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Jarrion Lawson, Olympic long jumper, cleared of doping in tainted beef case

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For nearly 19 months, American long jumper and sprinter Jarrion Lawson went to practice each day not knowing when he would compete again as he appealed a lengthy ban after eating what he maintained was contaminated meat.

Effective immediately, the 25-year-old with Olympic aspirations has been cleared to return.

Paul Doyle, the agent for Lawson, told The Associated Press he was notified by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Friday that Lawson was exonerated of the doping offense. The details of the decision are expected to be released next week, Doyle said.

Doyle added that Lawson was awarded around $10,000 to help offset his legal fees.

After hearing the news he was eligible to race again, Lawson’s first response was this: What time is practice?

“I’ve been training for 19 months,” Lawson said in a phone interview. “I’m excited to show the world what I’ve been doing.”

The last time Lawson competed was July 22, 2018, at a Diamond League meet in London, where he finished third in the long jump.

Doyle said Lawson ate what they believe to be tainted beef at a Japanese restaurant in Arkansas before a drug test on June 2, 2018. Lawson was notified on Aug. 3 that he tested positive for a metabolite of the banned anabolic steroid trenbolone. The substance is frequently used in the U.S. to promote the growth of beef cattle. It also formed part of a steroid mixture used by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Ever since, Lawson has been trying to clear his name.

Lawson had a credit-card receipt from the restaurant on the day he purchased a beef bowl. However, being notified two months later of a positive test made it difficult to obtain samples of the meat. Doyle said they had the beef supplier’s information and that the company did use trenbolone.

The low point for Lawson was last spring, when the Athletics Integrity Unit rejected his appeal and he was staring at a four-year ban.

“That hit me hard,” said Lawson. “I got to a place where there was nothing I wanted to do. I didn’t want to practice. It was hard to eat. But I just re-tuned myself and told myself I was going to control what I could control and stay dedicated.”

Lawson & Co. took their case to CAS and had a hearing Nov. 21.

Lawson was sleeping Friday morning when he received a call from his coach, Travis Geopfert.

On the line was Geopfert, Doyle, Global Sports Advocates attorney Paul Greene and Lawson’s parents.

“My lawyer just said, ‘I’m going to keep it simple: We won,’” Lawson said. “I was in shock mode. I didn’t know how to feel.”

In a statement, Lawson later added his frustration: “Through this process I have uncovered some major flaws in the doping control process and some unethical people within the system. I intend to pursue recourse for self-redemption, but also, and more importantly, so that this never happens to a clean athlete ever again.”

Doyle expects Lawson’s shoe sponsor, Asics, to come back on board and for meet directors to allow him into competitions given the no-fault ruling.

This was a decision Doyle thought would be reached long ago.

“Once we were first notified, to us, it was so blatantly obvious that this was a meat contamination situation,” Doyle said. “It’s amazing all that’s happened between then and now. Ultimately, this ended up how we thought it would. Any rational, logical person would’ve thought the same thing.”

These days, Lawson rarely eats beef, only chicken. He’s leaner than before. He’s ready to be a factor at the U.S. Olympic trials in June and, if things go right, at the Tokyo Games.

That’s why he’s been training sometimes twice a day in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Lawson’s been a rising standout since he burst on the scene a few years ago. During his last season at the University of Arkansas in 2016, Lawson became the first man since Jesse Owens in 1936 to win the 100, 200 and long jump at the same NCAA championships. That summer, Lawson nearly captured Olympic gold in the long jump, but missed out on the top spot when he grazed the sand with his fingers just before landing. He finished fourth.

In 2017, he took second at the world championships.

He played it coy when asked what sort of times he’s running at practice these days.

“Just say I’m running fast,” he said. “I’ll save it for the Olympics.”

And how far is he jumping?

“I’ll give you this: I’m in the best shape of my life,” Lawson said.

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

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Jenny Thompson’s new team is on the front line fighting coronavirus

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Two weeks ago, Jenny Thompson, the 12-time Olympic swimming medalist turned anesthesiologist, told close friends about the worrisome situation at her hospital in Charleston, S.C.

