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Christine Mboma a doubt for African Championships

Namibian sprinter Christine Mboma is a doubt for the African Athletics Championships next month after suffering a thigh injury.

The 18-year-old was injured during the 100m at the Kip Keino Classic continental tour meeting in Kenya on Saturday, pulling up and failing to finish the race, which was won by Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

Mboma’s coach Henk Botha told BBC Sport Africa the Olympic 200m silver medallist will be out for at least three weeks after receiving the results of an MRI scan in South Africa this week.

The African Championships begin on 8 June in Mauritius.

“She has a tear in her upper thigh muscle,” Botha added.

“Currently we are not sure about the African Championships but we will only know [if she will compete] in her 10-day assessment. She will definitely be ready for World Championships and the Commonwealth Games.”

Mboma, who is the reigning BBC African Sport Personality of the Year, is currently Africa’s highest-rated sprinter after an impressive 2021 season which saw her claim the Diamond League trophy and the junior World title over 200m in addition to silver at the Tokyo Olympics.

She will not feature in Friday’s Diamond League season opener in Doha, having been expected to race in a field which also includes USA’s Olympic bronze medallist Gabrielle Thomas and Great Britain’s world champion Dina Asher Smith.

The World Athletics Championships begin on 15 July in Oregon, United States, with the Commonwealth Games starting on 28 July in Birmingham, England.

Man with hole in neck to compete again

A man who was left with a hole in his neck after cancer treatment is set to compete in a triathlon.

Richard Andrews, 56, from Hereford, was diagnosed with stage two laryngeal cancer in 2018.

Gruelling treatment and surgery saw his voice box and lymph nodes removed, as he was left unable to speak for months.

In a bid to improve his fitness he took on 10k races and ultra-marathons, but said a triathlon presented its own complications.

“The biggest challenge has been learning to swim again with my specially designed snorkel which fits into the hole in my neck,” he said.

“Learning to breathe in a totally new way whilst swimming has been rather nerve-racking.”

Four years ago, the father-of-three was in a very different place.

Initially Mr Andrews thought he was just suffering from a “savage” sore throat and “extreme” earache.

Richard Andrews 56, with his wife Ann and their three children

However, he was given the news that he had malignant tumour on his vocal chord after being referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist and undergoing a biopsy.

“My reaction was strangely positive immediately, but my wife didn’t take it well,” he recalled.

Following the diagnosis, he underwent 30 sessions of radiotherapy which led to him losing three stone.

A month after being given the all clear, in January 2019, Mr Andrews started running, cycling and swimming in preparation for a duathlon and 10k.

But he once again began to suffer from shortness of breath and earache – the cancer had returned.

Richard Andrews had his voice box and lymph nodes removed

In July 2019, the supermarket worker underwent surgery to remove his voice box and lymph nodes, which left him with a hole in his throat.

“My mouth is no longer used for breathing, and my nose doesn’t work at all except for holding my glasses on my face,” he said.

“The biggest effect was on the family as I couldn’t talk for four months, which was extremely frustrating.

“I lost a further three stone and was very weak so the training started again to rebuild the lost strength.”

Mr Andrews went on to complete a half marathon three months after his operation.

He said a triathlon was the “obvious choice” for his next challenge, partly because he was unaware of any other laryngectomy patient taking one on.

“I decided to go one step further and complete a half ironman which involves a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile cycle and a 13.1-mile run,” he said.

A specially-made snorkel connected to Richard’s neck
During the first UK lockdown, Richard Andrews (right) was made redundant from his sales job

“The support I have received from everyone, the doctors, nurses, dieticians and my specialist speech therapist have been truly awesome and have literally kept me going.

“Over the last three years my family has been the reason I have survived all the ups and downs.”

His first event is on 8 May in Harrogate.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis refuses to recognise transgender winner

Florida governor Ron DeSantis has signed a proclamation recognising runner-up Emma Weyant as the winner of the highest US national college swimming title – an event she lost to transgender athlete Lia Thomas.

Last week Thomas became the first known transgender athlete to win the title. She took victory in the women’s 500-yard freestyle in Atlanta. But on Tuesday Republican governor DeSantis said the result “undermined the integrity of the competition”. Thomas, who swims for the University of Pennsylvania, secured the title in four minutes 33.24 seconds in Atlanta.

Weyant, of Sarasota, Florida, who won 400m individual medley silver at the Tokyo Olympics, finished 1.75secs behind in second.

DeSantis criticised the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) for allowing Thomas to compete.

