The Sports Examiner: The top stories coming in 2020, part 1: Showdowns coming in Tokyo! Doping trials! Unfair shoes!

Can Sam Kendricks (USA) follow up his 2019 world title with an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo?

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The calendar has turned and we are now in the Olympic year of 2020. But although the Tokyo Games will be the top story of this year, there are plenty of others to look for in the months ahead:

● 10. Will Australia steal the 2032 Games for Queensland? ●

Australia’s Queensland region – which includes Brisbane – has made no secret of its interest in the 2032 Olympic Games and has been working flat out to prepare to essentially steal the Games before anyone else can get organized.

A bidding committee is being established now, with Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszchuk already on board, as well as Brisbane Mayor Adrian Schrinner and plenty of Australian Olympians.

The plan is to further develop their plan in 2020 and present “official documents” to the International Olympic Committee in Tokyo prior to the 2020 Games. That goal is a discussion with the IOC that could lead to the appointment of Queensland by 2021, giving it 11 years – like Los Angeles for 2028 – to put on the event.

There are plenty of other possible bidders, but none that are anywhere near as advanced – or enthusiastic – as Queensland.

● 9. Will Yang Sun be suspended for doping by the Court of Arbitration for Sport ●

Triple Olympic swimming champion Yang Sun of China expects to be contending for medals in Tokyo, but the World Anti-Doping Agency is against the idea.

Sun, who has won 11 FINA World Championships gold medals – including the 200 and 400 m Freestyles in 2019 – served a three-month suspension for doping in 2014. In September 2018, he was visited for an out-of-competition doping test at his home, felt the tester’s credentials were invalid and sent them away. A blood sample was smashed, opening possible sanctions against the swimmer.

FINA looked into the case and issued only a warning, but WADA appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Sun demanded that the hearing be public – only the second time such a request has been made – and was held in November. The Chinese interpretation service selected by Sun’s attorneys was so bad the hearing was jeopardized, but a corrected transcript is being provided and the Court expects to render a decision in mid-January.

If found to have committed a doping violation, Sun could be suspended for years as a second-time violator. One of the memorable moments of the 2019 FINA World Championships came during the awards ceremonies following Sun’s wins. Australia’s silver-medal winner Mack Horton refused to stand on the podium with him after the 400 m Free and Britain’s Duncan Scott refused to shake Sun’s hand after the 200 m Free. The tension was palpable and Sun was furious.

Expect considerable turmoil regardless of how the case is decided.

● 8. How many gold medals can Caeleb Dressel win? Or Katie Ledecky? ●

After winning seven gold medals at the 2017 FINA World Championships and six last summer at the FINA Worlds in Gwangju, Korea, American sprinter Caeleb Dressel will be one of the superstars of the first week of the Tokyo Games.

He’s clearly the favorite in the 50 m Freestyle, 100 m Freestyle and 100 m Butterfly, events he won in Gwangju. He can’t compete in the 50 m Butterfly since it’s not on the Olympic program, so the question comes down to how many relays he could participate in.

He was a member of the winning U.S. teams in the men’s 4×100 m Free and Mixed 4×100 m Free, which would give him five golds. He won a silver medal in the men’s 4×100 m Medley, and the U.S. should have a stronger team in 2020 than in 2019. That would be six.

Dressel, 23, has revved up his media profile and has a clear understanding of what could be in front of him. So he’s been casting around for another opportunity, as a seventh gold would tie him with Mark Spitz from 1972, one behind Michael Phelps’ haul of 2008.

Look for Dressel to look into entering the men’s 200 m Free at the U.S. Trials in Omaha in June, not so much to swim the event individually, but as a member of the American 4×200 m Free relay. He’s not close yet, but it could be an option for him.

In addition to Dressel, American distance star Katie Ledecky will be coming back from a disappointing 2019 Worlds, where she fell ill and famously lost the 400 m Free to Australian teen Ariarne Titmus, 3:58.76-3:59.97, on the final lap.

Ledecky had for years been so dominant that the only question was about whether she would take down one of her own world records. Now she wants to demonstrate her brilliance … and perhaps take a shot at equaling East German Kristin Otto’s 1988 feat of six gold medals, the most ever won in a single Games by a women.

