Thursday, 13 July 2017 16:51

Sprinter James Ellington targets April comeback after crash

Sprinter James Ellington is targeting a comeback at the Commonwealth Games in April following a career-threatening motorbike crash earlier this year.

The 31-year-old double Olympian will miss the entire 2017 season after a serious road accident with fellow British sprinter Nigel Levine while the pair were on a training camp in Tenerife in January.

Ellington broke his pelvis and both legs when the motorbike he was travelling on with Levine was hit by a car driven around a bend on the wrong side of the road.

He was a member of Great Britain's gold medal-winning 4x100m relay teams at the 2014 and 2016 European Championships and now hopes to compete in the same event in Berlin next August, as well as the Worlds in Doha in 2019. But before that, Ellington believes he could make the Commonwealth Games in Australia in April.

"It gives me another target to aim for," he said. "You have to aim high if you want to achieve something. Even getting out of the wheelchair early, getting off the crutches early, I'm way ahead of where they originally thought I would be.

"Personally I think I'm going to be back next year. The doctors and surgeons said I'd never be able to run again.

"From the very beginning, I told the doctors and surgeons that my goals were to come back. They looked at me a bit dubious like 'I don't know about that'. But I've proved them wrong so far so now they're starting to believe me."

Deajah Stevens Turns Pro

JC transfer’s meteoric rise to Olympic finalist leads to move after junior season

Oregon’s Deajah Stevens will skip her senior season and is turning pro, she announced Wednesday night on social media, ending a two-year-long stint with the Ducks that saw the sprint star rapidly ascend from junior college transfer to world class competitor.

The 2016 Olympic finalist and 2017 U.S. champion in the 200 meters wrote in an Instagram post: “Excited to officially announce that I am going pro! Grateful to my mom, coaches, and friends for their support, and I will stay at UO to finish school. Off to London soon!”

Stevens, 22, didn’t say who her agent will be or if she has signed a shoe contract, though she’ll presumably remain under the tutelage of Oregon associate head coach Curtis Taylor at least through the IAAF World Outdoor Track and Field Championships taking place in London in three weeks.

Stevens is also entered in the 100 at the World Outdoor Championships after finishing second at the U.S. Outdoor Championships in June.

She has the fifth-fastest 200 time in the world this season at 22.09.

It will be her second global championship meet in as many summers. Stevens, then just six months into her Oregon career after transferring from College of the Sequoias, finished second in the women’s 200 at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials and followed with a seventh-place finish at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Her 2017 outdoor season at Oregon included three school records, two collegiate records and an NCAA team title.
The junior also was the Pac-12 women’s track athlete of the year after winning conference titles in the 100 and 200.

Stevens’ personal-best of 22.09 seconds in the 200 is a UO record, and she teamed with Makenzie Dunmore, Hannah Cunliffe and Ariana Washington to set the collegiate record in the 4x100 relay at 42.12 — a time LSU matched later in the season.

In the final event of the NCAA Outdoor meet, she helped set the collegiate 4x400 record at 3:32.13 along with Dunmore, Elexis Guster and Raevyn Rogers.

The win in the 4x400 secured the team title for the Ducks and sealed Oregon’s historic run to the Triple Crown when it became the first women’s program to win NCAA team titles in cross country and indoor track and field and outdoor track and field in the same academic year.

Until then, Stevens’ most memorable moment in the NCAA meet was her fall just before the finish line in the 200 final, leading to a disqualification. She also was the runner-up in the 100.

She was the Pac-12 champion in both events.

U.S. Sprinters Dominate In Lignano

US 400m sprinters Phyllis Francis and Josephus Lyles were in the spotlight at the International Meeting Sport e Solidarietà in the Italian seaside resort of Lignano Sabbiadoro on Wednesday (12).

Francis, who last year won Olympic 4x400m gold and finished fifth in the individual 400m in Rio, broke the meeting record with her winning time of 50.86, just 0.9 short of the PB she set to finish second at the recent US Championships.

“I feel good about this race,” said Francis. “I hope to run faster and win a medal in London.”