He said: “The NCAA is basically taking efforts to destroy women’s athletics, they’re trying to undermine the integrity of the competition and they’re crowning somebody else the women’s champion and we think that’s wrong.

“They are putting ideology ahead of opportunity for women athletes and I think that there are just some people that are afraid to speak out and say what they are doing, but that is what they are doing.”

Thomas swam for the Pennsylvanian men’s team for three seasons before starting hormone replacement therapy in spring 2019.

US swimming updated its policy in February to allow transgender athletes to swim in elite events, alongside criteria that aims to reduce any unfair advantage.

The NCAA – which governs college-level swimming – ruled it would be wrong to implement the new rules mid-season, thus allowing Thomas to compete.

On Monday World Athletics president Sebastian Coe issued a warning over the future of women’s sport if sporting organisations get regulations for transgender athletes wrong.

“I think that the integrity of women’s sport if we don’t get this right, and actually the future of women’s sport, is very fragile,” Coe said.

Akani Simbine ‘devastated’ to lose World Relay gold

South Africa’s Akani Simbine is “devastated” at the prospect of losing the 4x100m gold medal he helped win at the World Athletics Relays after his team-mate Thando Dlodlo was banned for doping.

Dlodlo, who ran the first leg of the final at the event in Poland last May, tested positive for testosterone at the South African championships in Pretoria a few weeks before the team’s success in Chorzow.

The 23-year-old has been suspended for a two and a half years by the South Africa Doping Institute for Drug-Free Sport (Saids).

A spokesperson for Simbine, who finished fourth in the 100m at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, said he would not give any further comment at this time.

Tlotliso Gift Leotlela and Clarence Munyai are the other two athletes set to be stripped of their gold medals. It means Italy would be promoted to become men’s 4x100m World Athletics Relays gold medallists, with Japan set to get silver medals and Denmark moving up to bronze.

World Athletics has yet to comment on Dlodo’s case and disqualify the South African team. Dlodlo’s ban, which runs until 28 December 2023, was reduced from four years after he admitted the offence.

The sprinter missed out on competing at the Olympics last year after being informed of his positive test on 29 June and being provisionally suspended.

The sanctions will not affect South Africa’s continental record for the 4x100m relay that the team, which included Dlodlo, set at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Qatar.

Mo Farah to return to action at London 10k

Four-time Olympic champion, Mo Farah will make his return to competition at the Vitality London 10,000 in May.

The 38-year-old, Britain’s most decorated track and field athlete, has not raced since suffering a fractured foot in June last year. He fell short of the 10,000m selection time for last year’s Tokyo Olympics at the British Championships.

Farah, the 5,000m and 10,000m champion at both the London and Rio Games, is a seven-time winner of the London 10,000. The race, won by Farah in five consecutive years between 2009 and 2013, and again in 2018 and its most recent edition in 2019, will take place on Monday 2 May.

“I’ve been working hard to get back into shape following my injury last summer and I’ve got a few more months of hard training ahead of me,” said Farah. ”

I have great memories of the event. I have won it seven times and racing in central London is something you can never get bored of. The atmosphere among the thousands of participants is always fantastic and I can’t wait to be part of it again.”

Farah said he would consider his future after failing to qualify for Tokyo, saying: “If I can’t compete with the best why bother?”

He later told the BBC he had “been struggling for quite a while” but added he was determined to recover from the injury and finish his career on his own terms.

Christine Mboma beats Kipchoge and Kipyegon to lift the BBC African Sports Personality of the Year

Namibian sprinter Christine Mboma has been voted the BBC African Sports Personality of the Year for 2021, so becoming the first female winner in the award’s long history.

The 18-year-old became the first Namibian woman to ever win an Olympic medal when taking silver in a star-studded 200m final in Tokyo last year.

“I feel great and really proud to be a Namibian,” she told BBC Sport Africa.

“I dedicate this BBC award to all Namibians. This is [a reward] for all the hard work I have done.”

Mboma saw off Kenyan runners Eliud Kipchoge and Faith Kipyegon, South African para-athlete Ntando Mahlangu, Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and South African swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker to win the award.

She becomes the second Namibian athlete to be recognised in such fashion, after sprinter Frankie Fredericks won the BBC African Sports Star of the Year award in 1993.

This award later became the BBC African Footballer of the Year prize, which ran from 2001 until 2018 when the BBC changed the award back to its original purpose by reflecting the diversity of sports across the continent.

“It is always great to put my country on the spot. I always make my country proud and I thank all the Namibians who voted for me. They will go crazy when they hear this,” she said upon learning of her prize.

In addition to her Olympic silver, Mboma was also a Diamond League champion and Under-20 gold medallist over 200m, and broke the Under-20 record over the distance several times last year.