Ledecky’s likely program for Tokyo includes the 200-400-800-1,500 m Frees and the 4×200 m Free relay. She has been a member of the U.S. 4×100 m Free relay in the past, winning a silver in Rio in 2016, but Australia has been almost unbeatable in the event in the past couple of years. But U.S. depth is improving in the event and it could be a true tug-of-war in Tokyo … and possibly a chance at equaling Otto’s feat.

● 7. The newest furor is over Nike’s Vaporfly shoes ●

If you thought Nike had enough on its plate contending with the fallout from the closure of the Nike Oregon Project following the four-year suspension of star coach Alberto Salazar for doping violations, more is coming.

The new cause celebre is its Vaporfly shoe series, a special version of which was worn by Kenyans Eliud Kipchoge in his historic 1:59:40.2 marathon time trial and Brigid Kosgei, who set a world record for the women’s marathon of 2:14:04, both in October.

The Vaporfly model developed for these runners further reduces the shoe’s weight and has special carbon plating which creates more bounce from contact with the road. Over the course of 26.2 miles, even tiny advantages make a significant competitive (and time) difference to those wearing these shoes.

Irish journalist Cathal Dennehy has been racing after this story and noted in recent weeks to “Get set for the Vaporfly debate to hit sprinting … the Nike prototype spike that could change the game in 2020.”

But on 30 December, he also tweeted that “A new rule that’s been drafted by World Athletics could put a stop to the current arms race in shoe technology” and writing in the Irish Independent that “Nike’s Vaporfly shoe is giving some athletes an unfair advantage in distance events.” His story starts with this:

“Enough. This can’t go on, and no longer can the sport be in denial. No longer should athletics tolerate such flexible bending – or outright breaking – of its rules.” Stay tuned.

● 6. Christian Coleman or Noah Lyles? Kipchoge or Bekele? Dalilah Muhammad or Sydney McLaughlin? ●

The Olympic track & field competition in Tokyo may be one of the best ever, thanks to a series of rising rivalries among the top stars in several events. Just some of the match-ups to look forward to this summer:

Men/100 & 200 m: A showdown of World Champions, with 2019 winners Christian Coleman in the 100 m and Noah Lyles in the 200 m. Both have said they plan to double in 2020.

Men/Marathon: The world record is 2:01:39 by Kipchoge in Berlin (GER) in 2018, and Ethiopian star Kenenisa Bekele won the 2019 race in 2:01:41. What will happen when they meet in Sapporo?

Men/400 m Hurdles: Norway’s Karsten Warholm beat Rai Benjamin of the U.S., 47.42-47.66 in Doha, but don’t expect Benjamin to be satisfied with silver. Also, how good will Qatar’s Abderrahame Samba be if he’s actually healthy?

Men/Pole Vault: American Sam Kendricks won the 2019 Worlds battle against Mondo Duplantis (SWE) and Piotr Lisek (POL), but that’s no guarantee for Tokyo.

Men/Triple Jump: Former Florida stars Christian Taylor and Will Claye were 1-2 again in Doha, but both have their eyes not only on the gold medal, but the world record!

Men/Shot Put: Americans Joe Kovacs and Ryan Crouser, with Tom Walsh (NZL), put on the greatest shot competition in history in Doha, with Kovacs winning by one cm at 22.91 m (75-2). Could they possibly do better?

Women/Steeple: Kenya’s world-record holder, Beatrice Chepkoech, has been invincible, but could American Emma Coburn shock the world as she did in 2017?

Women/400 m hurdles: It took world records for American Dalilah Muhammad to beat Sydney McLaughlin at the U.S. Nationals and the Doha Worlds. Muhammad will be trying to win her second straight Olympic gold and may have to be the first to ever run sub-52 to do so.

Will any Russians be allowed to compete? Will Allyson Felix continue her comeback and try for more medals? It’s going to be a great spectacle in the new National Stadium.

All of the Americans in these duels have to make the U.S. team first. The Olympic Trials will be held from 19-28 June in Eugene, Oregon, in the first major test of the under-construction Hayward Field, the site of the 2021 World Championships.

Our picks for the top five stories ahead in 2020 comes next Monday; in the meantime, a very Happy New Year once more to our readers!

~ Rich Perelman

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