Home » Entries posted by GERALD IMRAY AP Sports Writer

All a blur as Canada's MacNeil claims 2 medals at Olympics

All a blur as Canada's MacNeil claims 2 medals at Olympics

Races often end in a blur for Canada’s Maggie MacNeil because she wears glasses outside the pool but doesn’t use contacts or prescription goggles when swimmingBy GERALD IMRAY AP Sports WriterJuly 26, 2021, 2:20 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleTOKYO — Races often end in a blur for Canada’s Maggie MacNeil, who wears glasses outside the pool but doesn’t use contacts or prescription goggles when swimming.That means it takes a second or two for the picture to become clear after she’s touched the wall as she tries to focus in on the results board.Did I win?That killer suspense was there at the Tokyo Olympics on Monday. MacNeil made the turn nearly last — in seventh place — in the 100-meter butterfly final, then put in a huge second lap.“I was just trying to squint and see where I came,” she said. “I heard my name getting called so I knew I must have done something good.”On realizing she’d won her first Olympic gold, MacNeil mouthed “oh my God” and got a big hug from defending champion Sarah Sjoestroem.It was a frenetic 24-hours for MacNeil. The 21-year-old from London, Ontario was also part of the Canadian team that won silver in the 4×100 freestyle relay on Sunday.Her stash is quickly building and the two medals from Tokyo go with three from the world championships in 2019 — also gold in the 100 fly and two relay bronzes.“It’s crazy,” she said at the Tokyo Aquatics Center. “I’m still trying to process yesterday and what happened with the relay just because that was so incredible. And I still don’t think I’ve realized the whole world champion thing.“So this’ll take a while to get used to for sure.”MacNeil also has to work out a place to keep her medals. Her world champs gold is currently sitting on her bookshelf.”I don’t really have a spot for it,” she said.The bigger picture is that Canadian swimming is coming back after going through a lean 30 years at the Olympics that finally came to an end at Rio de Janeiro in 2016 when Penny Oleksiak won four medals, including gold in the 100 freestyle.Oleksiak also was on the Canadian 4×100 team with MacNeil in Tokyo on Sunday, and is also just 21.And the latest Canadian sensation is 14-year-old Summer McIntosh, who swam in the final of the 400 freestyle on Monday alongside superstars Katie Ledecky and Ariarne Titmus.MacNeil was singing the praises of McIntosh in interviews at the pool — the two are roommates in Tokyo — when she realized the teenager’s race was going on right then. MacNeil asked if she could put the interviews on hold to watch and provided her own nervous running commentary.McIntosh at one point was third behind Ledecky and Titmus and in a close fight for bronze with China’s Li Bingjie.”Is she in third?” MacNeil said, gripped as she watched. “Yeah! Come on Sums. She has to hold on … Oh my God, I can’t watch this. Tell me when it’s over.”McIntosh just missed out on a medal but finished fourth in her first Olympic final, an incredible swim.“Not bad for a 14-year-old,” MacNeil said. “I’m serious.”MacNeil then turned back to the reporters and apologized for the diversion: “Anyway, what were we taking about? Sorry,” she said.And she regained her focus for the second time in the day.———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

