Lisa Carrington
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Lisa Carrington may be the world’s most dominant Olympian

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If Simone Biles is the world’s most dominant Olympic sports athlete, what does that make Lisa Carrington?

Carrington, a sprint kayaker from New Zealand, is undefeated in her sport’s splash-and-dash, the K-1 200m, since 2012 (one year longer than Biles’ all-around win streak). In 2014, she shattered a record set by her sport’s icon of icons — by more than one second in a 40-second race. And Carrington is coming off what she believes was the greatest performance of her career at the 2019 World Championships.

“Every six months she’s better than what she was in the preceding six months,” said her longtime coach, Gordon Walker.

Carrington, 30, is a 5-foot-6, 140-pound tower of power, her biceps developed through weighted chin-up sets.

She was born in the Bay of Plenty region of New Zealand’s North Island with a magnetic relationship to the water. Carrington came to kayak from competitive surf lifesaving in her mid-teens. She first joined team boats at world championships in 2009 and 2010.

In 2011, Carrington made her solo world champs debut. She won. After an early 2012 defeat, she is undefeated in the 200m. That includes two Olympic gold medals and another six world titles.

U.S. Olympian Maggie Hogan, who raced Carrington in the longer 500m event, said the 200m is not only the shortest race in the sport, but it should also be the most fickle. Carrington shatters that thought.

“It’s like running an 800m on a balance beam,” Hogan said. “You’ve got to be pretty skilled on the balance beam before you can apply all that power. What Lisa does very well is she maintains her stroke efficiency even at really high stroke rates.”

Hogan gave plenty of credit to Walker, whom she called “a guru.”

Carrington started her career focusing on the 500m, since the 200m was not on the Olympic program at the time. Walker became her coach at the end of 2010, when she began developing into a 200m sprinter, since the distance would debut at the Olympics in 2012. Walker said that, together, they chopped one second off her time in six months.

“Learning how to produce power,” Carrington said. “How to go fast rather than just slog it out and try to get as fit as possible.”

The improvement continued the rest of the decade with no major setbacks.

“She is five percent better,” than the field, said Walker, who counts strength-to-weight-ratio as a tenet. “So when she’s at the 200m mark, the others are at the 190m mark. It’s actually hard to comprehend the gap she has on the rest of the field.

“At no point in time is there any place in the race where somebody else is as good or better than her.”

Walker highlighted three competitions: Carrington’s defeat in 2012 before the streak began. Last year’s world championships. And the 2014 World Championships in Moscow.

Six years ago, Carrington had the 500m final, followed by the 200m about 90 minutes later. In the 500m, she got stuck at the start, her gate taking an extra half-second to open, Walker said. She passed everybody for the lead before falling back to silver.

“That fired her up,” Walker said.

In the 200m final, Carrington clocked the fastest time in history, taking more than one second off a mark set by German kayak legend Birgit Fischer 20 years earlier. The runner-up also bettered Fischer’s old mark, but was nearly a second behind Carrington.

“We had an amazing tailwind that day,” Carrington said. True, but she had been approaching Fischer’s time leading up to that competition and has since posted other times that would have broken the record.

“Birgit, you can argue she’s the most accomplished Olympian of all time, not just in our sport,” Hogan said of the eight-time gold medalist (all in 500m races) from 1980-2004. “I remember when Michael Phelps won eight golds in Beijing, newscasters talking about it and bringing up Birgit Fischer as an example.”

Fischer had the benefit of teammates within the deep German program, part of Olympic champion two- and four-woman events. Carrington is from a nation with no other female Olympic flatwater medalists.

“What Lisa did is equally as impressive [as Fischer],” Hogan said. “Is her career as long as Birgit? No, but I think what you’re seeing is a totally dominant athlete on the world stage, which is really uncommon these days because the field is extraordinarily deep.”

Carrington has branched out to the only other Olympic women’s distance, 500m. She won her first world title in the 500m in 2015, then took silver or bronze medals at the 2016 Olympics and 2017 and 2018 Worlds.

Then came 2019. Carrington swept the 200m and 500m at worlds, winning each final by more than a second and a half. Her 200m margin — 1.94 seconds and the largest of her global championship career — was six tenths greater than what separated second place and ninth place.

“Historic, all-time events,” Walker said.

No woman has won Olympic gold medals in both the 200m and 500m, given the 200m debuted at the Olympics in 2012. The last man to do it was in 2000. Carrington, if she pulls it off in Tokyo, where she also plans to race the K-4 500m with three other Kiwis, might walk away.

“I kind of figured that I would just see how it would go at the Games,” she said while in lockdown last month, unable to train in the water or see Walker face-to-face. “I was happy to continue, and I was also happy to call it there.”

Carrington has never wanted to be famous. In New Zealand, an athlete can live a fairly normal life if they’re not on the All Black rugby team.

So maybe few know of Carrington’s penchant for do-it-yourself work around the house. She recently painted her whole perimeter fence.

Maybe few know about her Māori heritage from her dad’s side. She regularly wears a pounamu necklace. She has one tattoo — from high school — of a koru, or spiral wave representing continual movement and all of one’s life experiences.

What she doesn’t dwell on is the exact number of 200m races she’s won consecutively.

“It’s probably something I’ll look back on,” she said, guessing the streak is around 40. “Winning medals and doing the best opens a lot of doors, but, for me, being in it for so long, as much as it’s about winning or being the best, there’s a lot more to it.

“It’s not just settling for winning. It’s settling for finding my own best and my own potential.”

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

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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.”

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Wilson Kipsang, former marathon world-record holder, banned 4 years

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Wilson Kipsang, a former marathon world-record holder and Kenyan Olympic bronze medalist, was banned four years for whereabouts failures — not being available for drug testing — and providing false evidence in his case.

Kipsang had been provisionally banned in January in the case handled by the Athletics Integrity Unit, track and field’s doping watchdog organization. Athletes must provide doping officials with locations to be available for out-of-competition testing. Three missed tests in a 12-month span can lead to a suspension.

Kipsang, 38, received a four-year ban backdated to Jan. 10, when the provisional suspension was announced. His results since April 12, 2019, the date of his third whereabouts failure in a 12-month span, have been annulled. He is eligible to appeal. The full decision is here.

Kipsang won major marathons in New York City, London, Berlin and Tokyo between 2012 and 2017.

He lowered the world record to 2:03:23 at the 2013 Berlin Marathon, a mark that stood for one year until countryman Dennis Kimetto took it to 2:02:57 in Berlin. Another Kenyan, Eliud Kipchoge, lowered it to 2:01:39 at the 2018 Berlin Marathon.

Kipsang, the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist, last won a top-level marathon in Tokyo in 2017. He was third at the 2018 Berlin Marathon and 12th at his last marathon in London in April 2019, a result now disqualified.

Other Kenyan distance-running stars have been banned in recent years.

Rita Jeptoo had Boston and Chicago Marathon titles stripped, and Jemima Sumgong was banned after winning the Rio Olympic marathon after both tested positive for EPO. Asbel Kiprop, a 2008 Olympic 1500m champion and a three-time world champ, was banned four years after testing positive for EPO in November 2017.

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