All those fastest times came shortly after Mboma was barred from her preferred event, the 400m, in July, after being found to have overly-high levels of testosterone.

The sport’s governing body, World Athletics, bars all athletes with naturally-high levels of testosterone from contesting any races between 400m and the mile, arguing that it gives such athletes an unfair advantage.

“I felt disappointed but I did not give up,” she says of the time.

“I didn’t expect [the rest of 2021 would go so well] after what happened but I am really proud of myself for all the achievements I have done. It was very difficult.

“My achievement will motivate young athletes from Africa, and here in Namibia, to try to do their best and to work hard in their dream.”

‘I was just so happy to survive’ – Sifan Hassan reflects on epic Olympic treble bid

As Sifan Hassan flopped to the Tokyo track, it was difficult to guess her emotions. Joy at becoming only the second woman to complete an Olympic distance double?

Regret that the 1500m title that would have made it an unprecedented treble had slipped away the previous evening?

Relief that a campaign that covered more than 15 miles in eight days was finally over?

A mix of all three?

In fact it was none of them but rather something more primal.

“Honestly, at that moment, I was just so happy to survive,” she tells Sport Today on BBC World Service.

“I was really in pain, I was suffering so much, I was sweating very, very, very hard, all my face was burning, my hand was burning, all my body was burning. I felt I had no water inside me.

“I thought I was going to pass out. In that moment I didn’t mind about gold, I just wanted to be alive and healthy.”

The Dutchwoman’s Olympic ambitions had taken her to the very edge of her endurance.

Not since the days of sepia news reels had an athlete taken on such a monster schedule, competing in the 1500m, 5,000m and 10,000m, with the longest distance coming last on a suffocatingly humid night in the Japanese capital.

Hassan flat out, framed by worried medical staff, clutching ice to her grimacing face was the final scene.

But the 29-year-old’s epic assault on the Olympics had already featured the see-sawing emotional swings of a summer blockbuster.

On the morning of 2 August, she tripped at the start of the final lap of her 1500m heat. Her rivals cantered on as she scrabbled on the floor. For an instant it seemed her bid for three golds was over before it had really begun.

Hassan sprung to her feet, hared after the pack, made up 25 metres on them, and came through to win.

That evening, she returned to the Olympic Stadium and motored away from world champion Hellen Obiri to clinch 5,000m gold.

Despair to delight. But her second and final gold, that draining 10,000m triumph, was fuelled by anger.

Hassan had been unable to stick with the pace in the previous night’s 1500m final. Britain’s Laura Muir and Kenyan winner Faith Kipyegon turned up the heat to leave Hassan third.

On the bottom step of the podium, she stewed.

“When I lost, at the time, I was so mad,” she says.

“At the medal ceremony, when I went back to my room I knew there was something inside me.

“That was when I decided: I will die tomorrow, I will go to the end.”

Hassan’s third-place finish in the 1500m final behind Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon (centre) and Great Britain’s
Laura Muir (left) fueled her win in the next day’s 10,000m final

The frustration and disappointment came out with everything else as she emptied the tanks in her final Tokyo race.

While Hassan’s rivals picked and chose their events, zeroing in to maximise their chances of gold, she says curiosity was behind her decision to go for a full house of distance events.

Was it possible, she asked herself? Logistically, athletically, mentally, could she contend across three events at the highest level in a painfully short span of time?

She could. And now she, and others, might do it again.

“God willing,” she says, when asked about the prospect of fighting on three fronts at another major championship.

“But I don’t think it will be as hard as in Tokyo, because I have done it.

“Even if another athlete had done it, it is going to be much easier because we know it is possible.

“Something is always more difficult when we don’t know before.”

Her curiosity has been piqued by something else, though.

Hassan has plans to combine road and track, banking that her extraordinary talent can bridge the divide between the two.

She hopes to step up to marathons, while still taking on the best in stadiums. It’s another huge challenge.

Britain’s Mo Farah, himself an Olympic double distance champion, can attest to how confidence forged on the track can crumble on the tarmac, even when focusing solely on the marathon.

Hassan, though, has already shown in Tokyo that she’ll go to the brink to chase history and pursue greatness.

World Athletics amends rules to cap shoe sole thickness

The thickness of the soles of track spikes will be capped at 20mm from 2024, World Athletics has confirmed.

The sport’s governing body says manufacturers have “sufficient time” to make adjustments to products before the rule begins on 1 November 2024.

Track spikes can currently measure from 20-25mm in stack height, while the mark is 40mm for road shoes.

