LAST LAP — April

HERE’S THIS MONTH’S collection of short takes on generally off-track activities that have gone/will go a long way towards shaping the way the sport is headed.

Olympic shot silver medalist Raven Saunders is the latest big name to run afoul of whereabouts violations. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

’23 Diamond League Calendar Changed

This year’s Wanda Diamond League was supposed to see two firsts: the first year with 15 meets instead of the normal 14 and the first year with two Chinese meets. Now we’re back to 14 and just a single competition in China.

China was supposed to have a pair of meets starting in ’20, but the pandemic put paid to that idea for 3 years. Things were set to go this year with Shanghai and Shenzen targeted as hosts but in late March it was announced that Shanghai — scheduled for July 29 — had stadium issues and would have to pass.

The 14 scheduled Shanghai disciplines (men’s 200, 1500, steeple, 110H, 400H, PV, TJ, DT; women’s 100, 400, 800, 3000, HJ, LJ) will be distributed among the other meets.

As part of the reshuffle, Shenzen has moved a month later. The DL schedule as it currently stands (note that there’s now an extended 5½-week gap in meets in mid-summer):

May — Doha (05), Rabat (28)
June — Florence (02), Paris (09), Oslo (15), Lausanne 30
July — Stockholm (02), Chorzów (16), Monaco (21), London (23)
August — Zürich (31)
September — Shenzen (02), Brussels (08), Eugene (16–17)

Another Surgery For Donavan Brazier

After missing many of the key races of the past 2 years because of injuries, ’19 World 800 champ Donavan Brazier is once again trying to mend himself together at age 25.

The latest setback was a February surgery to clean up scar tissue that resulted from his intervention last summer to correct a Haglund’s deformity and relieve his Achilles problems.

“Hopefully with the scar tissue gone and everything’s scoped out, and proper PT and recovery I will be back at it again soon,” he says.

“This time around, I’m trying to make sure I cross my T’s and dot my I’s and do everything I’m supposed to be doing to get back out there and get healthy. I haven’t been able to piece together a week of running, I don’t think, yet. I’m just trying to get that going.

“The weird thing is I still have a really high belief in myself. In the moment, it really sucks, but I really do believe at the other end there is something great to come. That’s what’s getting me up every day and the PT and the aqua-jogging and the cross training that I’m allowed to do is kind of what’s giving me hope or a purpose every day to get out of bed. It’s ultimately incredibly frustrating, but I’ve just got to see it through.”

With the ’24 Olympics still very much in his sights, Brazier is determined to fight his way back, saying, “I know what it feels like to be on top.”

A Whereabouts Issue For Raven Saunders

Olympic shot silver medalist Raven Saunders has accepted an 18-month ban from USADA for drug-testing whereabouts failures. She missed 3 tests last year (Jan. 8, May 26, Aug. 15). Her suspension was backdated to the day of the final failure, meaning she will not be able to compete until February 15 of next year.

She released a statement saying, “As a veteran, I definitely should’ve done better and I take full responsibility for my actions. I didn’t fail a test for any substance and was tested again after each of my missed tests. “I’ve always been an advocate of clean sports. I’ll be back to claim the throne on February 15, 2024!”

According to her agent, Saunders “has accepted full responsibility for her failure to update her whereabouts according to the prescribed procedure on multiple occasions. She will use the time during her suspension to focus on her mental health and intensify her training to prepare for the Paris Games.

“Combined with recovery from a second major hip surgery in the fall of 2021 which affected her performance at the USA Team qualifier in 2022, and handling the estate of her mother and newfound responsibility for her sibling, Saunders came under a veritable mountain of additional life pressure alongside the pressures of being an elite athlete.

“Despite this tragic loss, Saunders remains committed to her athletic career and using her platform to raise awareness for mental health issues. She has expressed regret for failing to comply with the USADA policy and acknowledges the importance of upholding the integrity of sports and anti-doping efforts.”

Goucher Accuses Salazar

In her new memoir Kara Goucher has revealed that she was the woman whose sexual assault allegations led to the lifetime ban of Alberto Salazar by SafeSport in ’21.

In the book, The Longest Race: Inside the Secret World of Abuse, Doping, and Deception on Nike’s Elite Running Team, Goucher says that Salazar inappropriately touched her twice during massages, writing, “If I’m being honest, I just totally froze. I was thinking, ‘There’s no way he’s touching me like that. I’m imagining this. He’s just a bad masseuse.’”

She didn’t immediately tell anyone: “I felt shameful about it. I also felt like maybe it was just a mistake.”

Salazar responded to ABC News about the charges, saying, “I have never sexually assaulted Ms. Goucher and never would have done so. The accusation is deeply hurtful and abhorrent and contrary to my fundamental beliefs as a husband, father and deeply devout Catholic.”

Goucher, whose book has hit the New York Times best-seller list, says in it, “It is my responsibility to use my voice, and to fight for other people.”

Diack Junior’s Sentence Upheld

Papa Massata Diack lost again in court, not that he was actually there. The son of disgraced (and now deceased) former WA head Lamine Diack, he fled to Senegal 7 years ago to avoid prison and has since battled the French courts from afar.

Now an appeals court in Paris has reaffirmed the corruption charges against him. It upheld his original sentence of 5 years in prison but reduced his fine from $1.05 million to $527,000. He also has a 10-year ban on holding a job in sports.

Saying his client “was sentenced more for his absence than for the offenses imputed to him,” his lawyer noted that Diack was under “legal supervision” in Senegal and could not leave the country.

