Friday, 14 July 2017 17:56

Baseball, hurdling stars are athletes of year

MARINA DEL REY — MacKenzie Gore, a pitcher drafted by the San Diego Padres, and Olympic hurdler and sprinter Sydney McLaughlin were honored as national prep athletes of the year on Tuesday night. McLaughlin is the first two-time winner since the awards began in 2003.

Gore received his trophy from Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves. McLaughlin was given hers by retired WNBA player Tamika Catchings on Tuesday night during the annual event sponsored by Gatorade at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Marina del Rey.

Gore and McLaughlin share the cover of next week’s Sports Illustrated.

They were cheered by Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey, D’Angelo Russell of the Brooklyn Nets and Abby Wambach.

Gore, a left-handed starter from Whiteville, North Carolina, led Whiteville High to a 21-6 record and the Class 1A state championship. He was 9-0 with a 0.22 ERA and 132

strikeouts in 63 1/3 innings through 27 games. He batted .480, with six home runs, 25 RBIs and an .880 slugging percentage while also playing the outfield and first base.

Gore was the No. 3 overall pick in last month’s amateur baseball draft. The 18-year-old senior received a $6.7 million signing bonus from the Padres. He said he plans to buy a truck and invest the rest.

“You’re all studs,” Gore told the other nominees while thanking his parents and the Padres.

“I’m starting to settle in and learn all the routines,” he said about his first weeks playing ball in Arizona and being cross-country from his family. “I’ve been doing it now for about two weeks and I’m fine. It’s part of growing up.”

McLaughlin recently graduated from Union Catholic High in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. She will attend Kentucky in the fall and wants to major in journalism with a goal of becoming a sports broadcaster.

For now, McLaughlin is focused on making a smooth transition from the preps to college.

“I want to be able to not only make noise in high school and then not go silent in college,” she said. “I want to continue my success there and hopefully in multiple events.”

The 17-year-old from Dunellen, New Jersey, ran the 400-meters hurdles at last year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics. She finished fifth in the semifinals and didn’t make the final while competing as the youngest member of the U.S. track and field team since 1980.

McLaughlin continued setting records during her senior year. She lowered her own national prep and world junior records in the 400 hurdles with a time of 54.03 seconds. She won the 400 dash in 51.88 and 200 dash in 22.96, both of which were the top times among U.S. high schoolers this year.

Her time of 38.90 in the 300 hurdles at a meet in the Los Angeles area in April set a national prep record by over a second.

Gore and McLaughlin, along with the other nominees, will walk The ESPYS red carpet on Wednesday night and be shown during the telecast.

The other boys’ nominees were: Casey Clinger, cross country, American Fork, Utah; Armand Duplantis, track and field, Lafayette, Louisiana; Michael Porter Jr., basketball, Seattle; Tate Martell, football, Las Vegas; and Umar Farouk Osman, soccer, Lakeville, Connecticut.

The other girls’ nominees were: Taylor Dockins, softball, Norco, California; Brie Oakley, cross country, Aurora, Colorado; Lexi Sun, volleyball, Solana Beach, California; Megan Walker, basketball, North Chesterfield, Virginia; and Kennedy Wesley, soccer, Cerritos, California.

Among the previous winners of the awards are LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kevin Love, Allyson Felix and Candace Parker.

Sydney McLaughlin on Sports Illustrated Cover

SI July 17 Cover | Dan Greene SI Story

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Just weeks away from starting her freshman year at the University of Kentucky as part of the track and field team, Sydney McLaughlin – an Olympian as a junior in high school – landed on the cover of the Sports Illustrated July 17 issue.

McLaughlin, and fellow Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year MacKenzie Gore, graced this week’s cover. She became the first person to win Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year for a second time in a row.

Last month McLaughlin earned Gatorade’s Track and Field Athlete of the Year award for the second year in a row, being surprise presented with the honor by legendary sprinter Allyson Felix again as well.

SI’s Dan Greene wrote the feature on McLaughlin in the current SI issue.

McLaughlin (Dunellen, New Jersey - Union Catholic High School) completed her high school career last month by placing sixth in the USA Track and Field 400-meter hurdles final, lowering her world under-20 (formerly known as junior) record to 53.82 – a world-class time that would’ve at worst medaled in just about any other 400m hurdles race ever contested.

That wrapped a prep career which saw her break multiple high school records in addition to countless performances that went viral on the internet to say nothing of becoming the youngest person to make the U.S. Olympic track and field team in decades.

McLaughlin and UK Head Coach Edrick Floréal have indicated she will compete in the 100m hurdles and long jump as a freshman. The initial explanation for the decision is to take break from her signature 400 hurdles after two-straight grueling seasons that took her to elite competitions contested long after most prep athletes have begun offseason recovery, and also to just keep things fresh for an athlete so talented across disciplines.

Timing Of Bolt's Exit Shows Smarts & Shrewdness

BY DWAYNE RICHARDS | Observer writer

If it were up to his father, his coach, his sponsors, the people and the Government of Jamaica, Usain Bolt would not quit track and field at the end of the 2017 season.

No one wants to see the legendary sprinter exit the stage just yet at the “tender” age of 30 years.

Ever since 2007 when he finished second behind Tyson Gay in the 200m at the World Championships, the anticipation has been high whenever Bolt puts on a pair of spikes to run.

In 2007 in Osaka, Japan, a fresh faced Usain Bolt with a simple “pinky finger point” and a raise of the arms to the heavens when he was introduced, lost to Tyson Gay. Coming around the turn with a slight lead, Bolt was surpassed by the shorter Gay who took control of the race down the stretch to win in 19.75s.

It was the last time that the American would finish in front of the boy from Trelawny over his athletic career.