World Athletics said it is exploring solutions for athletic shoes that balance “innovation and fairness”.

Recent years have seen questions posed as to how influential advancements in shoe technology have been on new records set both on the track and road.

After taking 0.76 of a second off his own world record at this year’s Tokyo Olympics, Norwegian 400 metres hurdler Karsten Warholm warned shoe technology was proving an issue.

“When somebody does a great performance now, everybody will question if it’s the shoe and that is the credibility problem,” he said.

“People sitting at home. I don’t want them to feel like they’ve been fooled or tricked. I want there to be credibility.”

In announcing the rule change for 2024, World Athletics said it will make a more “flexible” compliance process for checking if shoes are within the rules for each specific event.

Post-race checks will be given stronger focus and a shoe control officer role will be created to oversee new processes.

 

African Sports Personality Award for 2021 list revealed

The shortlist for BBC African Sports Personality of the Year 2021 award has been announced. The six contenders for the accolade were chosen by a panel of journalists from Africa and the United Kingdom.

The panel selected a shortlist based on the best African sporting achievements on the international stage in 2021 (between January and September).

The impact of the person’s achievement beyond their particular sport was also taken into account.

The nominees are:

  • Eliud Kipchoge (athletics)
  • Faith Kipyegon (athletics)
  • Ntando Mahlangu (para-athletics)
  • Christine Mboma (athletics)
  • Edouard Mendy (football)
  • Tatjana Schoenmaker (swimming)

There is more information on the nominees below, where you can also vote for the winner.

Voting closes at 23:59 GMT on Sunday, 19 December and the winner of the award will be announced on Friday, 7 January 2022 on Focus On Africa television and radio and on the BBC Sport website.

Ultramarathon survivors threatened for speaking out

When Zhang Xiaotao woke up he was in a cave and somebody had lit a fire to keep him warm. He had no idea how he’d got there.

Zhang’s frozen unconscious body had been found by a passing shepherd who’d wrapped him in a quilt and carried him over his shoulders to safety. He was one of the lucky ones.

In May this year, 21 competitors died at an ultra-running event in northern China hit by extreme weather conditions: hail, heavy rain and intense gales caused temperatures to plummet, and nobody seemed prepared for it.

Only a small number felt comfortable talking about what happened – and some have been threatened for doing so.

The sun was out on race day in Baiyin, a former mining area in China’s Gansu province. Some 172 athletes were ready to run 62 miles (100km) through the Yellow River Stone Forest national park.

The organisers were expecting good conditions – they’d had mild weather the previous three years. They had even arranged for some of the competitors’ cold-weather gear to be moved forward along the course so they could pick it up later in the day.

But soon after Zhang arrived at the start line, a cold wind began to blow. Some runners gathered in a nearby gift shop to take shelter, many of them shivering in their short-sleeved tops and shorts.

Zhang started the race well. He was among the quickest to reach the first checkpoint, making light work of the rugged mountain trails. Things started to go badly wrong just before the second checkpoint, some 20km into the course.

“I was halfway up the mountain when hail started to fall,” he later wrote in a post on Chinese social media. “My face was pummelled by ice and my vision was blurred, making it difficult to see the path clearly.”

Still, Zhang went on. He overtook Huang Guanjun, the men’s hearing-impaired marathon winner at China’s 2019 National Paralympic Games, who was struggling badly. He went across to another runner, Wu Panrong, with whom he’d been keeping pace since the start.

Wu was shaking and his voice was trembling as he spoke. Zhang put his arm around him and the pair continued together, but quickly the wind became so strong, and the ground so slippery, that they were forced to separate.

As Zhang continued to ascend, he was overpowered by the wind, with gusts reaching up to 55mph. He’d forced himself up from the ground many times, but now because of the freezing cold he began to lose control of his limbs. The temperature felt like -5C. This time when he fell down he couldn’t get back up.

Thinking fast, Zhang covered himself with an insulation blanket. He took out his GPS tracker, pressed the SOS button, and passed out.

                      A report later found that organisers had failed to take measures despite weather warnings

Closer to the back of the field, another runner, who goes by the alias Liuluo Nanfang, was hit by the frozen rain. It felt like bullets against his face.

As he progressed he saw somebody walking towards him, coming down from the top of the mountain. The runner said it was too cold, that he couldn’t stand it and was retiring.

But Nanfang, like Zhang, decided to keep going. The higher he climbed, the stronger the wind and the colder he felt. He saw a few more competitors coming down on his way up the mountain. His whole body was soaking wet, including his shoes and socks.

