Dawn Harper Nelson calls off retirement after one year off

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Former Olympic 100m hurdles champion Dawn Harper Nelson says she will make a comeback after one year of retirement.

Harper Nelson won Olympic gold in 2008, overtaking Lolo Jones after her U.S. teammate clipped a hurdle near the end of the race. She also won Olympic silver in 2012, barely losing to Australia’s Sally Pearson in a thrilling final in which she set her personal best of 12.37 seconds.

In world championship finals, Harper Nelson took bronze in 2011 and took silver in 2017, again losing a close finish to Pearson in London’s Olympic Stadium.

Harper Nelson announced early in the 2018 season that she would retire at the end of the year. She knew she was pregnant for the last three races of the year and gave birth to her first child April 10.

FINALE: Harper Nelson reflects at final U.S. championships

But she had doubts all along about leaving the track.

“I wondered, would I miss it?” Harper Nelson told NBC Olympic Talk’s Nick Zaccardi. “Would I still want to do it? Then throughout my pregnancy, I still obviously had that pull. I trained during the whole nine months, but it was for two reasons. One was, it was literally the best I would feel all day, just with the changes in my body and stuff I was going through. The next one was if you just so happen to want to run, you cannot take nine months off. That’s just not an option. So I trained.”

She has remained available for drug testing through the year and talked about post-pregnancy competition with two-time Olympic shot put champion Valerie Adams of New Zealand, who was pregnant with her second child while Harper Nelson was pregnant.

But Harper Nelson was discouraged early on in her post-pregnancy training.

“That initial burst of speed to get off the line, it just was lacking,” Harper Nelson said. “I really had a moment where I sat down and kind of cried. I was thinking, do you ever really get that back? Is it possible? You’ve seen other ladies Nia (Ali), Allyson (Felix), Shelly-Ann (Fraser-Pryce), at world championships, they ran great. But you always find that moment, but is it different for me? Will my body not be the body that wants to come back? We slowly just gradually did things, resistance, mini plyos and gradually got myself back.”

She got encouragement, though, in speaking with her medical advisors: “My physio, he said, ‘Dawn, this is pretty much the best your body has felt in a long time because you allowed your body to rest.'”

Her husband, Alonzo Nelson, will be her coach while she trains on her high school track in East St. Louis, Ill.

Her comeback is likely only for one year: “I really do feel like this would probably be it because we want more kids.”

The competition in the 100m hurdles has only gotten stronger over the years. Harper Nelson’s fastest time of 2018 was 12.75 seconds, trailing 21 hurdlers internationally and seven U.S. athletes. Even when she took silver in the 2017 world championships, her season’s best of 12.63 seconds trailed six U.S. hurdlers. Kendra Harrison set the world record of 12.20 seconds in 2016.

Harper Nelson says she’s up for the challenge.

“In the 100m hurdles, we hold the definition of the hardest team to make,” Harper Nelson said. “From 2008 to now, it’s been different ladies that have lined up. The constant has been me and Sally [Pearson]. No one gives you anything. Everyone is out here hungry. It’s literally been the life that I’ve lived for the 12 years of my career. … All I’ve known is you put up or shut up. So I’m definitely OK with that. I really don’t want it any other way.”

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World champion wins doping case citing bodily fluids from boyfriend

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — A world champion canoeist won a doping case Monday after persuading a tribunal that her positive test was caused by bodily fluid contamination from her boyfriend.

The International Canoe Federation (ICF) ended its investigation into 11-time world champion Laurence Vincent Lapointe, who tested positive for a steroid-like substance in July. She faced a four-year ban and could have missed her event’s Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games.

The Canadian canoe sprint racer and her lawyer detailed in a news program that laboratory analysis of hair from her then-boyfriend showed he was likely responsible for a tiny presence of ligandrol in her doping sample.

“The ICF has accepted Ms. Vincent Lapointe’s evidence which supports that she was the victim of third-party contamination,” the governing body said in a statement, clearing her to return to competition.

The legal debate is similar to tennis player Richard Gasquet’s 2009 acquittal in the “cocaine kiss” case. The Court of Arbitration for Sport accepted Gasquet’s defense that kissing a woman who had taken cocaine in a Miami nightclub, after he had withdrawn injured from a tournament, caused his positive test.

The 27-year-old Vincent Lapointe was provisionally suspended for almost six months and missed the 2019 World Championships, which was a key qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics. American 17-year-old Nevin Harrison won the 200m world title in her absence.

She can still qualify for the Olympic debut of women’s canoe sprint events with victory at a World Cup event in May in Germany.

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U.S. women’s soccer team begins Olympic qualifying, which should rest on one match

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The U.S. women’s soccer team has never been in danger in Olympic qualifying, but that doesn’t change this fact: It must win on Feb. 7 to reach the Tokyo Games.

The CONCACAF tournament begins Tuesday in Houston, where the world champion Americans face world No. 72 Haiti. The last two group games are against No. 68 Panama on Friday and No. 37 Costa Rica on Feb. 3. The top two nations from the group advance to Feb. 7 semifinals.

The U.S. roster, with 18 of its 20 players coming from the 2019 World Cup team, is here.

Since CONCACAF qualifies two nations to the Olympics, the semifinals are the deciding games.

Should the U.S. win its group, it would face the runner-up from the other group in a winner-goes-to-Tokyo match. The other group (world ranking):

Canada (8)
Mexico (37)
Jamaica (53)
St. Kitts and Nevis (127)

Chaos could result in the unlikely event that either the U.S. or Canada finishes second in its group, and the two North American powers play a semifinal.

The U.S. is undefeated in Olympic qualifying history, since the tournament format began in 2004 — 15-0 with a goal differential of 88-1 (not counting matches played once they’ve already clinched qualification). The lone goal allowed came in a group-stage match in 2008, when the U.S. was already assured a spot in the semifinals.

Still, the U.S. knows the feeling of one poor outing in an important match. In 2010, it lost to Mexico in a winner-to-the-World Cup match. The U.S. was forced to win a last-chance, home-and-home playoff against a UEFA team — Italy — for the last spot in the World Cup.

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