Compatriot Jessica Beard won the B race with 51.42 ahead of Jamaica’s world U20 bronze medallist Junelle Bromfield (52.26).

Josephus Lyles held off World Championships qualifier Will London II by 0.03 in a close men’s 400m, setting a PB of 45.42. Lyles took silver and bronze medals in the 400m and 200m respectively at the 2015 World U18 Championships and is the younger brother of world U20 100m champion Noah Lyles.

Ahead of his appearance in his specialist event at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rabat, Botswana’s 2012 Olympic 800m silver medallist Nijel Amos opted to test his speed by running the 400min Lignano and set a personal best of 45.50.

Olympic 4x100m champion English Gardner edged out Brazil’s Rosangela Santos in a close women’s 100m as both were given the same time of 11.21. Isiah Young, who this year has clocked 9.97 in the 100m and 20.14 in the 200m, won the men’s 100m in 10.18 into a headwind of -0.5m/s.

USA’s 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper Nelson clinched the women’s 100m hurdles in 13.00 into a headwind of -1.0m/s.

In a 400m hurdles race dedicated to Italy’s 1948 Olympic finalist Ottavio Missoni, Haron Koech and Michael Tinsley crossed the line in unison, stopping the clock at 49.54 with Koech being awarded the victory. Italian champion Lorenzo Vergani prevailed over last year’s Lignano winner Mario Lambrughi in 49.83.

Qatar’s Jamal Hairane overtook last year’s Lignano winner Jacob Rozani and Italian Giordano Benedetti in a close men’s 800m in 1:46.84. Lauren Johnson edged Australia’s Brittnay McGowan by 0.03 to win the women’s race in 2:01.74. Kenya dominated both 1500m races with Jonathan Kiplimo Sawe taking the men’s race in 3:36:80 and Selah Businei winning the women’s in 4:07.93.

The Lignano meeting has been a springboard for future world and Olympic champions such as Elaine Thompson, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Wayde Van Niekerk.

Although she wasn’t competing, Thompson acted as the ambassador of this year’s meeting, held on the track where she trains during the summer season. The double Olympic champion won in Lignano in 2014 and 2015 and equalled Fraser-Pryce’s meeting record of 11.11 two years ago.

 Olympic Medal, Earned; Glory, Denied; Future, Uncertain

EUGENE, Ore. — To watch as Chaunté Lowe took her high jumps at the Prefontaine Classic here in late May was to see a great athlete with a busted wing. She was 33 and hobbled, her hamstring aching and ankle sprained. She limped away after each jump and soon enough was disqualified. It led me to wonder if we were watching this exuberant four-time Olympian high jumper and reigning American record-holder aging in front of us.

In June, in Sacramento, she failed to qualify for the United States team heading to the world championships in London next month.

If Lowe’s athletic clock is ticking down, if she competed in her final Olympics last summer in Rio de Janeiro, she can draw comfort in what happened in November. She was in her kitchen in Florida, her three little children out of the house, going through her Facebook notifications when a message popped up from a friend, the German high jumper Ariane Friedrich: “Congratulations Olympic bronze medalist!”

Lowe gave a quizzical look, took the message for a joke and clicked on another message: “Congratulations Chaunte. So proud!”

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This time she clicked on the embedded link. She read a news report: Three Olympians — two Russians and a Ukrainian — who had finished in front of her in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing failed retroactive doping tests. She had moved from sixth to third place.

She had become an Olympic bronze medalist. It was her first medal. She felt herself beginning to dance.

“I screamed like someone was in my house trying to take away my cookies,” she said. “I was excited and relieved at the same time. ‘Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, you are not a failure’!”

Her reaction speaks to the volcanic pressures that elite athletes carry within. And her tardy medal speaks to the strange and sad world of modern doping, a battle between rogue chemists and medical detectives. The World Anti-Doping Agency now holds blood and urine samples from Olympic athletes for eight years, against the day that advances in detection allow for retests.

The disqualifications from past Olympics now run into the many dozens. In November alone, the International Olympic Committee stripped 10 medals from athletes found to have cheated in the 2008 Olympics.