When he finally did realise he had to stop, he found a relatively sheltered spot and tried to get warm. He took out his insulation blanket, wrapping it around his body. It was instantly blown away by the wind as he’d lost almost all sensation and control in his fingers. He put one in his mouth, holding it for a long time, but it didn’t help.

As Nanfang now started to head back down the mountain, his vision was blurred and he was shaking. He felt very confused but knew he had to persist.

Halfway down he met a member of the rescue team that had been dispatched after the weather turned. He was directed to a wooden hut. Inside, there were at least 10 others who had decided to withdraw before him. About an hour later that number had reached around 50. Some spoke of seeing competitors collapsed by the side of the road, frothing at their mouths.

“When they said this, their eyes were red,” Nanfang later wrote on social media.

                            The Yellow River Stone Forest is a tourist site and national park in Gansu, China

Zhang, meanwhile, had been rescued by the shepherd, who’d taken off his wet clothes and wrapped him in a quilt. Inside the cave, he wasn’t alone.

When he came to, about an hour later, there were other runners also taking refuge there, some of whom had also been saved by the shepherd. The group had been waiting for him to wake up so they could descend the mountain together.

At the bottom, medics and armed police were waiting. More than 1,200 rescuers were deployed throughout the night, assisted by thermal-imaging drones and radar detectors, according to state media.

The following morning, authorities confirmed that 21 people died, including Huang, who Zhang overtook, and Wu, the runner he’d kept pace with at the start of the race.

A report later found that organisers failed to take action despite warnings of inclement weather in the run up to the event.

As news of the deaths broke on social media, many people questioned how the tragedy could have happened. Some competitors, such as Zhang and Nanfang, chose to write about their experiences online to help people understand what it was like.

But Zhang’s post, written under the name ‘Brother Tao is running’, disappeared shortly after it was published.

When Caixin – a Beijing-based news website – re-uploaded his testimony, a new post appeared on the account a week later, begging the media and social media users to leave him and his family alone.

It later transpired that Zhang had suspended his account after people questioned his story. Some accused him of showing off for being the sole survivor at the front of the pack, others had sent him death threats.

“We don’t want to be internet celebrities,” he wrote online, adding that the man who saved him had also faced pressure from the media and “other aspects”.

“Our lives need to be quiet,” he wrote. “Please everyone, especially friends in the media, do not disturb me and do not question me.”

The survivors weren’t the only ones to find themselves put under pressure.

                                         Rescuers search for and attend to stricken athletes on the race trail

One woman, who lost her father in the race, was targeted with social media abuse on Weibo after questioning how her father was “allowed to die”. She was accused of spreading rumours and using “foreign forces” to spread negative stories about China.

Another woman, Huang Yinzhen, whose brother died, was followed by local officials who she claimed were trying to keep relatives from speaking to each other.

“They just prevent us from contacting other family members or reporters, so they keep monitoring us,” she told the New York Times.

In China it’s typical for relatives of those who have died in similar circumstances – where authorities face blame – to have pressure placed on them to remain silent. For the government, social media attention on any possible failings is not welcome.

A month after the race, in June, 27 local officials were punished. The Communist Party secretary of Jingtai County, Li Zuobi, was found dead. He died after falling from the apartment in which he lived. Police ruled out homicide.

The Baiyin marathon is just one of many races in a country that was experiencing a running boom. Its tragic outcome has brought the future of these events into question.

According to the Chinese Athletics Association (CAA), China hosted 40 times more marathons in 2018 than in 2014. The CAA said there were 1,900 “running races” in the country in 2019.

Before Covid hit, many small towns and regions attempted to capitalise on this by hosting events in order to bring more tourism into the area and boost the local economy.

After what happened in Baiyin, the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection accused organisers of some of the country’s races of “focusing on economic benefits” while they are “unwilling to invest more in safety”.

With Beijing’s hosting of the 2022 Winter Olympics just months away, China has suspended extreme sports such as trail running, ultramarathons and wingsuit flying while it overhauls safety regulations. It is not yet clear when they will restart. There have been reports that not even a chess tournament managed to escape the new measures.

But without events like these, people wishing to get involved, perhaps even future star athletes, are finding themselves frustrated. In some cases, as Outside Magazine points out, athletes could take matters into their own hands, venturing into the mountains without any regulation whatsoever and putting themselves at risk.

Mark Dreyer, who runs the China Sports Insider website, wrote on Twitter: “If this incident has removed the top layer of the mass participation pyramid – as seems likely – there’s no telling what effect that would have at the lower levels.

“The long-term effects of this tragic – and avoidable – accident could also be significant.”