LAST LAP — November

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.

Natalya Antyukh edged Lashinda Demus by 0.07 in the ’12 Olympics, but it looks as if the American is getting the last laugh. (MARK SHEARMAN)

Demus To Finally Get Gold?

With the news that Natalya Antyukh will be stripped of her ’12 gold medal in the 400H based on information found in the database of the Moscow drug-testing laboratory, American Lashinda Demus may get a promotion from silver to gold should the Russian’s inevitable appeal be denied.

Demus told NBC Sports, “I have mixed emotions about it all. I do believe that if, in fact, there was doping involved with anyone in the Olympics that they should be stripped of their medal. With everything being said it looks like this is the case for my race.

“I’m not afraid to say that I then deserve the official title, medal, recognition, and missed compensation that goes along with it all. I wouldn’t want any athlete to go through this same situation and I hope that keeping athletes honest in our sport stays at the forefront for those who sacrifice a good part of their life to be great at it.”

Demus, the ’11 world champion, retired after placing 4th at the ’15 USATF Championship and missing the WC team.

Note that Russia originally won 7 track & field gold medals at the ’12 Olympics. That number is now down to 1, Anna Chicherova’s high jump win. Not that Chicherova has a spotless résumé — she had her ’08 bronze taken away for doping.

How Fast For Syd Without Hurdles?

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone will be branching out next year. “I don’t think we’re going to give up the 400 hurdles just yet, but we definitely want to expand to the 400 flat and just see what’s possible there,” she told NBC Sports.

After breaking the World Record in the long hurdles 4 times in the last 2 years, culminating in her stunning 50.68 at the World Champs, speculation grew that the 23-year-old phenomenon would seek new worlds to conquer.

McLaughlin-Levrone says she is intrigued by the flat WR of 47.60 that has stood for 37 years. “That World Record has stood for so long, and no one’s come even close to it,” she said. “So we definitely want to be able to try that and see what we can do there as well.”

With a Wild Card to the Worlds next summer, she may choose to focus on the no-barriers race at USATF.

Simpson Embarking On A Road Career

The Jenny Simpson wire has been quiet for most of this year, but now the former world 1500 champion has revealed that she has a new sponsor in Puma and a new mission on the roads.

Now 36, Simpson broke the news before winning the Army 10M in Washington, DC, in 54:18. It marked a full year since her last previous race, her distance road debut at the Cherry Blossom 10M last year, when she placed 2nd in 52:16.

Not that’s she’s been idle in that time. In addition to being forced out of her house by wildfires last December, she participated in Harvard’s “Crossover Into Business” program and tried her hand at TV commentating.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson told NBC Sports. “I have some great Puma spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.

“This new chapter is an exploration. I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come.”

Asked about the marathon, she said, “I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Kipchoge Seeking First 3-Peat

With his wins at Rio ’16 and Tokyo ’21, Eliud Kipchoge is one of three men who have captured the Olympic marathon gold twice. Now he says he has set his sights on Paris ’24, and if he’s successful he would be the first 3-time winner ever.

“I have no plans for any race now but the 2024 Paris Olympics is at the back of my mind,” he said in a recent interview celebrating his World Record 2:01:09 in Berlin.

The Paris course, however, looks to be a bit more challenging than the record-friendly flat courses he has been running on of late. To break out of his Olympic gold tie with Abebe Bikila (’60 & ’64) and Waldemar Cierpinski (’76 & ’80) might take one of the best runs of his life.

Geb Is All For Super-Shoe Technology

Unlike some who have criticized the new shoe technology and its effect on the recordbooks, Ethiopian great Haile Gebrselassie counts himself as a big fan.

This is just their chance,” he told Indian TV. “This is the situation, the technology. Do you think a car in the 1990s and 2000s or even 2020 will be the same? They are completely different in terms of speed, model and comfort, everything. But my question is what will happen next. Of course, the time will be much, much better. One day we can fly, who knows.”

The 2-time Olympic champion is equally amazed by Eliud Kipchoge and his latest marathon record. “He is very disciplined, and everything is perfect. I don’t want to compare the situation now with what was there 10 years or 5 years ago. You can say that this athlete was better than the other one on just performance.

