Fabiana Murer

Five women’s events to watch at World Track and Field Championships

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Women’s track and field may not have a singular, electric figure like Usain Bolt, but some of the most compelling events at the World Championships in Beijing feature a global array of female athletes.

Great Britain sends arguably its biggest star from the London Olympics head to head with perhaps its biggest star of the Rio Olympics. Brazil’s most accomplished active track and field athlete? Also a woman.

Then there’s the U.S. sprinter bidding to break a record shared with Michael Johnson and Carl Lewis. And the Ethiopian who has been the must-watch athlete in the sport this season.

World Track and Field Championships broadcast scheduleFive men’s events to watch

Here are five women’s events to watch at the World Championships:

Saturday, Aug. 22, and Sunday, Aug. 23 — Heptathlon

The heptathlon. Seven events. Two days. Three hyphens.

British Olympic champion Jessica Ennis-Hill is in her first global championship since the London Games and giving birth to son Reggie on July 17, 2014.

Countrywoman Katarina Johnson-Thompson, 22, has been the phenom of the event during Ennis-Hill’s absence from major competition. Her 6,682-point total in 2014 ranks second in the world since the London Olympics.

Canadian Brianne Theisen-Eaton, wife of U.S. Olympic decathlon champion Ashton Eaton, totaled 6,808 points in May, the best in the world since the London Olympics.

World’s most athletic couple takes the next leap

Monday, Aug. 24 — 100m — 9:35 a.m. ET

Only three women have ever run faster than Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and none of them will be lining up in Beijing.

The two-time Jamaican Olympic 100m champion is the prohibitive favorite to win her third World 100m title in four tries. She is Usain Bolt without the world records. She’s consistently in the 10.7s at global championships, right up there with the fastest women of all time — Americans Florence Griffith-JoynerMarion Jones* and Carmelita Jeter.

Fraser-Pryce has clocked 10.74 and 10.79 this season. Americans English Gardner (also 10.79) and Tori Bowie (10.80, 10.81 and 10.82 the last two years) may be her closest challengers, but a U.S. gold would be an upset.

The 200m (Friday, Aug. 28) will lack star power. Fraser-Pryce, Gardner and Bowie won’t contest it. Neither will Olympic champion Allyson Felix.

Tori Bowie, new U.S. sprint sensation

Tuesday, Aug. 25 — 1500m — 8:35 a.m. ET

Two months ago, Jenny Simpson looked like a possible favorite among a deep field to take gold in Beijing. Now, she may not even be the best American medal threat.

And the favorite is the new world-record holder, Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba, who was primarily a 5000m runner before this summer (and maybe still is).

Everything changed July 17, when Dibaba chopped four seconds off her personal best and broke a 22-year-old world record. In that same race, Shannon Rowbury finished third, notable because she beat the 2011 World champion Simpson (fourth) and broke the 32-year-old American record that Simpson coveted.

Dibaba is expected to race both the 1500m and, on Sunday, Aug. 30, the 5000m. She is fourth fastest all time in that distance, just behind her biggest threat, countrywoman Almaz Ayana. No woman has swept the 1500m and 5000m at a World Championships or Olympics.

Keflezighi, Simpson win USATF Athlete of the Year awards

Wednesday, Aug. 26 — Pole Vault — 7 a.m. ET

This figures to be a four-woman competition.

Olympic champion Jenn Suhr (U.S.), 2013 World silver medalist Yarisley Silva (Cuba), 2009 World champion Fabiana Murer (Brazil) and Nikoleta Kyriakopoulou (Greece) have each cleared 4.80m or higher this year multiple times. Nobody else in the field has done so once since June 2012.

Suhr, who dethroned world-record holder Yelena Isinbayeva at the London Olympics, will not have to worry about her Russian rival at this meet. Isinbayeva hasn’t competed since 2013 but may return for the Rio Olympics. So this marks the best and perhaps last chance for Suhr, 33, to capture the World title that’s eluded her.

Silva, 28, had been fairly silent since taking bronze behind Isinbayeva and Suhr at the 2013 World Championships. Until the last month, during which she cleared 4.81m, 4.85m and 4.91m, the latest tying the best clearance in the world since Isinibayeva’s 2009 world record.

Murer, 34, is Brazil’s biggest track and field star. Any pressure she feels in Beijing will be exponentially heavier next summer.

Murer: ‘I’m never coming back to China’

Thursday, Aug. 27 — 400m — 8:40 a.m. ET

This is Allyson Felix‘s chosen race at the World Championships after scrutinized deliberations. She is the favorite, and history is at hand.

Felix is tied with Usain BoltMichael Johnson and Carl Lewis for the most career World Championships gold medals (eight). She is tied with Lewis for the most career World medals of any color for an American.

Felix hasn’t raced the 400m at a global championship since 2011, when she took silver, but she is expected to take gold in Beijing in large part due to a lack of competition. Olympic champion Sanya Richards-Ross and Francena McCorory, who holds the three fastest times in the world this year, failed to qualify at the U.S. Championships.

