USOPC, prioritizing athlete safety, focused on Tokyo Olympics

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The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee is collecting feedback from American athletes while prioritizing their health and safety as the Tokyo Games approach.

“It’s of course our deepest wish that athletes of the world can still travel to Tokyo,” USOPC chair Susanne Lyons said after a board of directors meeting Friday. “Our hearts literally ache with the fear and stress and uncertainty.”

Many U.S. Olympic hopefuls have said they are unable to train properly after facilities were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training centers in Colorado Springs and Lake Placid, N.Y., had to close due to government mandates, though athletes who are residents have been allowed to continue living there even without use of training facilities.

“As diverse as our athletes are, so, too, are their perspectives on this issue, which adds to the complication factor,” USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland said. “As you might imagine, there are athletes out there for whom this feels like their opportunity, their only opportunity, their one chance.

“It is our hope that our athletes have the ability to achieve their dreams in some capacity. Certainly, we are focused on Tokyo 2020 and will continue to be as long as that possibility stays ahead of us.”

Like the IOC, the USOPC has been planning scenarios for different potential outcomes. The Olympics remain scheduled to open July 24. Lyons said she had several conversations in recent days with IOC leaders, relaying the feedback the USOPC is receiving from American athletes.

USOPC leaders agreed with the IOC’s view that it’s too early to alter the Olympic plan with the amount of information and advice they have now from health officials.

“We don’t have to make a decision [now],” Lyons said. “Our Games are not next week or two weeks from now. They’re four months from now, and I think a lot may change in that time period. So we are affording the IOC the opportunity to gather that information and expert advice. At this point in time, we do not feel it is necessary for us to insist that they make a decision.

“The decision about the Games themselves does not lie directly with us. That lies with a combination of the World Health Organization, the Japanese government and the IOC. But I can assure you that there is no circumstance when the USOPC would send our athletes into harm’s way if we did not believe it was safe.”

Hirshland made a point to American athletes who may be struggling with the need to train versus safety.

“Let me ask for your [the media’s] help in making very clear to the athlete population, and this is to the elite athlete population, but all the way down to every club and pool and rink owner out there,” Hirshland said. “As Americans, right now, our No. 1 priority needs to be our health and safety and the containment of this virus, period, full stop. That should not conflict in any way with the decision someone is making about their training.”

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

Chicago Marathon features Emily Sisson’s return, Conner Mantz’s debut, live on Peacock

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At Sunday’s Chicago Marathon, Emily Sisson makes her return, nearly three years after Olympic Trials disappointment. Conner Mantz makes one of the most anticipated U.S. men’s debuts in 26.2-mile racing.

It is not the norm, but an American will be one of the spotlight runners in both the men’s and women’s elite races at a major marathon. Peacock airs live coverage at 8 a.m. ET.

Sisson, 30, starts her first mass marathon since dropping out of the Olympic Trials on Feb. 29, 2020, her legs “destroyed” on the hilly Atlanta course where she started as arguably the favorite. She ran the virtual New York City Marathon later in 2020, but that was solo (and not in New York City). Her 2:38:00 isn’t recorded in her official results on her World Athletics bio.

Since, Sisson won the Olympic Trials 10,000m on the track and was the top American in Tokyo in 10th place. She moved back to the roads, winning national titles at 15km and the half marathon and breaking the American record in the latter.

Sisson vaulted into the elite group of U.S. female marathoners in 2019, when she clocked the second-fastest debut marathon in American history, a 2:23:08 on a windy day in London, where the early pace was slow.

At the time, it was the 12th-best U.S. performance all-time. In the last two years, Keira D’Amato, 37, and Sara Hall, 39, combined to run seven faster marathons. At Chicago, a flat course that produced a world record three years ago, Sisson can answer them and perhaps get close to D’Amato’s American record 2:19:12.

“I’m hoping sub-2:20,” coach Ray Treacy said, according to LetsRun.com. “With the [super] shoes and the training behind her, I would think that’s [worth] at least three minutes.”

It is less likely that Sisson can challenge for the win on Sunday given the presence of Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich, the 2019 World champion and defending champion in the Windy City. The 28-year-old mom is the fifth-fastest woman in history with a personal best of 2:17:08. And Ethiopian Ruti Aga, a podium finisher in Berlin, New York City and Tokyo with a best time of 2:18:34, though she has one marathon finish since the pandemic (a seventh place).

Like Sisson, Mantz has shown strong recent road racing form. The American men’s debut marathon record of 2:07:56 (Leonard Korir) is in play. If he can break that, Mantz will be among the five fastest U.S. marathoners in history.

Rarely has a U.S. male distance runner as accomplished as Mantz moved up to the marathon at such a young age (25). At BYU, he won NCAA cross-country titles in 2020 and 2021 and placed fifth in the Olympic Trials 10,000m, then turned pro and won the U.S. Half Marathon Championships last December.

“If everything goes as planned, I think sub-2:08 is realistic,” Mantz said in a Citius Mag video interview last month. “If everything goes perfect on the day, I think a sub-2:07, that’s a big stretch goal.”

The men’s field doesn’t have the singular star power of Chepngetich, but a large group of East Africans with personal bests around 2:05. The most notable: defending champion Seifu Tura of Ethiopia and 2021 Boston Marathon winner Benson Kipruto of Kenya.

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Alpine skiing to test new format for combined race

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Alpine skiing officials will test a new format for the combined event, a race that is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

French newspaper L’Equipe reported that the International Ski Federation (FIS) will test a new team format for the combined, which has been an individual event on the Olympic program since 1988. L’Equipe reported that a nation can use a different skier for the downhill and slalom in the new setup, quoting FIS secretary general Michel Vion.

For example, the U.S. could use Breezy Johnson in the downhill run and sub her out for Mikaela Shiffrin in the slalom run, should the format be adopted into senior competition.

The format will be tested at the world junior championships in January in St. Anton, Austria, according to the report.

In response to the report, a FIS spokesperson said, “Regarding the new format of the combined is correct, and our directors are working on the rules so for the moment the only thing we can confirm is that there will be this new format for the Alpine combined that has been proposed by the athletes’ commission.”

Some version of the combined event has been provisionally included on the 2026 Olympic program, with a final IOC decision on its place coming by April.

This will be the third consecutive World Cup season with no combined events. Instead, FIS has included more parallel races in recent years. The individual combined remains on the biennial world championships program.

L’Equipe also reported that the mixed team parallel event, which is being dropped from the Olympics, will also be dropped from the biennial world championships after this season.

“There is nothing definitive about that yet, but it is a project in the making,” a FIS spokesperson said in commenting on the report.

Vion said the mixed team event, which debuted at the Olympics in 2018, was not a hit at the Beijing Games and did not draw a strong audience, according to L’Equipe.

The World Cup season starts in two weeks with the traditional opening giant slaloms in Soelden, Austria.

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