“You see now as you know technology has become everything for everybody. The shoe, food, the system of training and the way you eat, everything is completely different than my time. It’s amazing if you look at what happened… I am very sure that sub-2 hours is possible.”

A New WADA Test For HGH?

WADA says that its ’23 version of the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) will finally include testing for human growth hormone.

According to Dr. Reid Aikin, deputy director of the ABP program, the passport presently includes two components, one to detect blood doping, whether it be through transfusion or EPO, and another to detect various steroids.

“We are also launching in 2023, the endocrine module that will target growth hormone doping,” said Aikin. “EPO and doping are not going to go away. This is something that is very much in use. But if you look at populations that have the passport implemented for a long period of time, the users do go down.”

Aikin admitted the shortcomings of the ABP in detecting micro-dosing, but noted that the passport may lower the doses that athletes take. “We hope that as athletes reduce doses, it’s reducing the effect… So as athletes go to lower doses or micro-doses or reduced timing of the use, that’s a win for anti-doping.”

He added that anti-doping organizations can now test 24 hours a day, so if there is an indication of an athlete taking advantage of typical testing windows, it “now is possible, of course with a justification, to test the athlete during the night, for example.”

Big WMM Paydays No Longer So Big

The World Marathon Majors started out as a bold plan to market distance running on a level with major pro sports like tennis and golf. Originally, the plan called for a million-dollar first prize. Lack of sponsors turned that into $500,000.

In ’17 that became $250,000. Now it’s a mere $50,000. As running commentator Toni Reavis writes, “The Abbott World Marathon Majors just gave up, right?… they’ve essentially admitted it’s over.”

The late-September announcement of the latest prize money structure reveals a much bleaker financial future for the world’s top marathoners.

The Abbott WMM release celebrates “equal prize money across the elite and elite wheelchair competitions” and mentions the prize money fund being extended to include all of the top 5 finishers.

Reavis quotes one unnamed manager as saying, “This is a real slap in the face. Why go in this direction? If you reduce the prize to $50,000, it’s no incentive at all.”

To Reavis, the problem is elemental: “It’s as simple as simple can be: running isn’t about elite competition anymore. Think about it. Who pays the bills? The people who run 4- and 5-hour marathons who spend hundreds of dollars to enter. So if you cut the elite series prize from $250,000 to $50,000, where is the consequence? The people in the back of the race have no idea who the frontrunners are, or care.”

Paris Looking To Boost Safety

Not a resounding endorsement: according to a recent survey, 58% of the French do not trust their government to ensure safety at the ’24 Olympics or the ’23 Rugby World Cup.

The survey of 10,000 revealed that 67% thought that lack of theft prevention would be an issue, while 62% feared problems with unruly fans. Perhaps most worrisome for organizers is that 72% said they would skip attending if they have doubts about safety.

The grim numbers are perhaps a reflection of the widely criticized actions of the police in dealing with issues that broke out in May at the Olympic Stadium.

An independent panel found that soccer fans were trapped in a bottleneck for hours and “subjected to unprovoked teargassing by the paramilitary police. On leaving the stadium they were attacked at knife-point by gangs who stole their possessions.”

The report cited “aggressive policing – before, during and after the match” as well as “inadequate provision for crowd safety and event management.”

Olympic organizers have taken note. With 600,000 visitors expected for the Paris Olympics opening ceremonies, they have announced that there will be an average of 30,000 police and gendarmes on duty each day.

Cannabis Stays On WADA Banned List

After the Sha’Carri Richardson 1-month ban for cannabis last year, WADA agreed to review its prohibition of the drug after requests from some of its shareholders.

That review has happened, and in October the executive committee decided to keep it on the banned list, saying the drug “violates the spirit of the sport.”

Director General Olivier Niggli said, “WADA is aware of the diversity of opinions and perceptions related to this substance around the world, and even within certain countries.
“WADA plans to continue research in this area in relation with potential performance enhancing effects, its impact on the health of athletes and also in relation to perceptions of cannabis from athletes, experts and others around the world.”

Last year the penalty for an out-of-competition cannabis test was reduced from 2 years to 1-3 months.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle with taking cannabis off the banned list is that in many WADA signatory nations, possession still carries a major prison term. ◻︎

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