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.

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone could end up on a pair of 4x4s at this summer’s World Championships. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

3-Gold Potential For McLaughlin-Levrone & Mu?

Bobby Kersee’s two biggest current stars, Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and Athing Mu, might have pulled out of their season opener in Los Angeles, but Kersee says they have plenty of races ahead.

McLaughlin-Levrone, he says, will race only the 400 at USATF, then will decide to run either that or the 400H (for which she has a Wild Card) in Budapest. He adds that she would be available to run both the mixed-sex and women’s 4x4s.

Mu, who has a Wild Card in the 800, will race the 1500 at the USATF meet. In Budapest she will defend her 2-lap title and also be available for both relays. Potentially, that could mean that either might win 3 golds, something an American woman has not done at a WC since Allyson Felix in ’07.

Kersee indicated that the schedule both for Worlds and the ’24 Olympics makes a 400/400H double impossible. However, he noted that Mu might consider an 800/1500 combo in Paris.

When Will Kerley & Jacobs Meet?

Reigning Olympic gold medalist Marcel Jacobs and reigning World champion Fred Kerley haven’t met since Tokyo in the summer of ’21. All that was supposed to change with a pair of DL 100s (Rabat, May 28; Florence, June 02).

Said Jacobs in mid-May, “It’s good to create a bit of interest, individual challenges, to get people talking about us. I think it’s important, it helps everyone in athletics a bit and it always inspires us more. It will be a good duel.”

Kerley had poked at the Italian sprinter in April, saying in a podcast, “Real dogs come and play outdoors.” Asked if Jacobs was a “real dog”, he answered, “I don’t think so. I’m just being truthful.”

Jacobs responded by posting a photo of him beating Kerley at the Olympics, saying, “Whenever you want and wherever you want, but remember that when it mattered more it ended like this.”

The tension had been building to their scheduled duel in Rabat, but just days ahead of the race Jacobs withdrew. He cited “a torn lumbosacral nerve block… It’s the result of a misstep and not an injury.”

He added, “I’m in strong physical shape… and ready for a great outdoor season. The challenge is only postponed.” No word as to whether or not the setback would keep him out of Florence as well.

Falling Afoul Of NCAA Minimal-Participants Rule

Portland State steepler Jordan Mcintosh made his unhappiness public when he found out he would not be able to compete in the NCAA Championships. The Canadian senior had placed 2nd at the Stanford Invitational with his PR 8:39.01, a mark that would make him No. 8 on the West qualifying list.

However, Portland State ran afoul of the NCAA rule that requires a team to field at least 14 athletes at a minimum of 8 track meets. While the team appeared at 12 meets this outdoor season, in only 2 do they appear to have had 14 or more compete. At the Big Sky Conference, the team only fielded 5 male participants.

Said Mcintosh on Instagram, “Something completely out of my control, that my coaches are supposed to keep track of and comply with. The NCAA is punishing my coach for not complying, but by doing so they are only punishing me. I could have accepted not qualifying for the NCAA Championships had I not performed well at the Regional. That I can live with.

“However, the end of my college running career has been determined by someone else. I am sad, angry, and all around confused as to why the NCAA, who prides themselves on opportunities for student-athletes, would punish one athlete for the (in)actions of a program.

“I have worked for years to achieve my dreams in this sport and to not have it end on my terms is heartbreaking.”

Portland State issued a statement saying, “PSU Athletics filed for a waiver and an appeal with the NCAA to allow for Macintosh’s participation, but was denied both times.”

VaTech Loses ACC The Hard Way

A Virginia Tech frosh has learned a hard lesson after getting DQed for taunting; that cost the school the ACC men’s team title.

Judson Lincoln, after taking his 400 heat in a PR 45.57, apparently won the 400 final, but after the line, turned to Clemson’s Tarees Rhoden and crossed two lanes to gloat in his opponent’s face.

Officials ruled that misconduct and disqualified Lincoln, giving Rhoden the win with his 45.60 PR. The move cost the Hokies a crucial 10 points. The team finished 5th with 84½ while Clemson took the trophy with its 92-point tally.

Neither team mentioned the event in their post-meet releases.

Paris Olympics To Have New Walk Relay

Although the women had two walk events at the World Championships starting in ’17, they were still restricted to just a 20K in Tokyo in ’21, no 35K.