Felix will face off against the Bahamas’ Shaunae Miller, eight years younger than Felix at 21 and the only woman in the field to run faster than Felix this year.

Felix’s performance in Beijing could go a long way in determining which event(s) she eyes at the Rio Olympics, be it the 200m, 400m or both. Felix is also part of the U.S. relay pools for the 4x100m and 4x400m on the final two days of Worlds, Aug. 28-29.

Video: Allyson Felix discusses 2016, 400m, more with Ato Boldon

Brazil’s track and field star can make amends at Worlds after saying, ‘I’m never coming back to China’

Fabiana Murer
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Brazil is expected to win 20 to 30 medals at the Rio 2016 Games, perhaps 10 golds, and its top hope for an Olympic title in track and field is pole vaulter Fabiana Murer.

Murer, though, can only associate heartbreak with her two previous Olympic experiences.

The former gymnast entered the Beijing 2008 Games as the third-ranked pole vaulter in the world for the year and easily became the first Brazilian to qualify for an Olympic women’s pole vault final (the event debuted at Sydney 2000).

But Murer could not find one of her poles during the Beijing final — the one she aimed to use to clear 4.55 meters, later found in a locker for equipment used by athletes already eliminated, according to The Associated Press — decided to skip the 4.55m height after a fruitless, several-minutes search and then failed at all three attempts at 4.65m.

Murer had cleared 4.80m less than two months before the Beijing Olympics, a height that earned American Jenn Suhr silver at the Bird’s Nest that night. Murer left the iconic venue in 10th place, and in tears.

“I’m never coming back to China,” Murer reportedly said.

Murer has said she intends to break her word in August by traveling back to the Bird’s Nest for the World Championships. It will be her first competition in China since the 2008 Olympics, according to the track and field database Tilastopaja.org, and at the same venue.

In the last seven years, Murer became the first Brazilian to win a World Track and Field Championship (2011). She was consistently among the world’s three best pole vaulters, except at the London 2012 Olympics and Moscow 2013 World Championships.

In London, Murer shockingly failed to qualify for the 12-woman final after entering the competition as the third-ranked woman for the year.

She was shaken by windy conditions and aborted her final attempt at 4.55 meters while on the runway, for which she was criticized by Brazilians, including two-time Olympic volleyball medalist Gustavo on Twitter, and said she did the best she could on her Facebook page.

Brazil failed to win any Olympic track and field medals for the first time since 1992.

In Moscow in 2013, Murer finished fifth, failing to clear 4.75 meters, an indicative result for a season when she failed to clear any height greater than 4.75 for the first time since 2007.

Like in Beijing, Murer’s finishes in London and Moscow brought her to tears, according to Brazilian media.

But Murer, now 34, found success the last two seasons as the oldest woman among the elite dozen on the global circuit.

She had the three highest clearances in the world in 2014 and won the season-long Diamond League title. This year, she ranks second to the 2012 Olympic champion Suhr in best clearances and beat the American at the Adidas Grand Prix in New York last weekend, where she answered a few questions after the competition before visiting The Guggenheim:

OlympicTalk: Who would you pick to light the cauldron at the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony?

Murer: Of course I would take a track and field athlete. Joaquim Cruz was a great athlete, winning a gold medal in the Olympics [in the 800m at Los Angeles 1984] and another silver medal [in 1988]. I think he’s a great athlete to choose. Another one would be Pele.

OlympicTalk: Which Brazilian athlete, outside of the soccer players, will have the most pressure to succeed at the Rio Olympics?

Murer: In swimming, Cesar Cielo. Of course, he has medals [already, three total from 2008 and 2012], so it’s more pressure on him.

OlympicTalk: Where were you in October 2009 when Rio was chosen as host of the 2016 Olympics?

Murer: I was on vacation. I just arrived on the beach close to Recife. I just arrived in the hotel, and I was trying to see if Brazil won. Then I saw the news, and I began to receive many calls to speak about this. It was really an emotional time.

OlympicTalk: Will the Rio Olympics be your final competition?

Murer: I will finish after 2016. The Olympics, and then maybe two or three meets. I hope to compete in the last Diamond League [meet of 2016].

Before, I was thinking to retire after 2014. And then, when Brazil was selected to be the host of the Olympics, I decided to continue to 2016. I want to have this experience in my country. Of course, it’s a lot of pressure, but in the same way, it’s a lot of support from the Brazilians.

OlympicTalk: We didn’t see much from you in 2012 and 2013. What’s changed the last two years?

Murer: 2012 was a difficult year for me. I had some injuries. I trained and was in good shape during the Olympics, but I had some problems with my technique. I think my technique went down because of this. In 2013, I got good results, didn’t jump very high, but I liked the results. Then, last year, I began to grow again. I put in my mind that this cycle for the Olympics was to grow during the years. So I’m hoping to jump even higher next year.

OlympicTalk: Is the goal for the Olympics to win a gold medal, or any medal?

Murer: Any medal will be OK, because I don’t have one Olympic medal. So I just want a medal. It doesn’t matter the color.