At 6ft 4in tall, he was deemed too tall to run the 100m, but after breaking the world record in New York City on May 31, 2008, everything changed.

Bolt broke the previous record of 9.74 seconds held by countryman Asafa Powell that was set on that memorable date of September 9 in 2007, lowering it to 9.72 seconds in rainy conditions and shutting up his doubters after he had run 9.78s at the Jamaica Senior Championships a week earlier.

A year later Bolt returned to the Asian continent stronger, faster and the world record holder over 100m — an ominous sign for the rest of the world's best sprinters.

The Olympic Games held in Beijing, China, became the coming out party for Bolt and Jamaica's track and field, as the “Pocket Rocket” Shelly-Ann Fraser stunned the world to win the women's 100m final in a most memorable race, where Jamaica finished 1-2-2 and Pryce became the first Jamaican female to win a Olympic 100m gold medal.

However, for the legend it was the beginning of the greatest era in track and field for himself and his beloved country, Jamaica. Three gold medals and three world records in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relays inside the “Bird Nest” stadium left the world of track and field in awe.

His times of 9.69 seconds in the 100m final while thumping his chest with five metres to go and breaking the world record, and in the 200m which he won by a city block, had experts searching for superlatives to describe the performance of the big man.

His showmanship before and after his races also won him millions of fans, but one or two detractors as well. For the most part, however, his antics became a part of his trademark, including his now world famous “Lightning Bolt” pose that photographers race to capture. His trendy dance moves are also popular with fans.

Bolt's charisma and charm, as well as his excellence on the track, have made him a marketer's dream, and he has certainly cashed in on this as he will earn US$5 million a year as PUMA ambassador starting in 2018.

Three consecutive gold medals at the Olympic Games in both the 100m and 200m have made him the greatest sprinter of all time, but what he has put into his persona and global appeal also makes him the greatest track and field athlete of all time.

This was corroborated by President of the IAAF Lord Sebastian Coe who will be engaging the athlete (after he hangs up his spikes) to help to continue grow the sport.

After a decade at the top, time has finally started taking a toll on Bolt and the hunger, it seems, is no longer there. Having achieved all that he could have wanted, he now finds it harder to motivate himself to train.

So the legend will make the World Championships in London, England, in August his last hurrah. He will end his illustrious career by running in the 100m only. This comes as a surprise to many as he favours the 200m, but this may be the greatest move of his storied career and one which could prove crucial in preserving his unbeaten legacy at major athletics championships since 2008.

Why is this so? Wayde Van Neikerk, the South African who set the world record in the 400m final at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero in Brazil last year and who has continued with his impressive form this season, has indicated that he will be contesting the 200m at the World Championships in London.

It is not known if he could actually beat Bolt in a 200m contest, but what is certain, is that Van Niekerk is creeping up on the world record, and with much younger legs and a greater hunger the South African is a real threat to the Jamaican superstar.

The tragic loss of his dear friend Germaine Mason, who died in a motorcycle crash earlier this year, set back the training of the 'ageing' Bolt, who took the loss very hard. That coupled with the perennial back problems which will require realignment in Germany means that the big man still has some catching up to do as he has looked sluggish in his early season races.

Van Neikerk isn't the only threat that Bolt faces, as his training partner, friend and the man he has dubbed “heir apparent” Yohan Blake, is returning to real form this season, claiming the sprint double at the National Championships in June.

The threats are real and rising as the younger, hungrier athletes take aim at the bull's eye on Bolt's back. Too many athletes, in a variety of sports, have overstayed their welcome and diminished their own legacy by doing so. Bolt is smart and is likely to leave the sport at the top of his game, walking away gloriously as an immortal.

So while many of us continue to cling to the slim belief that he may do an about face and cancel his plans for retirement, it is beyond a shadow of a doubt the right time for Bolt to take a bow and leave with a smile on his face, instead of regrets in his heart.

Let us then prepare ourselves for what will be the last episode in the greatest ever show in track and field; this as we await the coming and crowning of the new king of sprinting.

Track and field becomes obscure in the U.S.

By Jaime C. Harris | New York Amsterdam News

The Green Packers’ superlative quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, arguably the NFL’s best player, could walk down the streets of Helsinki, Finland, Zurich, Switzerland or St. Kitts and Nevis—a two-island country in the West Indies—relatively unnoticed.

Same for Clayton Kershaw, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ wondrous three-time Cy Young award winner and 2014 National League MVP. Not so for Usain Bolt.

The nine-time Olympic gold medalist in the 100- and 200-meters, as well the 4x100 meter relay, is mobbed like a rock star across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. Many other of his track and field brethren are also subject to being surrounded by adoring fans seeking autographs and photos for Instagram consumption while abroad.

But here in the United States, Olympic gold medal sprinter and Los Angeles native Allyson Felix, one of the world’s most recognizable female athletes, is as inconspicuous as she is fawned over outside of her home country.

For several decades, the popularity of track and field and its pre-eminent performers has gradually declined among U.S. sports fans.

There was a time when the sport was markedly more prominent in America than professional football and basketball. Jesse Owens became a historical figure and symbol of American pride when he single-handedly dispelled Adolf Hitler’s postulations of Aryan superiority by winning four gold medals at the Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany in 1936.

For a period during the 1980s, sprinter Carl Lewis was more famous than Michael Jordan. However, the globalization of basketball and exploding interest in the NFL, as well as the shift in the economics of sports, have rendered track and field a second tier sport in the United States.

So as the 30-year-old Bolt prepares to end his unparalleled competitive career at the World Championships in London next month, the sport’s lone transcendent personality will further tow track and field away from the American fans’ consciousness.