Said WADA president Witold Bańka, “WADA welcomes this decision, which is a victory for clean sport.”

Charges Filed In Huntington Case

Nick Johnson, the former head coach at Huntington University, has been charged with felony sexual battery and misdemeanor battery by a grand jury in Indiana.

These charges, reports the IndyStar, are distinct from the charges he faced in Oregon in late ’20 when he faced felony counts of child seduction, kidnapping and identity deception for arranging a fake recruiting trip posing as an Oregon coach and spending the weekend with an underage athlete in various motels. In that case he pled guilty to identity deception, and the prosecutor dropped the other charges. He served 30 days in jail.

The current charges involve a former Huntington athlete whose name has been kept private.

Johnson — as well as the university — is also facing a federal lawsuit on behalf of two other former runners, Hannah Stoffel and Emma Wilson, alleging criminal battery and negligence.

Said the attorney in that case, “Since the summer of 2020, Huntington University and Nick Johnson have hidden the facts and circumstances of Mr. Johnson’s conduct with internal ‘investigations’ by big corporate law firms and other tactics that are contrary to the spirit and letter of the Constitution and norms of civilized society. I am pleased that the State of Indiana has decided to prosecute this case and make the facts public.”

Paris Tickets Too Pricey?

How expensive should Olympic tickets be? Less than they are, say the French people. A poll has found that 82% of the French think that the tickets are “not accessible in terms of price,” with 79% saying the ticketing process is too complicated.

Organizers have pledged a million tickets at $25 each, but apparently those have been hard to nail down in the first phase of selling. Applicants are required to buy ducats for three events at the same time, and many are priced at c$87 each. That means a family of 4, over those three days, is looking at a bill of c$1044. The second phase will allow applicants to buy single tickets, including Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

Étienne Thobois, the CEO of Paris24, says that accounting for inflation, the prices are comparable to London ’12, and less than Rio ’16.

Other Games developments:

Thobois says that re-selling of tickets will be difficult, since they are completely digital and QR codes will be delivered hours before the events. “It’s a strong choice we’ve made to go digital, which makes it very complicated if you want to sell at the last minute.”

Organizers want to minimize the use of air-conditioning for environmental reasons, and plan to use a water-cooling system under the athletes’ village to keep them cool in any heat wave. The goal is to keep rooms from going above 79 (26C) at night.

French lawmakers have overwhelmingly approved temporary use of intelligent surveillance systems to safeguard the Games, with cameras and AI software flagging security concerns such as abandoned packages and crowd surges. Authorities say the system will not use facial recognition.

The IOC Doesn’t Want Russia Excluded

While WA continues to take a hard line on any Russian/Belarusian participation (see sidebar) IOC head Thomas Bach has been pushing for at least a limited open door for the two nations’ athletes at the Paris Olympics. To that end the IOC executive board recommended in March that the IOC “explore a pathway” that would enable athletes from those countries to participate in Paris as neutral athletes.

The move effectively offers a green light for any sports that want to allow participation for neutral athletes. Denied are team competitions, as well as any athletes who are contracted to Russian/Belarusian military or security agencies. In addition, athletes who support the Russian invasion are also barred.

The IOC statement stressed repeatedly that no decision has yet been made on their participation in Paris, perhaps because of protests Bach has been seeing at his public appearances, as well as reaffirmed opposition from powerful organizations such as World Athletics and European Athletics.

While nations such as Great Britain have officially urged the IOC to maintain a tough stance on Russia, Poland is going even farther, saying that a coalition of Ukraine’s staunchest supporters may boycott the Paris Olympics if the IOC opens the door to Russia.

Bach responded angrily to the opposition in late March, saying, “It is deplorable to see that some governments do not want to respect the majority within the Olympic Movement and all stakeholders, nor the autonomy of sport which they are appraising and requesting from other countries in countless speeches, UN resolutions, European Union declarations and at every other opportunity.

“It is deplorable that these Governments do not address the question of double standards with which we have been confronted in our consultations. We have not seen a single comment on their attitude on the participation of athletes whose countries are involved in the other 70 wars and armed conflict in the world.”

Amid rumors that he is considering a run for the IOC presidency, Coe has offered only the stiffest of responses to Bach’s pressure, saying, “We determine eligibility and, for our World Championship events, for the foreseeable future, the exclusion remains.”

The IOC statement reads in part, “The Olympic Games cannot prevent wars and conflicts. Nor can they address all the political and social challenges in our world. This is the realm of politics. But the Olympic Games can set an example for a world where everyone respects the same rules and one another. They can inspire us to solve problems by building bridges, leading to better understanding among people. They can open the door to dialogue and peace-building in ways that exclusion and division do not.”

The Ukrainian Ministry of Sport noted in response that 228 of its athletes and coaches have been killed in the invasion, 350 sports facilities destroyed, 40,000 athletes have been forced abroad and 140,000 have been left without training facilities.

How Super The Shoes?

We all know new high-tech footwear makes a difference, but we haven’t heard too many sprinters talk about what it feels like to run in spikes with carbon-fiber plates. However, Hannah Cunliffe recently chimed in on Twitter.

“I’ve been running track for 19 years and never felt a spike like it,” she said. “It’s like having mini trampolines underneath your feet. Especially if you’re a power runner. You’re able to apply more power and force into the ground, plus having a mini spring in your spike plate —-> makes it easier to cover more ground.

“We used to see records broken occasionally. Not every week.” ◻︎

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