LAST LAP — February

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.

Tori Hoggard (l) and Lexi Jacobus celebrated the end of their collegiate careers at the ’19 NCAA. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

A Little Late To The Dance?

On the eve of the second edition of the new American Track League (see this issue’s lead story about meet promoters stepping up to fill the competitive void being faced by the nation’s pro athletes) USATF announced that it will “provide resources” to the series for the 3 remaining competitions.

Said the press release from Indianapolis, “With limited competitive indoor opportunities during this unprecedented and challenging time, USATF applauds this endeavor. Competitive opportunities prepare our athletes for their journey to gold. USATF is pleased and proud to support the American Track League’s efforts to provide safe meets.”

While we are hesitant to be critical of any levels of support, we have to ask where the federation has been the last year as this nasty crisis has played out.

A New Look For The Florida Relays

Olympic hurdler Percy Beard founded the Florida Relays in ’39 and the meet has been a major fixture on the early-spring circuit in the Southeast ever since.

This year’s meet (Gainesville, April 02–03) will host a limited number of participants to mitigate the risks associated with the pandemic. It was announced earlier in the year that there would be no high school section, and a late-January announcement tightened things even further.

With no unattached/professional athletes allowed, the meet will take on an NCAA-only guise for the year. But it won’t be a collegiate free-for-all, as entry will be restricted to just 13 schools from the Power 5 across the nation.

The expected entrants: Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Iowa State, Kentucky, Miami, Mississippi State, South Carolina, USC & Virginia Tech.

The Vaulting Twins Hang Up Their Poles

Known as the Weeks Twins when each was a national HS Recordsetter, former Arkansas vaulters Lexi Jacobus and Tori Hoggard announced via social media that they are retiring from the sport and starting 4-year pharmacy programs.

Jacobus was a ’16 Olympian and a 4-time NCAA champion with 8 All-America honors. Hoggard won the ’19 NCAA Outdoor and was a 6-time All-America. To say the two were big points producers for the Razorback program is an understatement. Together they accounted for 92 points at the NCAA and 134 at the SEC Championships.

Said Jacobus, “I think I am ready to close this chapter and wholeheartedly open the next one. The decision was not an easy one, but it is the best decision for me in this point in my life.”

Hoggard explained that she had trained with the ’20 Games in mind, and after the postponement kept trying to train while in school, “This last year has proven that it is impossible to commit 100% to both school and training. I found myself physically, mentally, and emotionally drained… While it was an extremely difficult decision to make, I am confident I am making the right one.”

A Move To Elevate Thorpe’s Status

Jim Thorpe was robbed, most agree, when the year after he won 1912 Olympic golds in the pentathlon and decathlon he was stripped of those medals by the IOC, charged with violating the rules on amateurism. Thorpe’s violation? He played two seasons of summer baseball with a minor league team, making as little as $2 a game.

His medals were restored — posthumously — in ’82, with the proviso that he be listed as “co-champion” with the original 2nd-placers.

IOC vice-president Anita DeFrantz has joined the fight for the Olympic governing body to make things right for the native American legend. Calling it “an example of how the elitist cult of amateurism a century ago resulted in one of the most egregious miscarriages of justice in sports history,” DeFrantz urged the IOC to give Thorpe sole status as the winner of those events.

“In this time of reckoning over social justice, I urge my IOC colleagues to do our part by righting this wrong,” wrote DeFrantz an op-ed in the Washington Post.

Martinez Medication Almost Trips Her Up

Brenda Martinez, a Rio Olympian in the 1500, tested positive for a prohibited substance in September but has accepted a finding of “no fault or negligence” and will not be penalized.

The substance, HCTZ, is a common diuretic that is on the banned list because it can be used as a masking agent. During the USADA investigation, it was found that HCTZ is an ingredient in an oral medication that Martinez had been taking at the time of the test under the direction of her physician. The label of the medication did not list HCTZ as an ingredient, but USADA’s laboratory tests on some of the pills revealed HCTZ contamination “on a level consistent with Martinez’s positive test sample.”

“Even with my best preventative efforts,” Martinez said, “some things are out of my grasp. No athlete is bulletproof. I’m thankful to my lawyer and USADA for testing my prescribed medication because my biggest worry was that we could not trace the source of contamination.”

Vaccinations For Olympians?

A debate is brewing over whether it is ethical to have all the Olympic athletes vaccinated prior to the Games, even if that means them jumping the queue ahead of more vulnerable populations in their respective countries.

The IOC issued a statement addressing this: “The IOC continues to strongly support the priority of vaccinating vulnerable groups, nurses, medical doctors and everyone who is keeping our societies safe.

“The IOC will work with the NOCs [National Olympic Committees] to encourage and assist their athletes, officials and stakeholders to get vaccinated in their home countries, in line with national immunization guidelines, before they go to Japan.”

Australia, for one, says it hopes to be able to vaccinate all of its Tokyo-bound athletes.

McNeal Under Investigation

The AIU announced in January that Olympic 100H champion Brianna McNeal has been provisionally suspended.

Details are lacking, the policing unit’s release saying only that it had charged the Rio winner with “tampering within the results management process.” It noted that the WADA Code bans “conduct which subverts the doping control process.”

Her agency responded, “Brianna has not tested positive for any substance banned in the sport of track & field. Brianna will request a hearing, where she fully expects to be exonerated and continue her championship career.”

Previously suspended for a year in ’17 because of a whereabouts failure, the former AR holder could be facing 8 years for a second offense.

