TRACK SHORTS — May/June

“I’m now what I would call a park exerciser,” says sprint ace Noah Lyles as he describes his training. (JIRO MOCHIZUKI/IMAGE OF SPORT)

ANOTHER SAMPLING of what major players are up to in this year of the pandemic:

Asthma sufferer Noah Lyles has been careful about social-distancing guidelines, but has been able to keep training. “I’m now what I would call a park exerciser,” he says. “We have been training in a park and we have been like split up majorly. So we actually have a decent sized group, we’re about 24 people and we’re kind of broken up into groups of 6 or less. And we come at different times and we aren’t able to do nearly as much. I don’t even remember what the track smells like.”

Now based in Fayetteville, Ryan Crouser has used his quarantine time to build his own shot circle. “I’ve always liked building and I enjoy that feeling of completing a task, stepping back and being proud of what I’ve built,” explains the reigning Olympic champ. “I enjoy the process of building and problem-solving—I like working with my hands.”

Olympian Robby Andrews, for one, is glad of the postponement as he recovers from a series of injuries. “I would have had to rush my training in preparation for the Trials,” he admits. “I’m grateful to have the extra time to prepare. All those muscular imbalances, all the nagging aches—I have time to work those out. After the injuries and sickness, I have to stay positive. It may be a bit selfish. I haven’t been overtrained, and I think I still have a lot left to give.”

Michelle Carter is making the most of things. “Right now, I’m just at home doing at-home workouts,” says the reigning Olympic shot champ. “I go for walks and I go for runs and just kind of enjoying myself in a different way and moving my body differently than I normally do. I’m actually feeling pretty good with it. My goal is still the same: it’s to make the team and to win. It’s just now I have more time to prepare. So I kind of look at using this time to rewind and go back and start working on some small things.”

Hiking in nature is the unexpected add to training for Sandra Perković. Croatia’s 2-time Olympic discus gold medalist says, “I don’t have a 70-meter throwing field but I have been doing some gym and some cardio to keep in shape and I’m good now. For 10 years I have trained as a professional so half-a-year off could help me in my career.”

The finances of missing a year of competition will be hard for many athletes says putter Chase Ealey. “A lot of people don’t realize what goes into it,” she says. “I have to think about that, supporting myself through now an entire year and a half until the next one. I need to do something. People don’t realize, this is my job. I’m an athlete. It’s not like I have another job. People don’t understand how difficult that is.”

Doha discus runner-up Fedrick Dacres says getting back into the swing of things for a late-’20 season will be tough: “It’s really hard to actually put yourself back in the state of mind to get going again because a lot of people, (myself included) wrote off this season. Because I was saying based on everything that’s going on, I don’t think that it would be wise for us to even travel much less compete and the stadiums won’t be packed.” He, too, is concerned about the financial aspect: “I think the most difficult part is the not knowing. A lot of us make money from competing and we are not competing, we are not earning. Not knowing what is going to happen… that is the main stress. That is where the psychological strain actually comes in.”

Steepler Andy Bayer is another finding new ways to cope with the shutdown season: “It’s been weird in a way but knowing track season is pushed back pretty far makes it easier. Being in the weightroom would be nice, but I’ve found ways to do things at home to get by. In terms of track stuff, you can switch those out for road workouts or hill workouts. This time of year, you wouldn’t normally be doing longer tempo runs, but I think of this more as a base phase again. It’s hard to plan training, but at the same time, I feel base-phase is good right now because I find it hard at this point to put in, day in and day out, the really hard track sessions that get you ready for the peak of the season and require mental energy. It’s not sustainable to hold that for an unknown amount of time.”

British sprinter Adam Gemili is spending his lockdown time in Florida. He says, “Most days I’m looking for a beach or a field where I can run as my places of work—the track and the gym—are closed. And, yes, it may be 30C [86F] here every day but we’re still in lockdown—even if it is not as severe as the UK yet. We can go out in pairs and train but anywhere we find, we go back the next day and it has been cordoned off! I haven’t seen the rest of my training group for so long I’ve started to forget what they look like.”

