LAST LAP — October

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.

In her final big marathon, Shalane Flanagan took 3rd at NYC in ’18; now she has a different challenge. (MIKE SCOTT)

Plenty Of Wild Cards For The U.S.

Nations are allowed a maximum of 3 entries per event in the World Championships. A fourth “Wild Card” entry is allowed for defending champions and the reigning Diamond League winner, although if a nation has both, it needs to choose which of the two it will use. The U.S. has a policy of choosing the defending champ.

This year’s Zürich DL Final had 8 U.S. winners but only 4 of them will be able to get a Wild Card, since a different American won at Doha in ’19. Add in Kendell Williams as the heptathlon winner of WA’s multi-event challenge this year and the U.S. will be eligible to field quartets in 15 events (8 men, 7 women) in Eugene next summer.

The U.S. Wild Cards (world champs unless noted otherwise):

Men: 100 — Christian Coleman (Fred Kerley DL backup); 200 — Noah Lyles (Kenny Bednarek DL backup); 400 — Michael Cherry DL; 800 — Donavan Brazier; 110H — Grant Holloway (Devon Allen DL backup); PV — Sam Kendricks; TJ — Christian Taylor; SP — Joe Kovacs (Ryan Crouser DL backup).

Women: Quanera Hayes DL; 100H — Nia Ali; 400H —Dalilah Muhammad; SP — Maggie Ewen DL; DT — Valarie Allman DL; HT — DeAnna Price; Hept — Kendell Williams WAC.

(Coleman’s whereabouts ban expires on November 13, 2021, leaving him fully eligible to claim his Wild Card.)

6 WMM Marathons In 42 Days?

Shalane Flanagan may be retired from racing, but she’s still up for trying to hit all 6 of the Abbott World Marathon Majors this fall (Berlin, London, Chicago, Boston & NYC) — plus a virtual rendition of the postponed Tokyo race — under 3:00 each within a 42-day span. “I felt the need to set some goals again,” she said after all the proverbial dust had settled from the rearranged calendar.

The AR holder explained, “6 World Major marathons, taking place over 7 weeks. A total running eclipse that will never happen again in my lifetime. Coming off of a year and a half where so much was taken away from the world, I thought,, ‘Could this be a chance for you and me to take some of it back?’ This goal is hard. But I need it to be. It’s what makes me feel most alive.”

Cole Hocker Turns Pro Early

It wasn’t a question of would he, but rather one of when, as Oregon star Cole Hocker announced in September that he had signed a pro contract with Nike. The Duck had a dazzling yearling campaign, winning two races at the NCAA Indoor, then taking NCAA and OT titles in the 1500. He placed 6th in Tokyo with his PR 3:31.40 before calling it a season.

He said on Instagram, “Being able to run as my job is what I’ve been working towards since my earliest days on the track. Oregon played a huge role in that journey by providing the best coaches, facilities, and community possible. Couldn’t be looking forward more to stepping onto the track as a @nike athlete.”

Hocker will be working with veteran agent Ray Flynn and at this point is figured to keep training under Oregon assistant Ben Thomas.

Gatlin Hasn’t Committed To Retirement Yet

In early September the Bellinzona CT announced that Justin Gatlin, will turn 40 next February, would be making his farewell race in the Swiss meet’s 100. But a few days later he announced he would continue on at the Keino Classic.

At the Kenyan meet he finished 3rd behind Trayvon Bromell and Ferdinand Omurwa and said, “I came from an injury with the hope of getting a win here.” When asked if he was planning on retiring, he hedged his bets, saying, “Let’s wait and see what’s in store for the new season.”

Even though he was troubled by hamstring issues at the OT and finished 8th he has remained a factor in almost every race he enters. Twice this year he ran legal 9.98s. Now he boasts 64 sub-10s, a string dating back to his first in ’03.

Budapest ’23 Hosting In Doubt?

Push has come to shove in Hungarian politics, as the Budapest General Assembly has followed the urging of the city’s mayor to withdraw its approval for hosting the ’23 World Championships.

The move came after President Viktor Orbán’s national government broke part of the its agreement with the city about hosting the meet, namely the part where affordable housing was to be built for 8000 college students.

Instead, Orbán is pushing a deal to give the land to China’s Fudan University to build a highly controversial branch of the school there.

The city’s move does not necessarily deep-six the meet. The Hungarian government says the meet will go ahead. The opposition promises that the Fudan controversy will be a major issue in the ’22 elections. Meanwhile, the construction of the new $590 million stadium continues on the banks of the Danube.

Said a WA rep, “We understand there are elections taking place in Hungary next year and, as is usual, political parties are setting their agendas. We hope that the World Athletics Championships Budapest 2023 will not become a political football.”

CAS Releases Full Houlihan Decision

In September CAS released its full decision on the Shelby Houlihan case, a 44-page document that bluntly rejects her contaminated-burrito defense: “The explanation presupposes a cascade of factual and scientific improbabilities, which means that its composite probability is (very) close to zero.”

