Jamaican female sprint prodigy Kevona Davis says world-renowned coach Stephen Francis would be good for her development as she gets closer to a decision on where she will start her senior career.

The Coronavirus pandemic has forced the world of sports into a standstill and as a consequence, has significantly impacted the ability of athletes to earn a living.

The 2021 World Athletics Championships have been moved back to 2022 to accommodate the rescheduled Tokyo Olympic Games, governing body World Athletics has confirmed.

Last month, the International Olympic Committee elected to move Tokyo 2020 back 12 months in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

That announcement was made possible after World Athletics confirmed its willingness to move its own event and the championships originally slated for August 6-15 next year will now take place between July 15-24 next year, with Oregon still the location.

The new date has been selected so as not to clash with the Commonwealth Games and European Championships, with World Athletics president Sebastian Coe enthused by the exposure that will be generated for athletics during six weeks of back-to-back international competitions.

"This will be a bonanza for athletics fans around the world," he said in a statement.

"They will be treated to six weeks of absolutely first-class athletics. 

"More than 70 of our member federations are part of the Commonwealth and more than 50 of our member federations are European so our guiding principle in rescheduling the World Championships was to ensure enough space was created around the centrepiece World Athletics Championship for athletes to choose other major events to compete in.

"We were also very mindful that we did not want to damage the other major championships in 2022, because they are also very important to our sport."

Anderson Peters, the 2019 World Champion in the javelin, believes that in winning the world title in Doha in 2019, could inspire children in his home country of Grenada by showing them that they do not have to be sprinters to succeed in the sport.

Ato Boldon is one of Trinidad and Tobago’s most successful Olympic athletes having won four medals between the Atlanta Games in 1996 and the Sydney Games four years later.

World Athletics has suspended the qualification period for the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games until December 1.

The coronavirus pandemic last month forced the International Olympics Committee (IOC) to postpone the Games until July 23, 2021.

In line with that decision, World Athletics has decided – in consultation with its Athletes' Commission, area presidents and Council – to alter the qualification period, meaning any results between April 6 and November 30 will not count towards Tokyo 2020 entry standards or world rankings.

Although qualification status cannot be achieved or boosted in this time, results shall continue to be recorded for statistical purposes, and athletes who had already met entry standards before April 6 will remain qualified.

Should the global situation improve, qualification will resume on December 1 and run through to new deadlines, which are no later than June 29, 2021.

World Athletics president Sebastian Coe said: "I am grateful for the detailed work and feedback from our Athletes' Commission and Council, who believe suspending Olympic qualification during this period gives more certainty for athlete planning and preparation, and is the best way to address fairness in what is expected to be the uneven delivery of competition opportunities across the globe for athletes given the challenges of international travel and government border restrictions."

The organisation also confirmed as of Tuesday, 50 per cent of their "HQ staff" have been furloughed.

The government of Monaco will contribute 70 per cent of the wages of those staff in question, with World Athletics topping up the rest to ensure employees are paid their salary in full.

Coe added: "This decision, made possible by the Monaco government, means we will focus only on business-critical activities for the short-term, which will help us manage our cashflow effectively and protect jobs in the long-term.

"All World Athletics HQ staff will remain on their full salaries during this period with the organisation topping up the Monaco government's contribution.

"We have taken care to ensure the support and services we provide to our member federations, areas, partners, stakeholders, athletes and the wider athletics community remain in place with a reduced team."

The Racers Grand Prix, which was awarded gold status in the newly formed 2020 World Athletics Continental Tour, has been postponed due to the global impact of the novel coronavirus.

The meet, which was originally scheduled for June 13, 2020, in Kingston, was one of 10 meets in the new series designed to accommodate athletes from several disciplines cut from the Diamond League for 2020. The events - the triple jump, discus, 3000m steeplechase and 200m. are thee core disciplines for which ranking points would have been allotted at the same level as the Diamond League.

 Meet organiser Glen Mills, in a letter to World Athletics,  said the ferocity of the virus, the local and global restrictions on travelling and gatherings, quarantine procedures, as well as the inconclusive timeline of the impact of the virus were the reasons behind the postponement of the Continental World Series gold standard meet.