“Quarantined in El Paso,” could be a country song title, but it’s actually the situation for Emmanuel Korir. The 1:42.05 performer is finishing up his degree at UTEP but says the closures of parks have left him completely unable to train. “We are not allowed to do any kind of training. Luckily, back home in Kenya, I could run in the forest alone or conduct some training on my own unlike here. Life is at its worst but I have to try my best to survive. I do my studies by attending online classes that keep me busy, killing off the boredom.”

Ajee’ Wilson is training alone during Philadelphia’s quarantine: “We’ve kind of gone back to a fall-based training schedule of mostly runs. We’re just getting some distance training—fit, maintaining, not as focused on being sharp because at this point, there is no need for the upcoming future. But for the most part, I’m just logging miles.”

Raevyn Rogers has backed off on training a bit. “It’s been ranging from every other day to maybe every two days or so. I try to get running in but I try to make sure that I’m still maintaining my strength in other areas, not just running-wise. So I just try to work on little things. I do abs. I try to stretch, and I need to do that a little more.”

Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse has backed off on his training too: “It doesn’t really consist of much because of the quarantine, basically just doing a lot of core, pushups, situps, pullups, those type of things. Of course, I can go for a little jog around my block, so I usually try to jog to the mailbox, jog back, stuff like that. It’s pretty tough, but I try to stay somewhat in shape. I think everyone is in the same position, so you try to do what you can.”

“I’ve been very fortunate that people gave us hints here that the weight room at SIU was being shut down so we hurried up and bought some equipment, put it in our garage,” says world hammer champ DeAnna Price. “Definitely an adjustment period. It’s us balancing everything and making sure we are doing it correctly. It’s definitely frustrating when we are in limbo trying to figure out if we were still having the Olympics or not and putting ourselves at risk trying to go out and practice, and luckily, we were able to reel it back in, still practicing, finding open fields, doing just some turns, just to stay in shape.”

Hurdler Brianna McNeal still has access to her local track in LA: “We are still able to train on the track. That hasn’t been taken away but I have not been able to get any treatment like massage to take care of my body for a while. That is no longer available. The track is still available but one day this week, we were nearly kicked off it and I think my coach is trying to figure out what we would do if we had to leave it.”

Hellen Obiri is still training, but much has changed. “I have to train alone and it is difficult,” says Kenya’s 2-time world 5K champ. “It requires a lot of discipline and focus because distractions are many. These are difficult times, which call for special measures. As athletes and role models we must sensitize the need to keep safe and follow government directives. We must be very careful, that is why I can only afford to train once a day.”

“The good thing about being a runner is that you don’t need anything special,” says quartermiler Courtney Okolo. “We are allowed to go outside so I can always find somewhere to run, it’s not a big inconvenience for me. If I was a triple jumper or thrower, I would need to find sand and a weightroom because that is super-important to their training. But for us runners, it is easier.”

Kiwi shot putter Tom Walsh sees a bright side: “That’s given us time to address some niggles I’ve had for a long time. The goal over the last 6 weeks has been to sort those wee issues out and it’s worked out not too bad. I’ve gone away from real heavy lifting stuff, but I’m still pretty good. Now I’m getting a bit older that stuff doesn’t take much to come back with old-man strength.”

“This year is probably going to be a ‘white year’, a training year,” says hepathlete Nafi Thiam. “For the body, that’s good. Every year it has been European Championships, World Championships, Olympic Games… Every year you have 10 months to prepare for a big championship. The fact that now I don’t have to be thinking, ‘I have to be ready at that exact moment’ is a bit weird for motivation, but pressure-wise it may be a good thing, and I am going to have a long, long time to prepare for the biggest event.”