As a result, since Houlihan and her lawyers failed to establish the origin of the testosterone in her system, she was not eligible for a plea of no-fault or negligence.

Rather, the report maintains that the analytical results of Houlihan’s samples were “entirely consistent with the use of oral nandrolone (prohormones) that are known to exist on the market.”

The ruling means that Houlihan’s 4-year suspension won’t be lifted until January 14, 2025, when she’ll be 32.

Said the 1500/5000 American Recordholder on Instagram, “There are great days, terrible days, and a lot of days in between. I’m still continuing to fight to prove my innocence. We are at our next step, which is to start the appeal process with the Swiss Federal Tribunal.”

Mary Keitany Hangs ’Em Up

Kenyan marathon legend Mary Keitany has announced her retirement at age 39. The holder of the fastest-ever women-only 26-miler at 2:17:01 has been troubled by back problems since the beginning of the pandemic and hasn’t raced since a 3rd in the ’19 NYC Marathon.

“I’m sad to say, a back injury that I suffered in late ’19 made a decision about my retirement for me,” she said.

“I couldn’t get the treatment I wanted in Europe because of the pandemic-related travel restrictions last year and every time I thought I had got over the injury and started training hard, it became a problem again. So now is the time to say goodbye — if only as an elite runner — to the sport I love so much.”

Keitany won London 3 times and NYC 4, in addition to winning the ’09 World Half-Marathon gold. In her only Olympic appearance she placed 4th in ’12. She broke the 2:20 barrier 3 times, all of them at London.

U.S. Visa Problems For Russians?

Conspicuously absent from the star-studded post-Tokyo lineup at the Pre Classic were Russian jump standouts Mariya Lasitskene and Anzhelika Sidorova. Neither could get a visa, and Lasitskene is concerned that there might be similar problems for next year’s World Championships in Eugene.

“There is worry for sure,” the Olympic HJ gold medalist told TASS. “But we want to start training for this event long before and particularly address the visa issues. I intend to draw RusAF attention as well as the Sports Ministry and the Foreign Ministry to this because it is not just a commercial tournament that will be held in Eugene. I definitely don’t want to miss a World Championship and we hope for real help and not just media statements.”

WA Doubles Down On Labeling Business

Changes are in the works for the way World Athletics packages its top cross country, multi-event and walking events. Gone are the Challenges and Permit Meetings of the past. Instead, the calendar in these disciplines will start to resemble what the federation has done with the Continental Tour, assigning categories of gold, silver and bronze to existing fixtures.

More than $400,000 in prize money will be available in these three areas, a figure that includes a prize of $75,000 for the best individual cross country runners. The harrier circuit begins at the end of September and will include stops on 5 continents including North America.

Said WA head Seb Coe, “One of our primary goals at World Athletics is to improve the competitive and earning opportunities for elite athletes around the world and these new tour formats are designed to do just that.”

WA is also launching a 7-race Elite Platinum Label set of marathons, which will run between September and December. Chronologically: Berlin, London, Chicago, Boston, Amsterdam, New York & Valencia.

Sparking Up Still A Bad Idea

Using weed is not suddenly going to become legal for athletes next season, but WADA has committed to a scientific review of cannabis’s banned status. The move comes as a result of the outcry over Sha’Carri Richardson’s positive-test DQ after winning the Olympic Trials 100.

Last month WA’s Seb Coe opined that the status of cannabis in sport should be reviewed. “It is sensible, as nothing is set in tablets of stone,” he said.

For the ‘22 season, WADA says that there will only be limited modifications to the prohibited list, a stance that would not include a quick change in cannabis rules.

CAS Rules Against Alberto Salazar

We’re unlikely to be seeing Alberto Salazar at a track meet anytime soon. In mid-September the embattled former Nike coach lost his bid to overturn his 4-year suspension in a ruling on his appeal to the CAS.

In a statement, Salazar said, “While I am disappointed that CAS did not reduce my sanction, I am pleased that the decision rejected USADA’s efforts to impose a lifetime ban and assert numerous other violations of the WADA code.

“The decision reaffirmed that no Nike Oregon Project athlete was ever doped, that no competition was impacted by these technical violations, and that I generally took great care to ensure that any new techniques, methods and substances were lawful under the WADA code.”

Travis Tygart, head of USADA, put a different spin on it: “Hopefully, this sends a powerful message that when athletes come to us with information of doping violations or other misconduct, they know we will listen to them and protect them by pursuing the evidence, no matter the power, influence, or financial resources of those in violation — even those, like here, who orchestrate coverups and attempt to obstruct the truth.

“While this CAS case dealt only with technical anti-doping rule violations, the whistleblowers who came forward prompted an ensuing investigation that resulted in a cascading effect, exposing a toxic and unhealthy culture at the Nike Oregon Project, and unacceptable behaviors and practices against athletes that were carried out by people at the top of the program sworn to protect them.” ◻︎

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