 “It is now clear that our only choice is to postpone the date of this year’s meeting of the Racers Grand Prix – Kingston Continental Tour Gold meeting,”  said Mills in the letter dated April 2.

“We are now hoping to be able to reschedule the meeting for a date in the latter half of August. Of course, this is subject to the agreement of World Athletics, in keeping with your overall schedule. It is also subject to the availability of the stadium and the hotel on this new date.”

The meet was intended to be a major boon for the Racers Grand Prix that over the past four years has established itself as one of the best track and field meetings in the Western Hemisphere.

 “We remain grateful that the world body recognised the type of meet that we were putting on, which has been of the highest quality,” said Mills. “And though the postponement of the event is unfortunate, once we receive the all-clear, we will ensure the meet delivers on every level.”

 “We encourage athletes to follow the World Health Organisation guidelines and those of their local leadership to reduce the risk of catching the coronavirus. And we also encourage them to focus on their wellbeing and to find innovative methods to stay fit during this period.”

 The Continental series was set to begin on May 10 in Tokyo, Japan and would also include the Fanny Blankers Koen Games in Hengelo, Netherlands; the Nurmi Games in Turku, Finland; and the Skolimowska Memorial in Silesia, Poland.

 

Firstly, the most important question: how is the family?

"We're all good," Wayde van Niekerk tells Stats Perform. "Most importantly, everyone is very healthy. Everyone is starting to invest now in exercises and more healthy decisions so that's actually nice to see and something that's a positive out of our current circumstances."

Looking for positives in the coronavirus pandemic can be tough. Then again, Van Niekerk has never been one to shirk a challenge. The 400 metre Olympic champion, the first man in history to run a single lap of the track faster than Michael Johnson, the figure tipped by Usain Bolt himself to usurp the Jamaican great as the poster-boy of athletics, has endured a sort of self-isolation from the wider public consciousness over the past couple of years.

Van Niekerk's victory at the 2016 Rio Olympics was done in a world-record time of 43.03, beating Johnson's 17-year best and coming agonisingly close to the magic 43-second barrier. A year later, in the seldom-run 300m, he eclipsed Johnson and Bolt's best times to set a record 30.81 in Ostrava, eight days after a personal best of 9.94 in the 100m.

In so doing, Van Niekerk became the first sprinter in history to break the 10-second, 20-second, 31-second and 44-second barriers for the 100m, 200m, 300m and 400m, respectively. At the World Championships in London in August 2017, he took silver in the 200m and gold in the 400m, defending that title from Beijing two years earlier. Not bad for a man given 24 hours to live when he was born 11 weeks prematurely, who spent his first two weeks of life in intensive care, and who was bullied as a scrawny schoolboy.

Then, in a charity touch rugby match in October 2017, Van Niekerk suffered medial and lateral tears of the meniscus and a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He needed surgery. The 2018 season was written off, meaning he missed the Commonwealth Games. After a winning return in Bloemfontein some 17 months later, Van Niekerk "pushed a bit too hard" and bruised a bone in his knee in training. More months off the track followed; there would be no third world title in a row.

"Missing out on the Commonwealths, I could get over it, but a world champs was very difficult," he admits.

"I got some time to train with the guys in Europe and I was basically prepping for the World Championships, so picking up the bone bruise and then still trying to work towards getting fitness but not quite getting there and seeing off the team and greeting everyone was quite an emotional experience. But it definitely did spark a massive hunger inside me and I think, for myself, I use that as motivation to make sure that when I get a chance again, I'm not going to take it for granted."

That chance was supposed to be 2020, and Tokyo. "I've entered this year as a normal season, so I felt I was ready to compete, I felt I was ready to run. I was training and working as any other year. I made decisions as if I'm about to do a season as usual, so mentally and physically my mind and heart was there."

Then came COVID-19. As sporting events around the world were pushed back or cancelled, the IOC dithered over moving the Olympics, leaving athletes to continue preparations under clouds of uncertainty. It was particularly worrying for Van Niekerk: as social distancing became the norm in countries across the globe, he was obliged to keep up his training programme despite his coach, 77-year-old Ans Botha, being at risk of serious illness if infected.

"It was definitely scary," he says. "It was kind of difficult to communicate with her each and every day and she was right there in front of me. I did not know how to communicate with coach and how to interact with coach knowing how easily she could get affected.

"At that moment, we saw how quickly it was spreading in China and Italy and countries in Europe and we knew it wouldn't be long before it entered our country. That kind of scared me: it's an invisible virus which travels, so I wouldn't even know I'm interacting with coach and spreading the virus to her, so I'm glad she's safe now and can stay away from harm so that, when we get back to work, she'll be ready and healthy."

On March 24, organisers acted at last, postponing the Games until July 23 next year. For many athletes, it was a disheartening blow; for Van Nierkerk, it was "definitely a relief".

"My coach being quite elderly makes it quite difficult for me to focus only on training, knowing that I'm around her all the time and how easily the virus can spread and how quickly it attacks the elderly. It definitely did take a bit of a weight off my shoulders in terms of that," he says.

"Also, we weren't mentally training the way we would love to. I guess the fact the Olympics has been shifted takes a bit of stress off us, and now we can work on keeping our social distancing and staying away from spreading the virus and making sure we kill this thing so we can go back to life as we know it.

"I don't have any issues with the decisions that were made. Working towards next season and what's left of this season, I want to make sure I'm in good shape and use it as building blocks for the Olympics next year. I see it as a healthy year for myself, where I can use it for building and strengthening that I still believe I need to work on."

South Africa won praise for a proactive approach to containing the spread of coronavirus, with swift lockdown measures helping to keep confirmed cases below 2,000 and deaths in single figures as of April 5. Van Niekerk has been training at home – "I'm very privileged and blessed," he says, to have a large back garden and gym to use – and he supports the government's approach. "I think we've also seen a positive reaction to it – a lot of people are obedient to it, a lot of people are distancing themselves from society and from spreading the virus, so I see it as positive decisions that our country's leaders have made."

After so much time out through injury, there is still frustration at having to wait another year for the Olympics, but Van Niekerk, clearly, is not one for negativity. Running at unofficial meets early this year over 100m and 200m, including back home in Bloemfontein, were "quite fun", he says. "Seeing that I still have the speed and still have the strength gave me quite a bit of a boost, and it just gave me a lot of hunger to keep working harder and more efficiently, so that I can be in the best shape for the Olympics. I'm basically just trying to continue off that so I can be in the best shape of my life in Tokyo."

The immediate goal might be Olympics gold, but Van Niekerk may have more than a medal collection in his sights. He has spoken of wanting to leave a legacy and, while going sub-43 over 400m is the obvious target, his love of the shorter races points at a possible bid for sprinting's triple crown. Bolt was king of the 100m and 200m; Johnson ruled from the half-lap to the 400m. To conquer all three would set Van Niekerk apart.

It's a remarkable dream, but Van Niekerk, inspired by Liverpool's Premier League title charge and watching friends and family win the Rugby World Cup last year, is a remarkable athlete.

His is a sport where dozens of people put in hundreds of hours of work often just so one person has one chance of glory, be it with a jump, a throw, or a dash to the line. But he remembers the challenges life threw at him; he remembers those who were with him from those tough beginnings and all the way to August 15, 2016, where one lap of the track in Rio changed his world. And he has never forgotten them. He looks back now not just on the time on the clock or the medal around his neck, but on the people who were there to share it all.

He recalled: "It was definitely... I was quite nervous. But I felt comfortable, I felt confident in myself. I had an amazing season before, put up some great times. But coming to a Games itself, you need to put in that hard work to make sure that you execute what you've worked for. During that process, it was just about staying calm, staying composed, controlling the controllables and executing the race as best I can.

"Breaking the world record itself was amazing. I had my family over there and it was amazing and a great way to end my competition, knowing they were there, spending time with them and celebrating with them. Also, the team: my coach, my management team, my sponsors and so on, it was a great experience knowing I could break the world record and honour everyone associated with me for their hard work and sacrifices they put in to put me where I am today. I'll forever be grateful for it.

"But my mind and my heart are honestly focused on the future and my legacy. It's never been a secret that I want to go sub-43 and it's also no secret how much I love the 100 and 200, so I definitely want to start investing in growth, in every single event that I do, and improve myself every year until the day I retire and whatever legacy comes from that. That's where my focus is at: just to grow and be up there with the greats in the world."

Trinidad and Tobago Olympian Michelle-Lee Ahye may yet make the plane to Tokyo 2020 despite a two-year ban after a whereabouts violation in April of 2019.

The postponement of the Tokyo games until the Summer of 2021 means Ahye, who is appealing that ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), would have been too late even if successful, but that is now, no longer true.

In fact, even if her appeal is unsuccessful, Ahye may still suit up for T&T.  

Ahye has the support of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) throughout the appeals process and the sprinter will be going to CAS with the organisation’s lawyer, Dave Williams.

According to Williams, who spoke to Errol Baptiste on I95.5fm recently, Ahye’s ban began in April of 2019 and is scheduled to end in April of 2019, a full three months before the next Olympics.

Ahye had missed three drug tests on June 23, 2018, February 23, 2019 and April 19, 2019.

"Yes, on a technicality yes, she is available. There is no precedent in place that would prevent her from participating once she qualifies, in the July 2021 Olympics,” said Williams.

Despite the technicality, Williams and the TTOC are still going ahead with their appeal because there are other considerations for the athlete.

"Michelle would have, in fact, suffered as a result of the order issued by the Tribunal, the medals, the titles and awards that she would have received during the period (April to August, 2019), as a result of the Tribunal’s ruling, she would no longer be entitled to such, as a matter of fact, the order goes on to say that Michele’s result from April 2019 shall be disqualified with all resulting consequences including the forfeiture of any titles or awards, medals, points so we are appealing that as well. So, notwithstanding the fact that yes she has benefitted as a consequence of COVID-19, there are still issues that we would like to have reversed in Michelle’s favour,” said Williams.

Williams explained that the process with CAS has been completed and it was now just a wait and see situation.

“We have lodged our appeal, the respondent has since submitted their response to our appeal and it is up to CAS now, both parties have in fact made their relevant submissions to CAS, so the matter is now being deliberated on by CAS," said Williams.

How soon that judgement will be handed down has not been revealed by the CAS yet.

Williams also explained that the ban cannot be extended because the Olympics were moved and/or any extenuating circumstances surrounding the spread of COVID-19.

Wayde van Niekerk says it was "an amazing inspiration" to see South Africa win the Rugby World Cup – especially as the team contained friends and family.

The Springboks triumphed 32-12 over England in the final in Yokohama on November 2 last year to become world champions for the third time.

Olympic 400-metre champion and world-record holder Van Niekerk says the players deserve all the accolades and sponsorship bonuses they have received for their momentous success.

"It's been an amazing inspiration for not just myself but the entire country, and yet another spark for myself as a South African to want to achieve great things," he told Stats Perform.

"I'm quite close friends with a few players and it's great to see how their lives have changed and the blessings and the sponsors and so on that are coming their way. It's amazing, it's well deserved and it's great."

Van Niekerk is friends with several key South Africa players, including captain Siya Kolisi, and he is a cousin of Cheslin Kolbe.

Kolbe battled back from injury in time to play against England and went on to score the final try of the match, capping a terrific 2019 that saw him nominated alongside eventual winner Pieter-Steph du Toit for World Rugby's Player of the Year award.

Van Niekerk recalled: "Thinking back to Cheslin's final try: he's come through so much, moving to France, thinking that he wouldn't make the SA team, and just wanting to go and enjoy his rugby and then getting selected for the World Cup.

"The final try was amazing but let's be honest, his entire tournament, I feel like he was one of the players of the tournament and one of the highlights of the Rugby World Cup.

"I think it's such a blessing and such an amazing blessing to be associated with such great people, like Siya and Cheslin, it's lovely to be associated with them and draw off of them and use them as inspiration for myself, coming back from injury and wanting to do great things for my country the way they did."

