LAST LAP — September

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.

Ryan Crouser arrived in Budapest riding a health scare. The long, tall Texas alum walked away a repeat gold medalist. (JEFF COHEN)

More Largesse From The USATF Foundation

In the days leading up to the World Championships, the USATF Foundation announced two (very) significant rounds of funding for elite U.S. athletes.

First up was $2.65M in awards from the Foundation’s largest donor, Stephen A. Schwarzman. The money came in two tiers: $30,000 apiece for 65 athletes and $20,000 apiece for another 35.

“It is an honor to support these athletes as they prepare to compete on the world stage. Their determination, grit and talent inspires me and so many across the country,” said Schwarzman.

The second round of support, $10,000 apiece, went to another 50 athletes. “These athletes rank among the best in the world. They are stellar representatives of team USA both on and off the track or the field. The sacrifice and dedication to their athletic passion is an inspiration to us all. We are excited to see and support their achievements in the months and years to come,” said Foundation board member John Marsh.

Foundation grants are awarded through a competitive selection process. All elite athletes are encouraged to submit their application annually during the application period in May or June.

Crouser Came To Town With Big Question Mark

The day before the WC cranked up, which was also the day before the men’s shot was staged, favorite Ryan Crouser threw the formchart into a state of flux when he Instagrammed, “The last 20 days have been some of the most frustrating and stressful of my life. Preparation for World Champs was excellent, until I woke up with pain in my calf that presented as a strain after a throwing session.

“Battled the pain for 10 days of training as best I could. With the lack of response to treatment my PT decided it best to a Doppler scan the day before departing for Budapest. Scan showed two blood clots in the lower leg. Everything kicked into emergency mode at that point. Biggest questions being ‘What’s the safest treatment?’ And ‘Is WC even a possibility?’

“The medical team has been great; they explained the risks and did everything to mitigate them and left the decision to go to WC to me and my family. I made it to Budapest and will be competing tomorrow, despite unfortunate travel timeline, imperfect preparation, and two blood clots in my leg. I’ll be out there competing giving it everything I have.”

What he had was more than anyone else has ever had as he unleashed history’s No. 2 mark, just 2 inches off his WR. As he said in the meet’s news story, “After all that it was the best performance of my life, given the health issues, the stress and all of it. It wasn’t quite a World Record but to me it was.”

Lyles Goes To War With Pro Basketball

After winning his world 200 title, Noah Lyles lamented, “I have to watch the NBA Finals and they have ‘world champion’ on their heads,” he said. “World champion of what? The United States? Don’t get me wrong. I love the U.S. At times. But that ain’t the world.

“We [track] are the world. We have almost every country out here fighting and thriving and putting on a flag to show that they are represented. There ain’t no flags in the NBA.”

Some name NBA players quickly responded. Kevin Durant: “Somebody help this brother.” Draymond Green; “When being smart goes wrong.” And Juan Toscano-Andersen said, “Last time I checked, the NBA was the best competition in the WORLD.”

Lyles enjoyed what happened next: Germany, with only 4 NBA players, upset the American team (12 NBAers, admittedly not the top-enders) in the semis at basketball’s World Cup. Said noted ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith, “It gives credence to Noah Lyles… international competition is different and the USA gets exposed.”

Mboma Says She’s As Fast As Ever

In the summer of ’21, Christine Mboma appeared to be on the fast track to the top of the women’s long-sprint world. The 18-year-old Namibian had claimed Olympic 200 silver and had scored PRs of 21.78(A) and 49.22(A).

Her ’22 campaign was marred by injury, but she was ready for big things this year… until she got caught up in WA’s DSD rules, which will force her to reduce her abnormally high testosterone levels if she wants to continue competing.

On the eve of the WC she told The Guardian, “I can say I have been taking the medication and it’s had no impact. I know I can run as fast as before even with it. The way I’m training, I’m OK. I feel confident.”

Said coach Henk Botha, “She has to take one estrogen pill each day. The biggest challenge is we are not sure the medication will keep her testosterone at a certain level because there is no historic scientific data we can use anywhere for this.

“We don’t want her testosterone levels to drop to zero because all women have testosterone. But we don’t want her too close to the limit because it might be that she runs a race, is tested and it’s too high. So the biggest challenge is to find a golden line of the best level of estrogen she can take to keep her at a specific level.”

The coach also feels the medication isn’t slowing his pupil down, saying, “It’s crazy – it has had no negative effect. Body-wise, she’s still strong and had a great speed session the day before yesterday. I was actually a bit surprised to see that speed this early in our proper training.”

No Title Defense For Michael Norman

A few days before the World Champs cranked up came news that reigning men’s 400 gold medalist Michael Norman wouldn’t be participating.