Emily Sisson, who dropped out of the Trials Marathon, says that the Olympic postponement will help her get ready for the 10,000: “I am glad I have more time to get ready for the 10K on the track. Coming off a marathon, it’s kind of tricky sometimes getting your legs turning over fast again. But after a poor performance, it’s nice to get back going and racing again so that’s a little hard I can’t do that right now.”

Jamaican 400 star Akeem Bloomfield says he’s ready to go: “I have been working on some things in training and if I am allowed to compete this year, then I would be able to know where my body is at and what I need to correct. I have been training as if there is going to be a season, so I would not want all this preparation that I have been putting in go to waste, because I am training every day.”

The postponement works for her because of a knee injury says world shot champ Lijao Gong. “It’s one more year, I can still afford it. All I have to do is work hard to adjust and try to keep the best state until next year. Now the focus is on recuperating from a knee injury and maintaining fitness. We have changed the training plan now. Originally this period was very important, but now we’re basically maintaining my fitness and incorporating some basic physical exercises every day.”

Dalilah Muhammad told CNN that without an Olympics this year, she decided to fast to observe Ramadan. “I’m never able to do the full 30 days or the full month and this time I kind of made a promise myself to really do it. I can do it now that my training isn’t as intense. There’s no major championships to get ready for.”

Russian long jumper Darya Klishina is saying no to the ‘20 season: “Now it’s a disastrous time in training, I don’t want to force things and get too quickly to shape. Therefore, we are training now in a not full mode. I just want to start my preparations for the winter season earlier than usual—in August, although I usually start in October in order to perform in the winter. The last few years I missed the winter season, but due to the fact that I will not compete outdoors I would need a good competitive experience before the Olympic Games next year and will jump indoors.”

Javelin Olympian Maggie Malone is training in Alabama with All-American boyfriend Sam Hardin under the coaching of Tom Pukstys. “We came here when everything started shutting down and we didn’t have access to any training facilities in Birmingham. So we turned the garage into a gym and have been throwing in the field next to his house out in the country – it honestly reminds me of when I was in high school training, we just have to make do with what we have. And it’s been so fun and you truly realize that you don’t need all these tools and weight equipment to accomplish what you need to. We always joke that at 5 p.m. the ‘Hardin Healthclub’ opens up.”

Optimistic 800 WR holder David Rudisha said he was going to make a splash this season: “The crisis has put me in an awkward situation. I am fit for now but I don’t know when I will run my next race. It is sad that I have been training hard and I was almost hitting my top form just a few months before the Olympic Games.” Bad news quickly followed, as on May 19 he twisted his left ankle while walking on uneven ground. Turned out to be a fracture and he had surgery the next week.

Pole vaulting at a drive-in movie theater? Why not—it’s 2020. The Autokino theater in Düsseldorf will be hosting a world-class vault event on June 12. Spectators will be able to watch the action directly from their cars if they have a good sightline, or they can look up at the big screen, where the video feed will be live. The event begins, of course, after sunset…

Caster Semenya will be a sprinter this season: “That’s decided; we’ll stick to 200m no matter what. We don’t care about any other decision-making. We will do what we can control now, which is the 200m.”

In the world of unintended consequences, a number of athletes who have been busted for doping and had bans extending through the original ‘20 Olympics dates are now eligible to compete in the postponed ‘21 Olympics. That includes Turkey’s Gamze Bulut, who lost her 1500 silver medal in ’12. With her ban over at the end of May, she now has plenty of time to prepare for Tokyo: “I’m trying my best,” she says. The AIU figures that about 40 other convicted dopers are in similar circumstances.

Jonathan Wells, the Illini high jumper who placed 3rd at USATF last summer, is not sure whether he’s going to return to Champaign for a senior season. Right now he’s at his home, staying safe and training. “It’s all about 100% ownership and responsibility. I’m going to a parking lot, an open field or vacant lot, and doing my running. Lifting is difficult, but I can increase my ab and plank workouts and do general strength things. I’m actually content with taking (my training) down a bit and letting my body heal and coming back next year for the Olympics.” ◻︎

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