Gwen Berry

Gwen Berry
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Gwendolyn Berry gets apology from USOPC CEO after reprimand for podium gesture

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Olympic hammer thrower Gwendolyn Berry said USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland apologized to her Wednesday “for not understanding the severity of the impact her decisions had on me,” after Berry was put on probation last August for one year after raising her fist at the end of the national anthem at the 2019 Pan American Games.

“I am grateful to Gwen for her time and her honesty last night,” Hirshland said in a statement. “I heard her. I apologized for how my decisions made her feel and also did my best to explain why I made them. Gwen has a powerful voice in this national conversation, and I am sure that together we can use the platform of Olympic and Paralympic sport to address and fight against systematic inequality and racism in our country.”

Berry and fencer Race Imboden were sent August letters of reprimand by Hirshland, along with each receiving probation, after each made a podium gesture at Pan Ams in Peru.

This week, Berry tweeted that she wanted a public apology from Hirshland. That tweet came after Hirshland sent a letter to U.S. athletes on Monday night, condemning “systemic inequality that disproportionately impacts Black Americans in the United States.”

Then on Wednesday night, Berry said she had a “really productive” 40-minute phone call with Hirshland, USATF CEO Max Siegel and other USATF officials.

“I didn’t necessarily ask for [an apology] from [Hirshland],” Berry said Thursday. Berry said she lost two-thirds of her income after Pan Ams, that sponsors dropped her in connection to the raised fist fallout.

“We came to some good conclusions,” Berry said of the group call. “The most important thing were figuring out ways to move forward. [Hirshland] was aware of things that she did and how she made me feel about the situation, and I was happy that I was able to express to her my grievances and she was able to express to me how she felt as well about the situation.”

Berry said her probation, which is believed to still be in effect, wasn’t discussed. She made a point to say that USATF has always been on her side.

“The conversation was more for awareness purposes, and we’ll probably have more conversations this week,” said Berry.

Berry also plans to participate in a U.S. athlete town hall Friday.

“First and foremost, we should and we will discuss how people are just feeling and how people are holding up because athletes in general, because of the pandemic and because of everything that’s been going on, I know a lot of people are in distress, they’re sad, they’re confused,” she said. “I think that’ll be the main point of the discussion. Just to make sure everybody’s OK. Just to see how everybody’s holding on.”

On Aug. 10, Berry raised her fist at the end of the national anthem after winning the Pan American Games title.

The next morning, Berry said the gesture, which drew memories of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Games, wasn’t meant to be a big message, but it quickly became a national story.

“Just a testament to everything I’ve been through in the past year, and everything the country has been through this past year,” she said then. “A lot of things need to be done and said and changed. I’m not trying to start a political war or act like I’m miss-know-it-all or anything like that. I just know America can do better.”

Berry said then that the motivation behind her gesture included the challenges overcome of changing coaches and moving from Oxford, Miss., where her family resides, to Houston.

“Every individual person has their own views of things that are going on,” she said. “It’s in the Constitution, freedom of speech. I have a right to feel what I want to feel. It’s no disrespect at all to the country. I want to make that very clear. If anything, I’m doing it out of love and respect for people in the country.”

Berry also said that weekend, according to USA Today, that she was standing for “extreme injustice.”

“Somebody has to talk about the things that are too uncomfortable to talk about. Somebody has to stand for all of the injustices that are going on in America and a president who’s making it worse,” Berry said, according to that report. “It’s too important to not say something. Something has to be said. If nothing is said, nothing will be done, and nothing will be fixed, and nothing will be changed.”

NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report.

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MORE: Coco Gauff delivers speech demanding change

U.S. athletes fend off early world championship challenges in Doha

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Reigning champions Justin Gatlin, Emma Coburn and Christian Taylor advanced with ease through the early rounds of their title defenses Friday on the first day of track and field’s world championships in Doha, Qatar.

Gatlin comfortably won his heat to advance in 10.06 seconds. The fastest time in the heats belonged to Christian Coleman, who tore through the track to finish in 9.98 seconds despite shutting things down in the last 10 meters. U.S. veteran Mike Rodgers also advanced.

PREVIEW: Coleman, Gatlin and Blake set for 100m showdown

Coburn also advanced with ease, cruising along with a three-runner lead pack in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and wasting little effort down the stretch. Courtney Frerichs, a stunning second to Coburn in 2017, qualified by finishing second in her heat to top-ranked Beatrice Chepkoech of Kenya.

Taylor didn’t hit the automatic qualifying mark in the triple jump but was secure enough in his first-round effort of 16.99 meters to pass on his final jump. Will Claye, who has dueled with friendly rival Taylor many times in recent years, struggled with his first two jumps and qualified with a third effort of 16.97m despite taking off well behind the board. Donald Scott matched Taylor at 16.99m to qualify, also pulling through with a clutch performance in the final round, but fourth American Omar Craddock barely missed out on a tiebreaker.

The most unusual qualification effort belonged to Olympic silver medalist and 2017 bronze medalist Paul Chelimo who showed off a devastating finishing kick in the final few steps of his heat in the men’s 5,000 meters — even with one shoe missing. Hassan Mead also advanced.

Rai Benjamin stayed on track for a likely showdown with Norway’s Karsten Warholm in the men’s 400m hurdles. TJ Holmes also qualified for the next round.

