Saturday, 15 July 2017 11:57

After pro career, former Olympian Walter Dix continues his love of track at Masters Championship

Walter Dix gave a wave to the crowd as the PA system at the Bernie Moore Track Stadium listed his long rèsumè of accomplishments. The small crowd responded with a round of applause for the man who is one of the more successful former athletes competing on LSU’s campus this weekend.

Dix won two bronze medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics for team USA, the only U.S. track athlete to win multiple medals in the games. He owns three gold medals in the USA Outdoor Championships. At Florida State, Dix was an outdoor national champion in the 100 meters.

He’s raced against the best in the world, including Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay.

But on Friday, Dix began a different chapter of his career, when he ran in the 100-meter dash prelims at the USA Track and Field Masters Championship, an event that allows athletes 30 years and older, amateur and former professionals, to compete for the rest of their lives. There is no qualifying standards to enter.

It was the first time Dix competed in such an event, and while there was no threat of broken records or Olympic golds on the line and his competition wasn’t the world-class athletes he was used to, it still gave him the same rush and excitement he’s felt his whole career.

For Dix, Friday was about nothing more than the love of the sport.

“I love track and field. It’s a part of me,” Dix said. “This is just something I always want to be a part of. This is here for people who love track and field. At 31 years old, why would I not run this race?”

Dix posted a time of 10.32 seconds in the 100-meter prelims Friday, far ahead of his next closest competitor. Lawrence Trice Jr. finished second with a time of 10.70.

Dix’s career best — 9.88 seconds — came in 2010. Only 24 sprinters, eight of which are Americans, have ever run a faster time.

At the Beijing Olympics, he ran a time 9.91 seconds, finishing third behind Bolt and Richard Thompson of Trinidad and Tobago.

“(Beijing) was definitely a life-opening experience to get to compete for your country,” Dix said. “It’s definitely a once- in-a-lifetime experience. I’m glad I was able to do it.”

His best event, though, is the 200 meters, where he set a personal best of 19.53 seconds in 2011, making him the fourth fastest man in the event. He also finished third behind Bolt in the Olympics in the 200 meters.

Dix is scheduled to compete in the 200 meters at the Masters Championship with the prelims Saturday and the final Sunday at 11:03 a.m. The finals of the 100-meter dash will be at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

“It was fun,” Dix said. “You can only stay at that level for so long. You try to make it last as long as you can and then you have to continue to come down and continue being a great american and live your life.”

Dix said he’s had a wonderful experience in Baton Rouge getting to know other people from around the country who are as passionate as he is about the sport.

And even if there aren’t many who can push him in a race the way he has been in the past, it’s nice to see the same drive and determination Olympic athletes show.

“They take it just as serious as the Olympic athletes,” Dix said. “You see some of the competitors here, and the fun they’re having is just like Olympic athletes. There’s no different except for maybe the age and the level. As far as human beings competition, it’s all the same.”

Rare Olympic gold medalist duel set for Rabat; Diamond League preview

A rare, perhaps unprecedented, matchup of Olympic women’s 400m and 800m champions headlines a Diamond League meet in Rabat, Morocco, on Sunday.

Bahamian Shaunae Miller-Uibo and South African Caster Semenya are both entered in the 400m. Coverage begins on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports Gold at 2 p.m. ET.

It’s the first time in recent history, perhaps ever, the reigning 400m and 800m gold medalists go head-to-head in an individual race. The comprehensive track and field statistics website shows no other instances since the women’s 400m was added to the Games in 1964.

Savor it now, because Miller-Uibo and Semenya will not race each other at worlds next month. Semenya is contesting only the 800m there. Miller-Uibo is going for the 200m and 400m.

A number of sprint stars line up in Rabat, including Elaine Thompson, Andre De Grasse and Yohan Blake.