In Africa, virus ruins Olympic dreams and tests dedication

In Africa, virus ruins Olympic dreams and tests dedication

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — The dreaded test results came back positive for COVID-19 and the illness descended on South African swimmer Erin Gallagher.In the span of a few days, she went from elite Olympic athlete in peak condition to lying flat on a bed concentrating on the most basic of physical functions. Just keep breathing, she told herself.The Tokyo Olympics and the dream she’d been chasing for years suddenly seemed out of reach.“Those were extremely dark times,” Gallagher said. “I couldn’t really see any possible way where I could get to Tokyo. In the back of my mind there was this voice saying, ‘Erin, you’re not going to make it, I don’t think, so rather quit now and just focus on regaining your health.’”Gallagher’s brush with the coronavirus late last year was extreme and yet she’s one of the lucky ones, even if it took her months to fully recover. She came through it with her health and Olympic ambitions in tact. The 22-year-old is heading to the Games as part of a South African women’s medley relay team expected to contend for a medal.No such luck for many other African hopefuls.As the virus surges again across the continent just as the Olympics approach, the pandemic has done more than just upend plans and make training, traveling and getting precious pre-Games competition tricky for Africa’s athletes. It has ruined dreams.Take the Senegal basketball team, which made it to the final qualifying tournament for Tokyo last month, only for three players and an official to test positive for the virus on the eve of the competition. The entire squad was sent home, with no chance at the Olympics even for the players not infected and years until another opportunity comes along.At 33, Nigerian basketball player Micheal Eric probably won’t get another shot. He contracted the virus and, though he was cleared to return to Nigeria’s squad after two weeks in isolation, he said he realized he was “in no physical shape to compete.” He withdrew from the squad and gave up what’s likely to be his only chance to go to the Olympics.“Being an Olympian has been my lifelong dream,” he said. “But I know I must do what’s best for my health and well-being.”Even one of the biggest names hasn’t been spared. World record-holder David Rudisha of Kenya won’t be in Tokyo seeking a third consecutive gold medal in the 800 meters after the 32-year-old’s attempts to qualify following injuries were complicated by the pandemic. So might end the Olympic career of one of track’s great middle-distance runners.While there’s probably not an Olympian on the planet who hasn’t faced a COVID-19-related challenge over the last 18 months, Africa’s new wave of cases and desperate vaccine shortages have led to lockdowns being reinforced and the return of training restrictions, partly because no one wants to get the virus now with just weeks to go.Ghana’s boxing team went months without sparring against other fighters because of fears of virus transmission and have still barely laid a glove on an opponent in the run-up to Tokyo. Instead, the Ghanaians have resorted to shadow boxing in front of a mirror in their own rooms at a team hotel in preparation for the biggest competition of their lives. Instructions from their coach are delivered via WhatsApp from his room down the hall.”It’s just yourself in your room and trying to just keep up with a regime that will put you in shape for a competition that you want to make a mark at,” flyweight Suleimanu Tetteh said.For decades, Kenya’s dominating distance runners have trained for the Olympics in groups of 30 or more and alongside budding young athletes they use as pacemakers. Not this year.Frustrated at restrictions, Moroccan judoka Soumaya Iraoui gave up on her regular training regime to research the art of “mental imagery,” she said. She’s spent much of her time working on her mental focus while home alone.The isolation of the pandemic hasn’t bothered Zimbabwean rower Peter Purcell-Gilpin, who competes in the single scull and trains alone. “I’m isolated most of the time,” he said.But he needed water and time with his coach in person before Tokyo. So he traveled from his training base in Britain to Zambia in southern Africa so he could link up with his Zimbabwe-based coach and do some work for three months in real conditions on open water.”You have to focus on the controllables and make the best plan that you can,” Purcell-Gilpin said.Gallagher’s struggle with COVID-19 didn’t end when her main symptoms subsided. When she returned to swimming she was exhausted after just a few laps, experienced chest pains and visited a cardiologist, who assured her that her heart was fine. It just needed time.She spent hours training in her own pool at home, getting past the problem of it being way too small by connecting herself to an elastic rope and swimming on the spot.Her coronavirus experience was ultimately enlightening, she said. She thought she was ready to listen to that voice that told her to give up on the Olympics. But the virus also revealed what going to the Games really meant to her.“There was another voice saying, ‘Erin, don’t give up, this has been your dream all your life,'” she said. “‘You have to do everything you possibly can to get there.'”———Associated Press writers Thahir Asmal in Durban, South Africa, Francis Kokutse in Accra, Ghana, and Enock Muchinjo in Harare, Zimbabwe contributed to this report.———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Semenya misses Tokyo, may be forced out of Olympics for good

