James Dasaolu: Sprinter sets sights on Tokyo Olympics after injury comeback

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James Dasaolu is too modest to put it on a business card. But some of his more curious clients get there eventually.

“I’ll generally just say I’m an Olympian and that is kind of it,” he told BBC Sport.

“But sometimes some of them have a Google and say ‘I didn’t realise you were the second-fastest man in British history.”

You could forgive his younger customers for having to put in the research after Dasaolu – part-time personal trainer, part-time professional athlete – has put them through their paces.

He ran his personal best time of 9.91 seconds nearly seven years ago – a time bettered only by former world and Olympic champion Linford Christie’s 9.87.

At that point Dasaolu was rising in stature, almost as fast as he was running. It was his fourth PB of the season and a convincing statement of intent.

A month later he made his first global final. An eighth-place finish at Moscow 2013, in a raggedly run 10.21 seconds, was underwhelming. But, at 25, there would surely be more.

So far, there haven’t.

He beat Christophe Lemaitre to win European gold in 2014 but indifferent form and a sabbatical season to support his family after the arrival of his third child were followed by a career-threatening Achilles injury in 2018.

British Athletics had long since directed their money, and crucially the attached medical cover, elsewhere and motivating amateur keep-fitters was near-impossible with his injury.

Instead Dasaolu’s surgery and rehabilitation was paid for by his friends, both famous and anonymous.

When his father Dapo first set up the crowd-funding page James was sceptical.

“He put it up without me knowing and just told me it was there,” remembered Dasaolu.

“I wasn’t hopeful at all. I said, to be honest, I don’t think these things ever really work.”

Some 356 donors thought otherwise. There are some names you would recognise. Dina Asher-Smith and Adam Gemili were among the athletes to donate. Coaches such as Fuzz Caan and Jonas Dodoo also did. But most were fans, who had heard Dasaolu’s story and wanted to give whatever help a spare £10 or £20 could provide.

The totaliser now stands at just shy of £16,000.

“The support from my colleagues and public has been amazing. I can never thank them enough because really without them, I’d have probably have had to retire,” he added.

Instead, at 32, he is taking the first steps in a comeback few saw coming.

In February, in the Polish city of Torun, he competed for the first time in nearly two and a half years, running in a low-key 60m race.

A couple more outings followed in Berlin before coronavirus tightened its grip on the sporting calendar and left Dasaolu switching his sights, initially to the start of the outdoor season, and then further ahead to an indeterminate point when action will finally start up again.

“It was extremely important,” he says of his return. “Definitely more mentally, just for me to tell myself that my body is fully healed. It held up in competition and there is no greater strain than going out there and racing for real.”

The plan was, having put his Achilles tendon through the rigour of racing, to ramp up the intensity of training.

However, he was thwarted even before sport had been fully locked down. On a visit to the British Athletics National Performance Institute in Loughborough, he found himself excluded from the track.

Dasaolu had intended to do a session with para-athlete Jonnie Peacock but was told that because of the coronavirus outbreak, only funded athletes were allowed to train.

A frustrated tweet on the incident drew sympathy from James Ellington, Christie and Gemili.

“It was deeply frustrating and things were said, but I am over it,” said Dasaolu. “These things happen in sport and you just have to let bygones be bygones. I want to have a good relationship with my federation.”

It is easy to be philosophical when the Loughborough facility was shut to everyone – funded or otherwise – just a few hours later.

Does the delay, and a few more months to re-establish himself as a Team GB contender, play into Dasaolu’s hands?

“I believe I would have been ready to go this year, but the extra time means you can fine-tune. It is what it is, you just have to make the correct adjustments.”

The adjustments for everyone are major at the moment. Fortunately, home workouts are something that Dasaolu has been designing for some time.

“You just have to be creative as possible and use what you have,” he said. “I’m fortunate I have got 50 or 60kg of bar bells, a few dumbbells, I can do some walking lunges, go for a jog, I am fortunate enough that I have a back garden so I can do a lot of work there and get some fresh air. It’s not a track, but everyone in the UK is in the same boat.”

Dasaolu knows he is not sailing solo on his unlikely course towards the rescheduled Games in Tokyo next year though.

“I have always found that you are doing it for your country and your family, because ultimately that is who you represent,” he concluded.

“But that support I have had from people has really motivated me, to keep pushing through when I’ve had a hard session or I’m feeling tired. It’s helped my perseverance and motivation massively to know they are behind me.”

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Tokyo 2020: Lord Coe calls for Olympics postponement

World Athletics president Lord Coe has called for this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo to be postponed.

In a letter to International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, Coe says that an Olympics in July 2020 is “neither feasible or desirable” because of the coronavirus crisis.

The IOC has given itself four weeks to decide on the future of the 2020 Games.