McNeal, 29, is a 6-time World Ranker. In addition to her ’16 gold, she was the ’13 world champion and 3-time USATF winner. Her best of 12.26 makes her No. 4 all-time.

Where’s Luvo Manyonga?

Long jumper Luvo Manyonga has been provisionally suspended for missing 3 doping tests in a year.

South Africa’s WC/OG silver medalist would be expected to serve a 2-year suspension if found guilty. He had previously served an 18-month ban after testing positive for methamphetamines in ’11. He participated in a rehabilitation program and returned to the sport successfully.

In December, his sister told reporters that he was “wasting his life” and that he needed to return to rehab. He responded that he was clean, but he also indicated that he was no longer training.

A Positive Test For Shubenkov?

Russian media reported in late January that Sergey Shubenkov, the ’15 world 110H champion, had tested positive for the masking agent Furosemide (commonly known as Lasix), and faces a possible 4-year ban.

Reportedly, the Russian sports minister traveled to the high-profile athlete’s training base in Siberia to deal with the matter personally.

For his part, Shubenkov denied the allegations vehemently, saying on Instagram, “All the information about the fact that I used Furosemide and that it was found in the sample is a blatant slander invented by an unnamed ‘source’! This has never happened! And the news feeds cheerfully rushed to repost the story, without checking where it came from.”

He did confirm, “However, I did receive an e-mail from AIU. It is never about Furosemide at all. For legal reasons, I cannot disclose the details of this confidential letter. Just pay attention to the fact that I am not subject to any restrictions and train as usual.”

Why Not Same XC Distance For Women?

The British federation is looking at bringing gender equity to its races and has sent a survey on the subject to its member clubs.

The response as to whether women should be running the same distance as men in XC championships has been heated. CEO Joanna Coates said, “Some people have concluded that we’re saying men and women should run the same distances but that’s not really what we’re saying. We can’t say what changes might or might not be made because we don’t know what the answers to the consultation are going to be.”

Some of Britain’s top female names, including Paula Radcliffe and Laura Muir, issuing a blistering statement opposing any changes.

“We are saddened by the suggestion that our past performances are viewed as somehow lacking, simply because we raced shorter distances than men,” it read in part.

Responded Coates, “To see the way that those high-achieving athletes have interpreted this… saddens me because I’ve spent 11 years fighting for the right for women in sport. We really wanted to have this debate because it was very important to a lot of women. I think some people assume that this is the start and end and it’s not.”

Russian Agency Will Accept CAS Ban

RUSADA, Russia’s anti-doping body, has confirmed that it will not appeal the CAS decision to slap it with a 2-year sanction (“Last Lap,” January).

Perhaps that’s because door No. 2 was the 4-year sanction that WADA had originally imposed on the organization for its part in manipulating the data from the Moscow laboratory.

The sanctions will restrict Russian entries in international championships through 2022 to neutral athletes and forbid Russia from hosting international events in that time. However, some of the other aspect of the WADA penalties were watered down.

In its statement RUSADA talked tough, saying it “strongly disagrees with the findings in the CAS Award regarding the alleged data manipulations… based on a flawed and one-sided assessment of the facts and were not sufficiently proven.”

WADA Wants Explanation From CAS

CAS’s halving of Russia’s sanction period raised an international uproar. Among those less than thrilled was WADA, which has demanded that the CAS panel give a full explanation of why it accepted WADA’s findings in its investigation of the Moscow laboratory but not the 4-year penalty.

In their decision, the three CAS panelists had heavily criticized RUSADA’s conduct and acknowledged that it had tried to “cover up the coverup.”

The WADA response said in part, that the panel was “(for reasons that are not comprehensively explained in the award) not willing to endorse the full suite of consequences recommended by the Compliance Review Committee, which WADA believes were proportionate and reasonable.

“In other words, based on its own assessment of proportionality, the Panel considered that the legitimate objectives of WADA could be adequately achieved with lesser consequences.”

Tokyo Notebook…

The decision point is rapidly approaching: either the Tokyo Olympics are going to happen, or they aren’t, and organizers and sponsors with billions invested can’t wait until July to make up their minds.

The London Times cited unidentified Japanese government sources saying that the government has already concluded the Olympics would be canceled and the focus was on trying to secure the ’32 Games for the Japanese capital.

That set off a firestorm of denials: the Japanese government saying there was no truth to the story, with the IOC and other stakeholders chiming in.

Said WA head Seb Coe, “I think the most important thing… is that it was immediately knocked down by the Japanese prime minister. It’s probably better for athletes that they’re not swept along from rumor to rumor”

That being said, Tokyo has generated plenty of headlines lately, and not all of it’s good:

A January survey found 80% of the populace want the Games canceled or postponed.

If the Games are canceled, various insurers are facing a $2–3 billion (yes, with a B) loss. Already the event cancelation insurance business has been hit for $5–6 billion in losses worldwide because of C19. Adding the Games on top of that would make the hit to the industry “mind-blowingly” large, according to one director.

Will the Games be held without spectators? After a Japanese professor issued a report saying that would cause the overall economy of the country to take a $23 billion hit, the LOC issued a statement saying, “We are not willing to see the Games without spectators.”

Meanwhile, in the logistics department, the Japanese have suspended special entry conditions for athletes from other countries, and the test meet for the Tokyo stadium, May 09 on the WA Continental Tour Gold calendar, will be open only to Japanese athletes. ◻︎

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