Semenya misses Tokyo, may be forced out of Olympics for good

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — This could be it for Caster Semenya and the Olympics.Forced out of her favorite race by World Athletics’ testosterone rules, the two-time Olympic champion in the 800 meters took a late shot at qualifying for Tokyo in the 5,000 meters, an event not affected by the hormone regulations. She came up short.Now 30, Semenya’s hopes of making it back to the Olympics are dwindling.The South African once said she wanted to run at top track events until she was 40. Now, her future ambitions depend on a final, long-shot legal appeal of the testosterone rules or transforming from the world’s dominant middle-distance runner into a successful long-distance athlete. That’s going to be hard for her.Semenya is the athlete that has perhaps stoked the most controversy in track and field over the last decade. If there are no more appearances on the biggest stage, it’s been a career like no other. In 12 years at the top, Semenya has won two Olympic golds and three world championship titles, but her success has come amid near-constant interference by track authorities. She has only competed free of restrictions of one type or another for three of those 12 years.WHY CAN’T SEMENYA DEFEND HER 800 TITLE IN TOKYO?In 2018, world track and field’s governing body introduced rules it said were aimed at female athletes with conditions called differences of sex development, or DSDs. The key for World Athletics is that these athletes have testosterone levels that are higher than the typical female range. The track body argues that gives them an unfair advantage. Semenya is the highest-profile athlete affected by the regulations, but not the only one.The rules demand that Semenya lower her testosterone levels artificially — by either taking birth control pills daily, having hormone-blocking injections or undergoing surgery — to be allowed to run in races from 400 meters to one mile. Semenya has simply refused to do that, pointing out the irony that in a sport where doping is such a scourge, authorities want her to take drugs to be eligible to run at the Olympics.”Why will I take drugs?” Semenya said in 2019. “I’m a pure athlete. I don’t cheat. They should focus on doping, not us.”BUT SHE CAN RUN THE 5,000?Yes. Strangely, World Athletics decided to only enforce the testosterone rules for track events from 400 meters to one mile, raising criticism from Semenya’s camp that the regulations were specifically designed to target her because of her dominance.It means Semenya can compete in the 100 and 200 meters and long-distance races without lowering her testosterone levels. Field events are also unregulated. After a brief go at 200 meters, Semenya attempted to qualify for Tokyo in the 5,000 meters, running races in Pretoria and Durban in South Africa and, most recently, at international meets in Germany and Belgium last month. She never came within 20 seconds of the Olympic qualifying mark.THE COURT BATTLESemenya continues to fight against the testosterone regulations in court. She has launched three legal appeals against the rules, calling them unfair and discriminatory, and appears determined to wage her legal fight to the very end. Having failed in appeals at the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the Swiss supreme court, Semenya has now lodged an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights.Semenya’s first appeal at sport’s highest court revealed a bitter battle between her and track authorities, centered on World Athletics’ claim in the closed-doors hearing that she was “biologically male.” Semenya angrily refuted that, having been identified as female at birth and having identified as female her whole life. She called the assertion “deeply hurtful.”OTHER ATHLETES AFFECTEDThe issue won’t disappear with Semenya. Just this week, two 18-year-old female athletes from Namibia were barred from competing in the 400 meters at the Tokyo Olympics after they underwent medical tests and it was discovered they had high natural testosterone levels. One of them, Christine Mboma, is the world under-20 record holder.The two runners that finished second and third behind Semenya at the 2016 Olympics, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Margaret Wambui of Kenya, have said publicly they also are affected by the testosterone regulations and have been banned from the 800, too, unless they undergo medical intervention. Niyonsaba has qualified for the Olympics in the 5,000 meters.WHAT NOW?Semenya has been clear that the rules won’t force her out of track and she’ll keep running and keep enjoying the sport, even if she can’t go to the biggest events.“Now is all about having fun,” she said at a meet in South Africa in April. “We’ve achieved everything that we wanted‚ all the major titles‚ inspiring the youth.”“For me, it’s not about being at the Olympics,” she said. “It’s being healthy and running good times and being in the field for the longest.”———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/olympic-games and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports