Doping, Russia's absence headline world indoor championships
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The face of Ashton Eaton is plastered on walls and buildings all over the city as the poster athlete for the world indoor championships.
For the next few days, this is his town – he's from the area – and the Olympic decathlon champion has one request: Stop focusing on doping.
''I just care about competing on the track,'' Eaton said.
That cloud hanging over the meet, though, is hard to ignore. The Russians aren't here because of pending doping and corruption charges. This could be a glimpse of what the Rio Olympics might be like without one of track's top powers should the country not be reinstated.
Not only that, but a few prominent athletes are not competing after using the drug meldonium, which enhances blood flow.
These have been some dark days for track. Its leader, Sebastian Coe, even acknowledged as much. But he's hoping to rebuild trust in the sport – what the 7,000 fans at the Oregon Convention Center witness this weekend can actually be trusted.
''I sincerely hope so,'' Coe said. ''I think the very fact they're coming shows there's a strong loyalty to the sport. It's our responsibility to make sure it's not just the fans, but the athletes, the media, our partners that we are looking to invest in the sport, the parents that we want to encourage their kids into our sport. That trust is across a wide bandwidth.''
The International Association of Athletics Federations, the sport's governing body, could decide in May if Russia's track and field program has done enough to repair its anti-doping measures and can be reinstated for the Summer Games.
Russia is not alone. Coe recently said that Ethiopia, Morocco, Kenya, Ukraine and Belarus are in ''critical care'' and also must seriously improve their anti-doping programs.
''We can't demand trust. It's not going to just return because people suddenly think we have reforms in place,'' Coe said. ''Unless we start right where we are at the moment, it's unlikely to happen.
''The sport is strong. But we are in a process of change. We have to make those changes.''
Things to watch on the track at the world indoor championships this weekend:
JAMAICAN RULE?: Quick, name the last Jamaican man to win a world indoor title in the 60 meters. Usain Bolt? Nope. It's never happened, despite the country's dominance in the sprints at other major meets. Asafa Powell will try to end that streak (Bolt isn't competing). The Jamaican women, though, have won the last three titles in the 60 meters. The favorite is Dutch sprinter Dafne Schippers.
YOUNG & TALENTED: Maybe for now, American teenager Vashti Cunningham is best known as the daughter of longtime NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham. That soon could be changing because the 18-year-old is one of the world's top high jumpers. She's not the only up-and-comer making a mark: Qatari Abdalelah Haroun is a rising force in the 400 meters. Same with Ethiopia's Habitam Alemu in the women's 800, and Poland's Konrad Bukowiecki, who will try to end a streak of six straight titles by the Americans in the men's shot put at the world indoors.
SWEEP DREAMS: The Kenyans have a good chance to go 1-2-3 in the men's 3,000 meters. Augustine Choge will lead the charge, but will be pushed by teammates Isiah Koech and Caleb Ndiku, the defending champion. Like sweeps? The U.S. women have a chance in the 60-meter hurdles. Nia Ali is the defending champion, with Brianna Rollins and Kendra Harrison also representing the red, white and blue. The biggest threat could be Tiffany Porter of Britain.
DIBABA'S DAY: The good news for runners in the 1,500 is that Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia will concentrate on the 3,000. That's bad news for those entered in the longer event. Dibaba is the defending champion in the 3,000. Her biggest adversaries will be four-time world indoor champion and teammate Meseret Defar, and possibly Shannon Rowbury of the U.S.
TEAM EATON: Eaton and his wife, Brianne Theisen-Eaton, were introduced to the crowd at a gathering Thursday as the ''closest thing we get to athletic royalty.'' Eaton and Theisen-Eaton met at the University of Oregon and remain crowd favorites. Ashton Eaton is the world-record holder in the decathlon (outdoors) and heptathlon (indoors). Theisen-Eaton competes for Canada and won a silver medal in the pentathlon at world indoors two years ago. ''I love sport because you get to travel the world … be more of a global enterprise,'' Eaton said. ''But you have a lot of pride when you bring somebody to your home. That's what I'm doing here.''