Options include a delay of several months or, more probably, a year from the scheduled start on 24 July.

Cancellation is “not on the agenda”, says the IOC, but a “scaled-down” Games will also be considered.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe told his country’s parliament on Monday that a postponement of Tokyo 2020 would be unavoidable if they cannot be held in a complete way.

On Sunday, Canada became the first major country to withdraw from this summer’s Olympics and Paralympics.

The Canadian Olympic and Paralympic committee said it had taken “the difficult decision” to pull out after consulting athletes, sports groups, and the government.

It then “urgently called” on the IOC, the International Paralympic Committee and the World Health Organization to postpone the games for a year.

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In his letter to Bach, which followed a conference call between himself and area presidents of the Olympic federations, Briton Coe said: “No-one wants to see the Olympic Games postponed but as I have said publicly, we cannot hold the event at all costs, certainly not at the cost of athlete safety, and a decision on the Olympic Games must become very obvious very quickly.

“I believe that time has come and we owe it to our athletes to give them respite where we can.”

In his letter, the double Olympic 1500m champion listed three main reasons for delaying the 2020 Games:

  • Competition fairness – “Every one of my area presidents believes that we can no longer expect a fair and level playing field in our sport given the number of athletes who are struggling to train in various countries due to measures put in place to reduce the spread of coronavirus.”
  • Risk of injury – “If athletes are unable to train properly now we both know, as we have both been there, they will push themselves even harder closer to an Olympic Games, which will increase the propensity for injury.”
  • Emotional wellbeing of athletes – “The uncertainty of the Olympic Games happening in July and the inherent desire and motivation to excel that resides in all our athletes is causing real anguish that we can, collectively, put a stop to.”

In his own letter, addressed to athletes and published on Sunday, Bach said the IOC is “in a dilemma” and “a final decision about the date of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 now would still be premature”.

The German added that to postpone the Games “is an extremely complex challenge” and that a cancellation would “destroy the Olympic dream of 11,000 athletes”.

In terms of a postponement, Bach warned: “A number of critical venues needed for the Games could potentially not be available any more.

“The situations with millions of nights already booked in hotels is extremely difficult to handle, and the international sports calendar for at least 33 Olympic sports would have to be adapted. These are just a few of many, many more challenges.”

UK Athletics, its US counterpart, and several national Olympic governing bodies have urged the IOC in recent days to delay the Games.

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Olympics chief told Tokyo 2020 must be postponed as athletes’ worries grow

It's the nightmare scenario Tokyo 2020 organisers dare not contemplate – and for which they can offer no guarantees.

As calls for this summer’s Olympics in Japan to be postponed grew from background murmurs to a full-blown chorus, Indian table tennis star Sharath Kamal delivered an unplayable serve to the host nation.

What happens if a single person – just one – contracts the coronavirus plague in the athletes’ village, where more than 17,000 competitors and team officials will rub shoulders and form a global sporting colony?

Kamal, a four-times Commonwealth Games gold medallist, will turn 38 a fortnight before the scheduled start of play in Tokyo on July 24.

He said: “As an athlete, I obviously want the Olympics to happen but it should not happen (in July).

“The epicentre of the virus will keep changing – first it was China, now it is Italy and Iran, too, is badly affected in Asia.

“I don’t see the scenario being safe for the Olympics to start on time.

“Everyone is talking about social distancing but it is one thing which won’t be possible at the Olympics. Thousands of athletes would be staying in the same village.”

With training facilities around the world under lockdown, to arrest the alarming spread of Covid-19, the pandemic has brought sport to a halt almost worldwide.

International borders are sealed, and with more than 13,000 people already killed by the bug since it surfaced in China three months ago, calls from athletes and national federations to defer Tokyo 2020 have intensified over the last 48 hours.

Serbia and Croatia joined the growing chorus opposing the International Olympic Committee’s plans to proceed on schedule.

Vanja Udovicic, president of Serbia’s Olympic body, warned: “Japan has invested a lot of resources into the Olympics and they are adamant that the Games should go ahead, but that defies common sense.

“We cannot support it because human lives come first.”

His Croatian counterpart, Zlatko Matesa, said it was “impossible” to proceed with the Olympics under the current circumstances.

Matesa said: “No one wants the Games postponed but I think we are close to such a scenario as it seems to be the only option. Sports has come to a halt in all of Europe and no one knows when it will resume.

“Sport is not an issue now as competing has become impossible. I believe it is impossible for the Games to go ahead as scheduled and in my opinion they should and will be postponed for a few months. It won’t be a dramatic delay.”


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Olympic boss Thomas Bach admits for first time Tokyo Games may well be postponed

Olympic chiefs admitted for the first time last night that the Tokyo Games could well be postponed – but promised they would not be cancelled.

Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, revealed he had written to athletes confirming a decision to delay sport’s greatest show was under consideration in the face of the coronavirus crisis.

“Human lives take precedence over everything, including the staging of the Games,” he said. “The IOC wants to be part of the solution.

“Therefore we have made it our leading principle to safeguard the health of everyone involved, and to contribute to containing the virus.”

Bach said the IOC’s ‘scenario planning’ – which is supported by organisers of the Paralympics – would be completed within four weeks and insisted “cancellation is not on the agenda”.

Sir Hugh Robertson, chairman of the British Olympic Association, welcomed the IOC’s move but encouraged them to get a move on as “restrictions now in place have removed the ability of athletes to compete on a level playing field”.

He added: “We urge rapid decision-making for the sake of athletes who still face significant uncertainty. It simply does not seem appropriate to continue on the present course towards the Olympic Games in the current environment.”

Last night’s development followed an impassioned plea from UK Athletics boss Nic Coward, in these pages on Saturday, for the Olympics to be postponed in order to remove the "intense" mental strain the uncertainty is having on athletes.

Coward said: “Schools, like gyms and running tracks, have been closed and national governments have concluded the right thing to do is to remove the stress of exams.

“They have recognised that exams place huge pressure on people, so there won’t be any. Decision made.

“For athletes and para athletes the world over it is the same scenario, they are people for whom this summer is the biggest moment. So what we are saying is the moment has arrived.

“Right now there is a very real issue for people about how they go about their lives. People are having to make really big decisions under a lot of stress. So from our perspective, that pressure has to be released.”

It seems utterly inconceivable now that the Olympics and Paralympics will go ahead as scheduled this summer, as Dame Katherine Grainger, Chair of UK Sport, acknowledged.

“Given the circumstances, today’s news that the IOC are looking at options to postpone the Olympics was inevitable,” she said. “And the correct decision for the safety of athletes, staff and fans.”

Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee, added: “The IPC and I am certain, the whole Paralympic Movement, fully support the IOC’s decision to look into the potential scenarios regarding the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games – including postponement.”

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UK Athletics made ‘reasonable’ decisions over Nike Oregon Project, report finds

UK Athletics made decisions that “were reasonable at the time” in two internal reviews regarding allegations centred on the Nike Oregon Project, an independent report has found.

The governing body held separate reviews related to the NOP, first in the wake of allegations made in a BBC Panorama documentary in 2015 about the project and its head coach Alberto Salazar, and again in 2017 after an interim US Anti-Doping Agency report was leaked.

In 2015 UKA suspended its consultancy arrangement with Salazar but Olympic champion Sir Mo Farah was allowed to continue his coaching relationship with the American, albeit under greater oversight.

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UKA decided not to act in 2017, since USADA advised action based on a leaked report would be “reckless”. UKA had not known in June 2017 that charges had been brought against Salazar. Had it known, its board would have severed all ties with him immediately.

In November 2019 UKA commissioned John Mehrzad QC to lead an independent review of those two internal reviews.

UKA said Mehrzad’s report had found its decisions “were reasonable at those times taking into account the then circumstances and the information then available to UKA”.

Salazar was banned for four years by USADA last year for anti-doping violations, sanctions which he has appealed against to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The independent report made five key recommendations to UKA – that all such future reviews should be independent, should be conducted so that the results can be published in full, to strengthen UKA’s coaching conduct code, be more rigorous in its approach to following up on board recommendations and to ensure accurate and timely minutes are taken of board meetings.

UKA chair Nic Coward said: “John Mehrzad QC has delivered a thorough and detailed independent review into the decisions taken by the UKA board in 2015 and 2017, how they were taken, and the follow up.

“The depth of insight provided by this independent review is timely support for a number of changes that need to happen, and which we are already getting on with. The sport has to meet the highest possible standards, and we need to lead by example.”

The report found that the 2015 internal review was “necessarily narrow” in scope because UKA was asked by USADA and UK Anti-Doping not to consider any doping-related allegations in the Panorama programme.

The findings of the review were shared confidentially with USADA, UKAD and elite sports funding body UK Sport, “none of whom criticised its scope or thoroughness”.

The independent report found the implementation of some of the 2015 board decisions could have been better handled, especially the suspension of Salazar’s arrangement with UKA and a public statement it made in September of that year.

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Parkrun numbers stay healthy as runners remain undeterred by coronavirus outbreak

The coronavirus outbreak may have led to the cancellation of numerous sporting events last weekend but recreational runners do not seem to have been deterred.

Statistics recorded by Parkrun – organisers of the popular series of free, weekly, timed runs that now take place in parks across 22 countries – suggest the British public were as keen to get out and run as they usually are.

A total of 139,873 runners passed through the end-of-run scanners at 678 Parkrun events on Saturday.