Paris24 will have a unique solution to the gender-equity situation: both sexes will have a 20K, but no 35K — instead, there will be a unique mixed-sex relay. Like most baton events (or maybe they’ll use an Ekiden-style sash?), there will be 4 legs, but the wrinkle is that the marathon-length race will have only 2 athletes.

The legs of “approximately equal distance” will each be just over 10K, with a man leading off, followed by a woman, then back to the same man, then back to the same woman.

Explaining the decision, WA head Seb Coe said, “The 35km model had not worked as expected and we had to look for another. The mixed event came up, because the IOC asked us to do so, and many people liked it. Many federations have supported the relay. Obviously, we will have to see the results. But it was necessary to find a formula that would be attractive to young people and to raise audiences. Sometimes difficult decisions are made, in pursuit of sustainability and the future of the competition.”

The 25-team relay event, to be held 6 days after the individual 20Ks, will be staged on the same course at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

Kenya Wants Diamond League Status

Athletics Kenya head Jackson Tuwei says his country is looking to move up a step in the meet hosting department.

“We have applied to World Athletics to upgrade the Kip Keino Classic Continental Tour to become a Diamond League meet since there’s only one African country host, Rabat, Morocco,” Tuwei told reporters.

“Our request is being considered, and maybe the next big athletics meeting to be held here in Nairobi will have the Diamond League status.”

Rodchenkov Act’s First Guilty Plea

In December of ’20 The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act became U.S. law. Named after a Russian whistleblower, the legislation criminalized doping in international sport.

The act generated its first guilty plea in May, from El Paso kinesiologist and naturopathic doctor Eric Lira, who pleaded guilty for his role in helping Olympic athletes — most notably Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare — obtain PEDs before the Tokyo Olympics.

The U.S. attorney involved in the case, Damian Williams, called the plea “a watershed moment for international sport.” No details were released on the Lira penalty; violations can carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Okagbare is serving an 11-year ban for taking HGH and EPO and also for failing to cooperate with the investigation.

Amos Looking To Sell His Olympic Medal

Botswana’s star halfmiler Nijel Amos has been handed a 3-year suspension (reduced from 4 after he signed an admission of guilt) for testing positive for GW1516, a metabolic modulator.

The London ’12 runner-up at age 18, he’s now looking to sell his silver medal. “It has been a financially draining process,” he says of “the effort to clear my name and that of my beloved nation Botswana in the past daunting 11 months”.

He added: “At this time, my only investment or pension is the famous 2012 Olympic silver medal. I am in touch with different stakeholders, including financial advisors, on how that can sustain me and my family.

“I met with a team that wants to buy it with a value of 4.5M Botswana pula [c$300,000], but with my documentary coming out on Netflix it could change the value to 7.5M.”

Now 29, he says, “I have no plans to retire. I am still in good shape and I am hopeful that I will rise again in the World Championships in 2025.”

Whereabouts Ban For Ponzio

Shot putter Nick Ponzio is done with the sport, at least for now. Over Instagram he shared video in which he said he was “being forcefully retired… and no longer deemed acceptable to compete at the professional level.” He continued, “It doesn’t help our sport to do this, to take out young talent like this.”

Turns out it was a whereabouts violation that is apparently leading to a coming ban. He claims his iPhone malfunctioned and he decided to get a new one. The process of switching his Apple ID led to problems and the Apple Store he went to told him it would take a month to get his information transferred.

“The biggest problem was I lost my information to log into my ADAMS account.” That’s the Anti-Doping Administration and Management System, the app from WADA that athletes use to register their whereabouts information.

In a long and complicated story involving an expired e-mail address, lost contacts, and a failure to reach out to the Italian anti-doping organization, Ponzio says that he got his second strike while competing at the Italian Indoor. He says a third strike happened less than 2 weeks later at the European Indoor.

He maintains that testers did not try to test him, but that they “backlogged” the strikes by comparing where he was to where he had earlier notified them he was going to be.

The former California prep, now 28, competed collegiately for USC before changing his competitive nationality to Italy prior to the ’21 Olympics.

Peter Bol Not In Clear Yet

Australian 800 recordholder Peter Bol had a provisional suspension lifted in February after apparently being cleared of an EPO charge when his B-sample didn’t confirm the original sample’s finding. However, Sports Integrity Australia has kept its investigation open and has yet to interview Bol.

Coach Justin Rinaldi says the ongoing issue is creating stress for the Olympic 4th-placer, who recently canceled a race in the U.S. because of a minor groin injury: “Pete pushed a bit too hard when he came back after having 6–7 weeks off because he was excited, then he got this little niggle and then the ongoing investigation sort of got him down.

“Actually, for the first time in this whole saga it has started to weigh on him. I think Pete thought they would interview him and that would be to close it off but now they are saying to him, ‘We will do an interview but it doesn‘t mean we will close our investigation.’”

Chopra Is The Social Media King

The art of being popular on social media is crucial to professional athletes enhancing their bottom lines. Currently, this fight for popularity takes place mostly on Instagram. And there’s no active track & field athlete more successful there than India’s Neeraj Chopra, the Olympic javelin gold medalist.

Chopra has clearly leveraged his country’s population of 1.4 billion to net 6.2 million followers, which also may mean he still has a lot of potential for growth.

No. 2 behind Chopra is Germany’s Alica Schmidt, who has never made the Olympics but competed in the heats of the mixed 4×4 in Eugene. She’s at 3.7M, earning followers with the tagline “the world’s sexiest athlete.”

No. 3 and the first American is Sha’Carri Richardson (2.2M). The rest of the top 10, as researched by KhelNow: 4. Eliud Kipchoge (2.2M); 5. Marcel Jacobs (1.1M); 6. Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone (1.1M); 7. tie, Fred Kerley & Yulimar Rojas (1M); 9. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (860K); 10. Trayvon Bromell (822K).

Of course, leading the whole roost from retirement is Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, who still boasts 12M followers.

Brit Federation Has Financial Woes

After a period of heavy losses, UK Athletics has decided to shut its HQ in Birmingham. Staff will instead be asked to work from home it was announced in early May, but CEO Jack Buckner says that Olympic preparations are not at risk:

“It’s hard yards and it’s not pretty but we’ve got a good plan so I’m not feeling too bad about that. It’s a bit like a hard season, you’ve got to work through it.”

He added, “We’re going to be OK. I’m optimistic I’ll be in front of you for a few years yet. But I’m not jumping around. “I’ve had to make some tough calls, let staff go. I’m feeling I’m getting there. I’ve got some good ongoing discussions with partners but I’ve been here before. I wouldn’t say I’ve got a magic bullet.”

The federation has applied for a £300,000 (c$370,000) grant from UK Sport.

Russia Remains In The News…

Russian officials expressed considerable displeasure after the IOC recommended that Russian and Belarusian athletes should only be included in international sport if they stuck to strict conditions of neutrality…

The Russian athletes commission, led by Athens 800 gold medalist Yuriy Borzakovskiy, described the conditions as “excessive.”

The athletes’ statement read in part, “Today we are forced to live and work according to new rules, to undergo humiliating sorting under discriminatory conditions. This is actively promoted by individual states and speakers who openly blackmail the IOC with their radical statements and actions.”…

Dmitriy Peskov, spokesman for president Vladimir Putin, said that the Kremlin is formulating a response of its own…

Apparently, part of that response is to create a counter-event to the Olympics, as the USSR did when it boycotted the LA in ’84. Putin has ordered sports officials to make plans for a “World Friendship Games” following Paris…

Meanwhile, a group calling itself Athletes for Peace & Freedom met in Estonia to issue a wide-ranging declaration suggesting, among other things, that Russian and Belarusian athletes, if cleared to compete, make a donation to Ukraine. However, it urges those athletes not to sign anti-war statements…

On the Russian doping front, WADA tallied up its actions in response to the ongoing Moscow laboratory probe and revealed that it had sanctioned 203 Russians so far in the case, with another 73 athletes charged and 182 cases still under investigation.

“There is still a lot of work ahead of us,” said Günter Younger, the head of WADA’s intelligence and investigations team…

A week earlier, WADA ruled that its latest inspection showed that Russia was still non-compliant. One of the remaining hitches is that World Anti-Doping Code is still not fully integrated into Russian law. ◻︎

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