When Barbadian OIympian Pearson Jordan died last Saturday, March 28, from COVID-19, he was one of three sportsmen from that country to have died in the past month.

The impact of the Tokyo 2020 postponement, as well as others means track and field athletes can look forward to a tough four years to come, so says former Trinidad & Tobago sprinter and Olympic medallist Ato Boldon.

According to Boldon, the movement of the Olympics to the Summer of 2021 is likely to push the World Championships to 2022, sparking a domino effect on other major games.

“It means that we may be in for four championship years in a row. We know that the summer Olympics are going to be in 2021. I think they are going to push the World Championships over to 2022 which means that it then conflicts with the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup, and then we get back on stream with the regular schedule of 2023 World Championships and 2024 Olympics in Paris,” said Boldon.

These movements, Boldon believes, won’t reset the athletic calendar for another five years, but sees no real alternative to the unprecedented action of putting an Olympics in an odd year.

Boldon has an interest in what the next few years of athletics holds as the coach of rising star, Briana Williams.

Williams was set to contest for a place in her first Olympics and in a recent SportsMax.tv interview, Boldon said the delay was good for his athlete, who would have a year to get stronger.

The hosts of the various big events in the world of sports have been missing the point over and over for the last three months, much like many governments have.

The COVID-19 Pandemic has inch by inch, ground sports to a halt all over the world and looming events have had to be either cancelled or postponed as it becomes clear that the word ‘pandemic’ is as horrifying as it sounds and the world won’t get over this issue in a few weeks or months as administrators seem to feel.

But even more important than that, these administrators seem to feel that whether or not an event can go on, depends on the environment at the event.

But I suggest there is more to it than that.

The Olympics, for instance, in Tokyo, Japan, seemed to hinge on whether or not the island could get its COVID-19 problems under control before the rest of the world would travel to the event.

When it became clear that this would not be the case, the event was postponed.

However, up until that time, even as preparatory events for the Olympics were being cancelled and/or postponed all over the world, the International Olympic Committee had been asking athletes to prepare as if there would still be an event in July of 2020.

That, I believe, was unfortunate, because it meant, even without travelling to meets all over the world, training was putting athletes at risk of contracting the virus.

The danger of picking up the virus becomes even more acute when you consider team sports and how much contact it takes to get one working in unison and performing at a high level.

For that to happen, there needs to be a combination of technical staff, trainers, teammates, and much more. That will up the chances of contracting a virus and therefore it doesn’t matter what is happening at whichever venue in the world, the athletes are at risk.

I am acutely aware that much planning goes into putting on a large event like the Olympics or the UEFA Champions League, and that there is a lot of money riding on the event going ahead as planned.

These considerations, I believe, make decisions grey and not as completely black and white like it might from the outside, however, sports and entertainment being the last to get on board with social distancing was, in my mind, slightly callous.

But that’s just in my mind. These organisers may well have foreseen the financial fallout for the athletes themselves and wanted to save them, for as long as they could, from months without earning in some cases.

Whichever way you see it, the truth is COVID-19 is likely to bankrupt far more people than it kills.

Many of the reports on COVID-19 have also indicated that it hurts people with underlying conditions and the elderly, so the athlete with his fitness at the peak of their value, along with usually being under 40, is not in any real danger.

But how about the person the athletes give it to? And, as was the case of 21-year-old Spanish coach, Francisco Garcia, who knows who has an underlying condition that this virus may attack?

Garcia, a coach at Atletico Portada Alta, found out he had undiagnosed Leukemia, after being admitted to hospital with coronavirus symptoms. By then, it was too late.

How I see it is that people and countries can recover from going broke. It happens all the time.

I’ve never seen anybody recover from being dead.

Cricket West Indies and the England Cricket Board are entertaining the idea of having a series between the two, scheduled for June, behind closed doors.

Hopefully, they think better of it in short order.

World Athletics has named Cuba’s Ana Quirot winning gold medals at the 1995 and 1997 World Championships, among 10 of the greatest athletics moments of triumph over adversity.

Barbadian Olympic Pearson Jordan has died on Saturday, March 28, after being infected by the coronavirus COVID-19.

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