So justice arrives like a distant echo.

Even as Lowe danced about her house, calling friends, another realization dawned. She had missed her Olympic moment. She watched in 2008 as a cheater stood on the podium with a national flag and accepted a medal that rightfully was Lowe’s. (She has not received her bronze medal, as one of the athletes accused of doping has appealed the finding; even then, the process of retrieving the medal and forwarding it to Lowe could take many months.)

“Man, I wanted to get that feeling of being on a podium and the world is applauding your achievement,” she says. “I was robbed of that moment, and I am surprised to find myself feeling joy and struggling to keep my faith.”

She knows the shadow of doubt that athletes labor within, and the certainty that more disqualifications will deepen its hues. Dirty athletes get caught and doubts arise about everyone. Lowe has never had other than a clean test. Until recently, she assumed doping was more the province of sprinters and weight lifters and long-distance runners.

All three of the disqualified high jumpers used turinabol, a steroid that builds lean muscle mass and endurance, which is particularly useful in long meets with multiple jumps. It also acts in concert to make other steroids more effective.

“To see that my sport was one of the dirtiest in that Olympics changed my world,” Lowe says. “It’s a really dark rabbit hole. I don’t want people to cast a shadow on my career.”

Another American, Derek Miles, a pole-vaulter, also was awarded a belated bronze medal for the Beijing Olympics. Miles has retired and works as an assistant track coach at the University of South Dakota.

Lowe had worked to make her peace with her lack of Olympic medals. “I had the option to write my story as a success or a failure,” she says. “When I was 4 years old, I told my sister I would make it to the Olympics. I’ve competed in four.”

Her personal tale is more striking than that.

She came of age in Paso Robles, Calif., in a family lashed by the storms of addiction. The electricity would get shut off one week, then the water. In sixth grade, she left for a track meet and returned to an empty house. Where, she asked her mother, are my sisters? I sent them to live with their father, her mother replied. Our house is getting foreclosed on.

“Mom saw that our ship was sinking,” Lowe says.

Lowe slept with her mother in cheap motels and in the back seats of cars. (Her father has spent most of his adult life in California’s prisons, also trapped by addictions.) When summer arrived, her mother packed Chaunté off to live with an aunt. “My mother was embracing a camping lifestyle,” Lowe says. “Mom was off the grid.”

Lowe thought a lot about her life and talked a lot with God that summer. In August, she told her mother that she had decided to live with her grandmother in Riverside. She knew she needed stability. As a high school freshman, she told the track coach that she wanted to try the high jump. You have to beat out the juniors and seniors, he told her.

That was that, he figured.

She woke before dawn to practice — a habit she has never lost — and eventually outjumped the best in the nation. She sprinted, triple-jumped, hurdled and scored in the classroom, too. At Georgia Tech, she finished with a 4.0 grade-point average. Her coach there, Nat Page, became a surrogate father. When she married Mario Lowe, Page walked her down the aisle.

“Believe me, I’m his daughter,” she says.

I spent an hour talking with Lowe at the Rio Games last summer and another hour in May after the Eugene competition, and I’m no closer now than I was then to decoding the how of this woman.

She and her husband have a daughter with Asperger’s syndrome. There were two foreclosures, and for a while it seemed the quicksand of family fate was tugging at her ankles. She pulled free. She became a favorite of track crowds, with her high bounding steps and leaps, slithering up, up and over that bar. She lands and bounds to her feet, clapping, smiling, doing a little boogie.

She has a master’s degree and a career in financial planning. Her athletic future holds a question mark for now. She has given thought to the 2020 Games in Tokyo. The body, however, is not an infinitely malleable instrument. She had tortured herself as never before in the four years leading to the Rio Olympics. And still she fell short, taking fourth place.

Now she has her medal. She laughs, taken aback by the power of her obsessions and her life’s voyage.

“I’ve graduated college, I’m a decent mother, and my husband and I are on 12 years of marriage and I’ve represented my country with integrity,” she says. “If I allow myself to write my own story, I’m a success.”

That was clear long before she read those Facebook messages last November.