Here are the Rabat entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

1:02 p.m. — Men’s Shot Put
1:10 p.m. — Women’s Triple Jump
1:50 p.m. — Men’s High Jump
1:52 p.m. — Women’s 400m Hurdles B
1:55 p.m. — Men’s Pole Vault

2 p.m. — Women’s Javelin
2:03 p.m. — Women’s 400m Hurdles A
2:13 p.m. — Men’s 100m
2:22 p.m. — Men’s 800m
2:30 p.m. — Men’s Long Jump
2:32 p.m. — Women’s Steeplechase
2:50 p.m. — Men’s 200m
2:58 p.m. — Women’s 1500m
3:12 p.m. — Women’s 100m
3:20 p.m. — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase
3:37 p.m. — Women’s 400m
3:46 p.m. — Men’s 3000m

Here are five events to watch:

Men’s 100m — 2:13 p.m.
Yohan Blake, the joint-second-fastest man in history, can win his first Diamond League race in five years on Sunday. He is the class of a field otherwise lacking world championships medal favorites.

Last time out, Blake swept the 100m and 200m at the Jamaican Championships, posting his fastest times since 2012 to rank Nos. 2 and 5 in the world this year. In the years since 2012, Blake went from legitimate threat to Usain Bolt to the walking wounded, tearing his right and left hamstrings in 2013 and 2014. He’s inching closer to his old form.

Men’s 800m — 2:22 p.m.
Like Blake, Nijel Amos was once the man pushing a legend in this event. At 18 years old, he took silver to David Rudisha in the memorable London Olympic final, shattering the world junior record.

But the Botswana runner missed the 2013 Worlds due to injury and failed to make the final at the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics. He came back strong, winning his first Diamond League race in two years and then posting 1:43.18 in London last Sunday, the fastest time in the world this year by four tenths of a second.

Rudisha has lost two of three 800m races this year, so he may be vulnerable next month. The world-record holder isn’t in Sunday’s race, but other world medal threats are — U.S. champion Donavan Brazier and Kenyan teen phenom Kipyegon Bett.

Men’s 200m — 2:50 p.m.
Interesting mix here. There’s Andre De Grasse, the Olympic silver medalist in Rio. There’s Warren Weir, the Olympic bronze medalist in London contesting his first Diamond League race in three years. There’s U.S. champion Ameer Webb. There’s U.S. 400m champion Fred Kerley. And then Brit Zharnel Hughes, the former teen phenom and longtime Usain Bolt training partner.

Nobody in his field has broken 20 seconds this year (six other men have), but look for De Grasse and Webb to chase 19. They’ll need to in order to be considered threats to Wayde van Niekerk at worlds.

Women’s 100m — 3:12 p.m.
Elaine Thompson should extend her 100m winning streak to 17 meets here. The field lacks her top rivals — American Tori Bowie and the Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers.

It does include two of the other top six women in the world this year — Michelle-Lee Ahye and Kelly-Ann Baptiste, two veterans from Trinidad and Tobago. If they can push Thompson, the Jamaican 100m record of 10.70 seconds may be in jeopardy.

Women’s 400m — 3:37 p.m.
Shaunae Miller-Uibo has won the 400m at nine straight meets since her loss to Allyson Felix at the 2015 World Championships. That streak is very much on the line here.

Caster Semenya chopped 2.14 seconds off her 400m personal best last year, while focusing on the 800m. She even won the Diamond League finale in Brussels in a time that would have placed fifth in Rio.

Miller-Uibo was easily faster than Semenya’s personal best in her two 400m races this year, but she is not the fastest woman this year in the Rabat field. She trails Quanera Hayes, who won the 400m at the USATF Outdoor Champs in the second-fastest time in the world this year.

An interested onlooker will be Felix, ranked No. 1 in 2017.

Doug Robinson: Intersex athletes: A showdown for rights — but for whom?

"If, as the study shows, in certain events female athletes with higher testosterone levels can have a competitive advantage of between 1.8-4.5 percent over female athletes with lower testosterone levels, imagine the magnitude of the advantage for female athletes with testosterone levels in the normal male range."

The world is struggling with a lot of strange, complicated issues, but few are more complex than the one that is shaping up in sports: What, if anything, do you do about female athletes who produce testosterone in the male range — a condition known as hyperandrogenism?

The issue has become another showdown for rights — but for whom? Female athletes or hyperandrogenous/transgender women? It’s a confrontation that pits political correctness versus political correctness.

The World Track and Field Championships will begin in London next week, and once again Caster Semenya, the controversial intersex athlete from South Africa, will return to compete in the 800-meter run. Last summer Semenya won the gold medal at the Rio Olympics. The next two places were taken by Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba and Kenya’s Margaret Wambui, who are also believed to be intersex athletes.