“Unfortunately I will not be defending my title at the 2023 World Champs,” the 25-year-old Southern Californian posted on Instagram. “After an extremely frustrating season I’ve decided to step away from track for the remainder of the 2023 season in order to refocus for the 2024 Paris Olympics.”

His “frustrating season” had been minimalist, to say the least, consisting of a pair of 100s (10.02w, 10.31) and a single 200 (20.65). The 10.31 earned him a non-advancing 8th in the USATF heats.

Kenyan Doping Poverty-Driven?

Brett Clothier, the head of the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), was interviewed by the AP in August and the topic of high rates of positive doping tests in Kenya was addressed. Clothier said that in the East African powerhouse there’s “a temptation to dope that’s like no other part of our sport, not even close.”

Said the AP story, “The vast majority of the hundreds of distance runners pouring out of Kenya’s high-altitude training grounds are not running for gold medals at the world championships and the Olympics or for national pride. They are competing for paychecks first, running to get away from poverty.”

Explained Clothier, “This money that we’re talking about is life-changing. Not just for them, but for their families, their whole communities. In essence, it really is all about the money.” He added that Kenyan athletes, because of their economic need, “take risks that no one, no other athletes who are controlled by us, would normally take.”

The short-term outlook for change isn’t promising, he said: “We’re certainly expecting more positive tests. I’ll tell you that straight away. But that’s the system working.”

Teen Sprint Sensation Turns In Positive Test

Issam Asinga’s rush to the top of the all-time HS dash lists came to a crashing halt in August when he tested positive for the banned substance GW1516, which isn’t even approved for human use. A week later his B-sample confirmed the presence of GW1516 and he was provisionally suspended and ruled out of the WC.

The same substance is what earned Botswanan 800 star Nijel Amos a 3-year ban.

Asinga’s father Tommy told a news source in Suriname, “We believe it may have been cross-contamination from his legal sports drinks or vitamins.” Dad also suggested the case may end up being heard by CAS.

Amusan Cleared In Whereabouts Case, But…

In July (see “Last Lap,” August) it appeared that Tobi Amusan might not get a chance to defend her world title. The Nigerian hurdle star was accused of having missed 3 doping tests, which is a bannable offense.

On the eve of the WC the AIU announced that its Disciplinary Tribunal “by majority decision” had cleared her and she was good to go. Amusan posted, “I am thrilled to put this behind me, and I look forward to defending my title. I generally have been and consistently will be an ally for clean sport.”

AIU head Brett Clothier, however, said that the AIU was disappointed by the decision and intends to review the reasoning in detail before deciding whether to appeal to CAS. Meanwhile, Amusan finished 6th in Budapest.

No Isinbaeva In WA’s Top 40?

As part of its 40th-anniversary WC celebrations, WA highlighted “40 women who have had a great impact on our sport — on the field of play and beyond.”

Said WA, “Although this list is by no means exhaustive, it serves to highlight some of the trailblazers in a sport that has developed dramatically during the past 40 years, since the World Championships began.”

No Russians were included, and that didn’t go unnoticed by history’s greatest woman vaulter, Yelena Isinbaeva (American standout Stacy Dragila did make the cut).

“I remind the reelected President of World Athletics of the influence that Yelena Isinbaeva has had on the development of athletics in the world over the past 20 years,” Isinbaeva wrote on Instagram.

“The fact that the international leadership of athletics today is so zealously trying to keep silent about the history created long before the beginning of their rule, only proves the greatness, significance and eternity of my achievements.”

Moon Reacts To Criticism Of Vault Tie

Not everyone thought the Katie Moon/Nina Kennedy sharing of the women’s vault gold was a good thing. Reacting to the boo-birds a couple of days later, Moon posted, “To say that I’ve seen mixed reviews about our decision to share the win would be an understatement.

“While part of me doesn’t want to entertain the negative comments, I would like to help enlighten those that are calling us ‘cowards,’ ‘shameful,’ ‘pathetic,’ etc. I know you can’t make everyone happy in this world, but in an effort to help people understand the sport that I love so much, I would like to explain my mentality in that moment.

“The pole vault is not an endurance event. We have a short window of jumps. Once the fatigue sets in, it not only becomes more difficult, but dangerous. The sport has seen everything from athletes just landing funny with minor tweaks, to horrific accidents. We had jumped an entire competition, vaulting for almost 4 hours in 85-degree heat. The competition ended, and we were exhausted. A World championship is incredibly emotionally draining — even more so than a regular competition. My step (the point where I jump off the ground into the takeoff) to vault safely has to be in almost the exact same spot every time, give or take a few inches. My last few jumps, that takeoff step was moving further and further out, giving us real data showing my fatigue even with adrenaline.

“To walk away healthy and with a gold medal, while celebrating with my friend that had jumped just as well, was a no-brainer.” ◻︎

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