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That was a decrease of 32,654 on the 172,527 of the previous week but higher than three of the five weekly totals from February, when bad weather hit attendance. Indeed the figure recorded for 15 February, as Storm Dennis battered Britain, was 119,102.

Parkrun did not want to comment on the figures but they are considered pretty normal for the time of year and weather.

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Indeed, the figure from Saturday also compares favourably to the equivalent weekend last year, when 118,890 ran on 16 March, 2019.

The most attended Parkruns on Saturday were Bushy Park in London, the site of the first Parkrun, (1,148), Southampton (878), Poole (786) and Heaton Park, which is one of a number in the Manchester area, (693).

There were 35 event cancellations, mostly due to the state of the course after recent weather and floods or a lack of available volunteers. Some were affected by the Covid-19 outbreak and cancelled locally but Parkrun UK has not yet recommended closures, in line with Government advice.

That situation could change and the matter will continue to be discussed this week with a possible update by Wednesday.

Parkrun’s global chief operating officer Tom Williams said: “We will therefore be spending the early part of this week consulting with public health experts and speaking directly with national-level senior public health leaders, and we will then make our own decisions as to where our events should close and where they should stay open.

“Importantly, as has been our commitment from the start, we will close our events wherever official public health guidance recommends or requires.”

Parkrun has already been cancelled in 15 countries until the end of March. The UK is one of seven, along with Eswatini, Namibia, New Zealand, Russia and South Africa, where events have kept running.

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National athletics championships postponed

Australia’s national athletics championships have been postponed due to coronavirus, throwing Olympics preparation into chaos.

The national titles are the Olympic qualifying event and where the Australian team for Tokyo was to be finalised.

The Olympics themselves remain in doubt despite official insistence that they will proceed.

The national titles were to be held on March 26 in Sydney.

Swimming’s national championships next month have also been called off.

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Team GB athletes agree deal over Olympic sponsorship rules

Team GB athletes will be allowed greater freedom to promote their own sponsors at the Olympics after striking a deal to ease rules on advertising.

A group of Team GB athletes were in legal dispute with the British Olympic Association (BOA) over their freedom to work with sponsors during the Games.

Athletes had previously faced strict limits on endorsing sponsors.

The BOA says a new agreement balances its own needs but gives more “commercial freedom” to athletes.

The likes of Mo Farah, Katarina Johnson-Thompson, Laura Muir and Adam Gemili were among those listed as claimants in a legal letter sent to the BOA last year.

They argued the BOA’s application of International Olympic Committee (IOC) rules hindered their opportunity to enhance their earnings during the Olympics.

Athletes are now permitted to promote their sponsors before, during and after the Olympics and will be allowed to issue ‘thank you’ messages.

At the same time advertisers can use an image of individual athletes as long as they comply with specific rules.

Previous rules had sought to limit the exposure given to individual sponsors in order to protect the rights of official Games partners.

But in 2019 the IOC relaxed its rules, paving the way for athletes to challenge their own national committees.

The BOA had said protecting official partners helped enhance the financial backing received by Team GB which in turn helped athletes who were unable to acquire their own lucrative private backing.

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Blake Leeper: Paralympian appeals to CAS in bid to make 2020 Olympics

Double amputee Blake Leeper has launched an appeal to run at the Tokyo Olympics after he was banned from competing by World Athletics.

Leeper runs with prosthetic blades and qualified for the 2019 World Championships but was not allowed to compete while his case was reviewed.

He has now appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) to aim to qualify for Tokyo.

Paralympian Oscar Pistorius won a similar appeal in 2008.

American Leeper 30, has run the 400m in 44.3 seconds – a time fast enough to qualify for the US Olympic trials in June. Leeper has asked for an expedited hearing so that a ruling can be reached in time.

“I trust in Cas to recognise that I do not have any advantage over able-bodied athletes,” said Leeper. “I just want a fair chance to compete.”

Leeper, who was born without both legs below the knee, is using the same legal team that in 2008 fought successfully for Pistorius, who went on to compete at the 2012 London Olympics.

However, there has been a significant shift in the way World Athletics, formerly the IAAF, reviews such cases since 2015. The burden of proof is now on the athlete to show they are competing on equal terms and hold no advantage.

Leeper’s lawyer, Jeffrey Kessler, said that placing the onus on Leeper to prove he does not have a competitive edge is flawed and contravenes his human rights.

“Today’s appeal is the latest step in Mr Leeper’s fight for equality on behalf of all disabled athletes who have been unjustifiably prevented from competing in sporting events because of their reliance on necessary prostheses,” said Kessler.

Leeper won silver in the T43 400m and bronze in the 200m at the 2012 London Paralympic Games, trailing Pistorius both times. He missed the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games because of drugs ban, after testing positive for cocaine.

He currently has no classification to compete in Paralympic events.

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