Thompson and her perioperative team of 40 or 50 were stressed that they would not have the most effective personal protective equipment (PPE) for when the coronavirus pandemic peaks there, projected to be later this month.

The messages caused fellow former Stanford swimmers and Olympic teammates Gabrielle Rose and Lea Maurer to act.

“She almost never asks for any sort of help or support,” Maurer said. “She’s Herculean in her ability to take on life and all its challenges.”

Rose and Maurer started a GoFundMe titled “Go Jenny Go” on March 22 for help to purchase PPE for the hospital. At the time, critical care doctors were “scrambling to piece together purchases on their own in anticipation of their high risk patients,” Maurer wrote.

Thompson said the PPE situation is better now. The GoFundMe was suspended Wednesday. Future support is directed to help those in New York City. Thompson specifically noted a GoFundMe for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

More than $9,000 was raised in less than two weeks. Also, the hospital started receiving more PPE on its own. Thompson’s team now feels prepared for what’s to come.

“People were responding and donating from all chapters of my life,” Thompson said by phone Thursday. “People I didn’t even know. Family from USA Swimming and international swimming. It’s really touched me to know that so many people care and are able to donate, help share the message.”

Thompson woke at 4 a.m. several days this week with thoughts of her peers in New York City. Healthcare workers there have cited a lack of PPE in putting their own lives at risk while they fight to save others. Some have contracted the virus.

“We’ve been fortunate [in South Carolina]. I feel lucky,” Thompson said. “We’ll definitely be in a place where we’re taking care of a lot of Covid patients, but we’re not there yet.

“I’ve heard people say, people in healthcare knew what they were signing up for. I never signed up to get sick and potentially die from this job. I always assumed that I would have the protection or the supplies needed to help me do my job, and that’s been a real struggle nationwide.”

Thompson went to medical school in New York at Columbia University starting in 2001.

“I’d been there maybe a couple weeks at Columbia, when 9/11 happened,” she said. “I remember feeling very helpless as a first-year medical student. I wanted to help so badly, but there really wasn’t much I could do. All my classmates felt the same way. I’ve always had that as part of the making of me as a doctor, having to go through crisis, but I never imagined a pandemic. I guess some people prepare for this sort of thing their whole life, but I didn’t.”

The term “front lines” has been applied to healthcare workers around the globe. Thompson said it’s apt at her hospital.

“We definitely have Covid here, but we have not had a major outbreak like some other cities,” she said. “We consider every patient who we give general anesthesia and intubate to be a potential risk. As anesthesia providers and people who intubate the airway, we are on the front line. We are at a much higher risk of getting sick without the right PPE.”

Thompson’s team feels more ready for the peak with every passing day. They’re simulating, donning and doffing and scheduling to work longer shifts starting next week. The preparation extends home, where she has a husband and three children.

“I have, like, four different pairs of shoes,” Thompson said. “I spray my socks with fabric disinfectant. I take them off in the car, and then I put on flip-flops. Then when I get home, I shower and put my clothes in the wash immediately. It’s a strange place to be, but just consider everything I touch to be contaminated in an effort to protect myself.”

Both Rose and Maurer still see in Thompson that swimmer who awed them in college. As Thompson trained to become the most decorated female U.S. Olympian in history, she studied at Stanford and then Columbia to become a doctor.

“I knew I wanted to take care of critically ill patients,” she said.

As a swimmer, Thompson was known as the ultimate teammate. Eight Olympic gold medals in relays, often an anchor. Always there. Dependable.

“She knows that she’s going to make a difference,” Maurer said. “She knows that she’s going to achieve that goal. She knows that she’s going to help to make people better. And so she does it.”

Thompson believes the next few weeks will be unlike anything she’s ever faced.

“Everybody was sort of freaking out in the beginning and feeling very stressed, and I think that at some level has not gone away,” she said. “That’s going to stay with us, but we have a we-can-do-this-together fighting mentality that we are leaning on each other for. It’s really no different than being a part of any kind of team.”