.”

Skinner’s comeback is already a success. Last year, on three months of elite training, she placed eighth at the U.S. Championships. She was convinced to accept an invitation to the world championships selection camp, where six women would make the traveling team (one later named an alternate).

Like in 2016, Skinner placed fourth in the all-around competition before the roster was chosen.

Again, the gymnasts gathered for the announcement. This time, Skinner made the cut as the sixth woman named. Biles, the other 20-something at the camp and a friend, jumped in excitement.

The team traveled to Germany in late September. After training, one woman had to be designated the alternate. High performance team coordinator Tom Forster took Skinner aside one day on the way to lunch. She knew what was coming and broke down in tears, flashing back to 2016.

“Simone was like, hey, let’s go to the bathroom. She helped talk me through it and helped me calm down and definitely made me a feel a lot better,” said Skinner, who supported Biles and the U.S. team that competed in Stuttgart. She then wed Jonas Harmer in November and decided what must be done to make the Olympic team.

“We’re going to try to add in some big skills, which will put her difficulty level, probably, second only to Simone,” Spini said.

Skinner is documenting her last year-plus in elite gymnastics on a YouTube channel with 29,000 subscribers. She has been fortunate during the coronavirus pandemic to train at her gym if no more than 10 people were present. Many other gymnasts — and athletes across Olympic sports — spent weeks or months out of their facilities.

“I definitely don’t think I would have been able to have that much time off,” she said. “That’s really hard with gymnastics because you feel like, you take two days off, and it’s like you had a year off.”

One day this spring, Skinner’s mom called, in tears, fearing for her life with an illness that turned out to be the coronavirus. Both of her parents, in their 60s, had it and briefly lost their senses of taste. Her mom had breathing problems, but they recovered.

One night last month, Skinner had a dream about next year’s Olympic Trials. The Final Five all came back to compete, and Skinner was again named an alternate. She woke up. Skinner doesn’t know how she would handle that kind of disappointment in real life, again.

“So it’s kind of scary,” she said. Then Skinner thinks back to Rio, and that burning she felt while watching the Final Five win gold medals.

“This is what I’m supposed to do. This is what I’m meant to do is elite gymnastics,” said Skinner, who was born via life-threatening, early-labor C-section, needing to be revived by doctors. “I think it’s cool that I can have this opportunity to go and push myself one last time so I can reach that end goal.”

MORE: Gymnast Grace McCallum won a coin flip to become world champion

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!