The biggest surprises for U.S. athletes in Friday’s session were the early exits of hammer thrower Brooke Andersen and 800m runner Hanna Green. Andersen only managed a throw of 68.46m, far off her season best of 76.75m that ranks second in the world this year. Green, who is fifth on the season’s best list with a time of 1:58.19, faded to last place in a tightly packed slow heat.

Also in the women’s 800m, Ajee Wilson and Raevyn Rogers cruised to win their heats, and U.S. teammate Ce’Aira Brown advanced from a fast heat. Green and British hopeful Lynsey Sharp were among the surprise non-qualifiers. Reigning champion Caster Semenya is not in Doha because she has refused treatment to lower her testosterone level.

READ: Semenya will not go to Doha to collect belated 2011 medal

In the hammer throw, DeAnna Price needed only one throw to meet the automatic qualifying mark, and Gwen Berry also advanced.

Olympic long jump champion Jeff Henderson needed a strong third jump to qualify and sailed to an 8.12m mark, second only to Cuban star Juan Michael Echevarria. U.S. jumper Steffin McCarter sailed 8.04m to qualify as well.

Other U.S. field event favorites all advanced.

The pole vault trio of Sandi Morris, Katie Nageotte and Jenn Suhr all cleared the automatic qualifying height of 4.60m, though Suhr required a second attempt. They’ll have plenty of company, with 17 athletes clearing the bar.

Vashti Cunningham cleared the automatic qualifying height of 1.94m in the high jump, while teammate Tynita Butts advanced with a personal-best 1.92m. Inika McPherson did not advance.

TRACK AND FIELD WORLDS: TV Schedule | U.S. Roster

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Christian Coleman set to stare down elders Justin Gatlin and Yohan Blake in world championships

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Usain Bolt has moved on, but sprinters of a certain age are not yet ready to cede the spotlight just yet in the men’s 100 meters.

The world championship semifinals and final will be the marquee event of Saturday’s session in Doha, Qatar. The session also includes finals in the women’s hammer throw, men’s long jump and women’s 10,000 meters, all of which have U.S. medal contenders.

Justin Gatlin, who won the 2004 Olympic gold and 2005 world championship in the 100 meters before serving a lengthy suspension for a doping infraction, won his heat Friday to extend his effort to defend the world title he won two years ago at age 35. Now 37, Gatlin has posted the fourth-fastest time (9.87) in the world this year. (No. 2, Noah Lyles, is focusing on the 200 meters; No. 3, Divine Oduduru of Nigeria and Texas Tech, did not start Friday’s heats.)

Mike Rodgers, a fellow American in his mid-30s, advanced from his heat as well.

Another heat winner, Jamaica’s Yohan Blake, won’t turn 30 for another couple of months but has been around for years, winning the world title in 2011 when Bolt was disqualified.

But the fastest man in the world this year and the fastest man in Friday’s heats is from the next generation.

Christian Coleman, a 23-year-old sprinter who finished between Gatlin and Bolt to take silver in 2017, laid down an emphatic run in his heat Friday, blasting away from the pack and finishing in 9.98 seconds despite slowing down toward the end. No other runner broke the 10-second mark.

Coleman’s heat sent a message that he is ready to roll after missing time to deal with a drug-testing issue. He missed two Diamond League meets in late August, missing out on prize money and some opportunities to rev up for the world championships.

The Americans will be spread between the three semifinals — Coleman in the first, Gatlin alongside Blake and Canadian star Andre de Grasse in the second, Rodgers in the third. The top two in the each semifinal and the next two fastest runners across all three semis will advance to the final.

READ: Coleman wants apology after drug-test saga

The women’s hammer throw had three U.S. medal contenders who ranked first, second and third coming into the competition, but Brooke Andersen failed to advance from Friday’s qualification round. Gwen Berry, one of two athletes to draw attention to social issues with gestures on the podium at the Pan Am Games, also didn’t throw near her best but still advanced. DeAnna Price had no such issue, throwing 73.77m on her first effort to qualify automatically. Her throw stood as the day’s best.

READ: Berry raises fist, Imboden kneels at Pan Am Games

The men’s long jump will include Olympic champion Jeff Henderson, who has had an erratic season. The favorite is Cuba’s Juan Miguel Echevarria, who has the best jump in the world this year and easily took top honors in the Diamond League.

In the women’s 10,000 meters, world and Olympic champion Almaz Ayana has withdrawn, but her fellow Ethiopians have the potential for a sweep. Letesenbet Gidey has the world’s fastest time this year. The U.S. contingent includes veteran Molly Huddle, who finished fourth in the 2015 world championships and sixth in the 2016 Olympics, and Emily Sisson, who has posted the fastest time in the world this year by anyone not from Ethiopia.

Huddle actually has the fastest career best in the field with her American record 30:13.17 in the 2016 Olympics.

READ: Ayana withdraws from championships

Other events in the evening session include qualification rounds in the women’s 100m, men’s discus, men’s 800m, men’s pole vault and men’s 400m hurdles. The women’s 800m semifinals, featuring Americans Ajee Wilson and Raevyn Rogers, also are on the schedule, as is the first round of the mixed 4x400m relay.

After the evening session, near midnight local time, the men and women will compete simultaneously in the 50km walk.

NBC will carry the men’s 100m final and other action from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. EDT, while earlier action will start on the Olympic Channel at 9:30 a.m. EDT. NBC Sports Gold will stream live coverage of every event over the 10-day meet.

TRACK AND FIELD WORLDS: TV Schedule | U.S. Roster

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