Lolo Jones’ outlook not good to make World Championships

Ten sports where Brazil can win medals at Rio 2016

Arthur Zanetti
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The Brazil Olympic Committee set a goal of 27 to 30 medals at the Rio 2016 Olympics, a significant jump from its total of 17 at London 2012, its highest-ever tally.

Rio 2016 organizers outlined 10 sports where Brazil could reach the podium next year. Here’s a look at the list:

Gymnastics (Artistic)

The big four of China, Romania, Russia and the U.S. have long dominated artistic gymnastics, with the Japanese men recently joining the medal mix as well.

Brazil captured its first Olympic gymnastics medal at London 2012 in the form of Arthur Zanetti‘s gold on rings. Zanetti followed with gold and silver at the 2013 and 2014 World Championships.

The veteran Diego Hypolito, 28, has won five World Championships medals on floor exercise since 2005. He was the top qualifier into the Beijing 2008 floor final but wound up a tearful sixth.

Then there’s Sergio Sasaki, who in 2012 became the first Brazilian man to reach an Olympic all-around final. He was 10th and then fifth at the 2013 World Championships and seventh at the 2014 World Championships. However, Sasaki’s participation in the 2015 Worlds is in question due to knee surgery.

Handball

European nations have dominated in Olympic competition, but the Brazilian women captured their first World Championship medal in 2013, gold in Serbia. Duda Amorim is the reigning World Player of the Year.

Judo

Infostrada’s virtual medal table has Brazil winning five judo medals in 2016, based on recent international results. That would be Brazil’s best medal haul in any sport, if one separates open-water swimming from pool swimming.

Brazil also performed its best in judo in 2012, taking four medals split evenly between men and women. In 2016, Kayla Harrison, the first U.S. Olympic judo gold medalist, could be headed for a showdown with Brazilian Mayra Aguiar, the 2014 World champion.

Sailing

Brazil owns more sailing gold medals (six) than any other sport. Its most decorated Olympians are also sailors — Robert Scheidt and Torben Grael with five medals each. Scheidt is still active, while Grael is now a coach.

Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze are reigning World champions in the 49er FX and the female Sailors of the Year.

Soccer

Brazil may be a World Cup power, but of its seven combined Olympic men’s and women’s soccer medals (all since Los Angeles 1984), none are gold.

The most recognizable Brazil Olympians next year may be Barcelona striker Neymar and five-time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta.

Neymar played on the London 2012 silver medal-winning team, and in 2016 would have to be one of a maximum three players on the roster over the age of 23.

There is no such age restriction for the women’s teams. This summer’s World Cup should provide a clear picture of where Marta’s side stands among the world’s elite, such as the U.S.

Swimming (Open Water)

Brazil has never earned an Olympic open-water swimming medal, but only 12 have been awarded. The 10km events were introduced at Beijing 2008.

Brazil’s women took four of the nine medals at the 2013 World Championships. Poliana Okimoto and Ana Marcela Cunha earned two each.

Swimming (Pool)

Brazil topped the gold medal standings at the 2014 World Short Course Championships, but that’s deceiving because four of its seven titles came in non-Olympic stroke/relay distances and short course events are held in 25-meter pools. The Olympics are held in 50-meter pools.

Still, Brazil is looking more and more formidable in men’s sprint events. Cesar Cielo took 50m freestyle gold at the 2008 Olympics and 2009, 2011 and 2013 Worlds. He’s among a deep group that could form a 4x100m free relay that could beat world powers Australia, France and the U.S.

Track and Field

Track and field offers the most medals — 141 — of any sport at the Olympics. Brazil better increase its output over London 2012, where it failed to earn a track and field medal for the first time since 1992.

Brazil has medal threats in the women’s pole vault (Fabiana Murer had the three highest clearances in the world in 2014) and men’s long jump (Mauro Vinícius da Silva is the two-time reigning World Indoor champion but hasn’t translated it to outdoor success).

Volleyball (Beach)

Brazil owns more beach volleyball medals than any other nation, making the podium at every Olympics since the sport was introduced at Atlanta 1996.

Larissa and Talita appear the most formidable opposition to Americans Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross, recently prevailing in their first head-to-head in February in Rio de Janeiro.

On the men’s side, Emanuel and Ricardo reunited last summer and could go for a third Olympic medal together in Rio. Emanuel, 42, owns more international victories than any man or woman.

Volleyball (Indoor)

Infostrada has Brazil sweeping the golds at Rio 2016, which would be a major success for the nation. Indoor volleyball tickets have been reported to be the most sought-after of any sport, and the finals tickets are tied for the highest-priced (up to about $400) with basketball, track and field and beach volleyball.

The Brazilian men’s team took gold in 2004 and lost in the gold-medal games in 2008 (to the U.S.) and 2012 (to Russia). It also was stunned by Poland in the 2014 World Championship final.

The women are two-time reigning Olympic champions, but they were upset by the U.S. in a 2014 World Championships semifinal sweep.

Infostrada also has Brazil taking medals in boxing, tennis and wrestling at the Rio Olympics.

Rio 2016 Olympics day-by-day events to watch