If officials at the International Association of Athletics Federations had their way, Semenya would’ve been sidelined or medicated years ago. After she won the 2009 World Championships by a whopping 2½ seconds, the IAAF ordered her to undergo gender testing and then banned her from competition.

The IAAF reluctantly cleared her return less than a year later, but in 2011 the federation established limits on testosterone for female athletes and required those who exceeded those limits to take medication to reduce testosterone levels. Ironically, a sport that had tried to rid its sport of drug use was now ordering certain athletes to take drugs.

It's unknown if Semenya took the medication, but her times changed dramatically — from a best of 1:55.45 in 2009, to 1:56.35 in 2011, 1:57.23 in 2012, 1:58.92 in 2013, 2:02.66 in 2014.

In July 2015, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) suspended the IAAF rules for two years to allow time to study the issue. Those two years are up, and the results of the IAAF study are in. The research, which studied 2,127 male and female athletes from the 2011 and 2013 World Championships, shows that women with high levels of testosterone have a “significant competitive advantage” — a 1.8 to 4.5 percent advantage to be precise. That might not sound like much, but in the 800 that would mean up to 5 seconds. The research doesn’t even consider women with testosterone levels in the male range.

"If, as the study shows, in certain events female athletes with higher testosterone levels can have a competitive advantage of between 1.8-4.5 percent over female athletes with lower testosterone levels, imagine the magnitude of the advantage for female athletes with testosterone levels in the normal male range," Dr. Stephane Bermon said.

The research will be presented to the CAS this month in an attempt to overturn its ruling of 2015. Meanwhile, Semenya, Niyonsaba and Wambui will run in the World Championships.

Several female athletes condemned the presence of intersex athletes in women’s competition, but nobody summed up the situation better after the CAS reversed the IAAF suspension than medical physicist Joanna Harper, who told USA Today, “This is a huge human rights victory, but sports, not so much.”

Harper is uniquely qualified to address this subject. She was a transgender athlete before she became a scientist and underwent hormone therapy to reduce testosterone levels. She favors some restrictions on intersex athletes.

“While human rights advocates are deliriously happy over the CAS ruling, those who love women’s sport are mortified,” Harper said in a Q&A with exercise physiologist Ross Tucker. “… Allowing these athletes to compete in women’s sport with their serious testosterone-based advantage threatens the very fabric of women’s sport.”

It’s a complex and sensitive issue. Some of the intersex athletes have been vilified, but they have done nothing wrong. Unlike steroid users, they have not elevated their levels of testosterone with drugs; they were born with elevated levels of testosterone. But the question of fairness remains.

Women’s sports were created to provide them with a level playing field because they could not keep up with testosterone-fueled men. Women’s sports have flourished, but what happens if hyperandrogenous women and transgenders compete in women’s sports?

It could be argued that hyperandrogenous women — who have a natural predisposition to high levels of testosterone — simply enjoy a natural competitive advantage similar to other more recognized advantages in other athletes — narrow hips, slender body types, height, a superior neuromuscular system, a high V02 max, long legs, etc. Should Usain Bolt be penalized because he is 6-foot-5 and has the neuromuscular system of a small man?

Blessed with high levels of testosterone, male athletes have superior cardiovascular systems, longer and larger bones and stronger ligaments, more muscle mass and so forth. Testosterone creates a wide gulf between male and female athletes. John McEnroe got in trouble because he said Serena Williams, the women’s tennis champion, would rank 700th on the men’s tour — but that was actually generous.

Former track star Sonia O’Sullivan, writing in the Irish Times recently about hyperandrogenism in her sport, noted in an aside, “… if Williams was ranked 700th in the world (among men), she’d be doing well compared to Semenya, who would barely make the top 8,000 runners over 800m, and the world record would only come in around 5,000 mark.”

The point is, since testosterone creates an immense advantage, what happens when a female has a male’s body chemistry?

More irony: Semenya, the 2016 Olympic champ, placed second to Russia’s Mariya Savinova in the 2012 Olympics — until a retest late last year revealed she had used performance-enhancing drugs and her gold medal was awarded retroactively to Semenya. Savinova reportedly used steroids — which raises the levels of testosterone, the very thing that Semenya produces in abundance naturally.