HEARD AT HALFTIME: U.S. women face Mexico in Tokyo qualifier; Duplantis opens at 19-8 1/4 to beat Kendricks

Star vaulter Mondo Duplantis of Sweden.

News, views and noise from the non-stop, worldwide circus of Olympic sport:

Athletics ● The third leg of the World Athletics World Indoor Tour came on Tuesday in Dusseldorf (GER) in front of a big crowd at the Arena-Sportpark, with Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis stealing the show.

In his first competition of 2020, the 20-year-old from Louisiana cleared 6.00 m (19-8 1/4) to win the pole vault from World Champion Sam Kendricks, who rebounded from an off-day last week to clear 5.80 m (19-0 1/4). It was the fourth career meet over 6.00 m for Duplantis and his first ever indoors. He had three misses at a world record of 6.17 m (20-3)!

Other notable marks included world indoor leaders in the men’s 1,500 m for Filip Ingebrigtsen (NOR) in 3:36.32, Selemon Barega (KEN) in the 3,000 m in 7:35.71 and 21.52 m (70-7 1/4) for Croatia’s Filip Mihaljevic in the shot.

Women’s Steeple world-record holder Beatrice Chepkoech (KEN) won the 1,500 m in a world-leading 4:02.09, a lifetime best (indoors or out), and Germany’s Neele Eckhardt took the triple jump in a world-leading 14.17 m (46-6). Full results here.

New Russian Minister of Sport Oleg Matytsin suspended the Russian Athletics Federation through 1 March, after RusAF had been reproached by World Athletics’ Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) for yet another doping cover-up, this time of “whereabouts” reporting failures by 2018 World Indoor High Jump Champion Danil Lysenko.

Matytsin said of the move, “The crisis in Russia’s track and field athletics has been lasting for five years, which is obviously too long a period. Our goal is to swiftly normalize cooperation with World Athletics to reinstate RusAF’s membership. Our immediate tasks are to take necessary additional anti-doping measures and to ensure a possibility for our athletes to compete at international tournaments.”

RusAF has denied any wrongdoing in the Lysenko case, saying in a statement, “RusAF disagrees with the accusations against it, brought forward by the AIU Council, as they are baseless and lack evidence.” A special meeting of the Russian Athletics Federation is scheduled for the end of the month, during which new officers are to be elected.

Despite being unable to compete internationally, Russia’s high jump World Champion Mariya Lasitskene continues to jump within her home country … and well. She cleared a world-leading 2.04 m (6-8 1/4) and tried 2.07 m (6-9 1/2) in Moscow on 1 February.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport declared that it did not have jurisdiction to hear the appeal of a group of women’s race walkers to force the inclusion of the 50 km event in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Two separate actions were filed, against the International Olympic Committee and World Athletics, but CAS will not hear the cases on the merits. This likely ends the attempt at adding the event, although a suit in Japan is a possibility (although unlikely to help).

Football ● The CONCACAF women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament has now reached the serious stage with the semifinals set for Friday at the Dignity Sports Health Park in Carson, California. The two semifinal winners will qualify for Tokyo, with the U.S. facing Mexico and Canada playing Costa Rica.

The final group-stage games held little suspense. On Monday evening in Houston, the U.S. women had no trouble with a mostly-second-line Costa Rican squad, winning 6-0. Christen Press scored in the fourth minute and scoring machine Lindsey Horan got a goal in the 10th minute – both off assists from Carli Lloyd – and the rout was on. The tally was 3-0 at half, as Press scored again, and two Sam Mewis goals in the second half pushed toward the final score. The U.S. won Group A with a 3-0 record and a perfect 18-0 goals-against ratio.

In Group B, in Edinburg, Texas, Canada and Mexico both won their first two games and played Tuesday for the title. Christine Sinclair scored in the 26th minute and Shelina Zadorsky’s goal in extra time at the end of the first half sealed the match and there was no scoring in the second half. The Canadian women outscored their three opponents in Group B by 22-0.

Canada and Costa Rica will play in the first semifinal at 4 p.m. Friday, followed by the U.S. and Mexico at 7 p.m. The final will be on Sunday at 3 p.m.

Sinclair, 36, became the all-time women’s international scoring leader with her two goals in an 11-0 win vs. St. Kitts & Nevis, passing American Abby Wambach with her 185th score. She now has 186 with the one goal vs. Mexico and will look for more this weekend.

Skating ● A new sex-abuse scandal has emerged in France, where Sarah Abitbol – a World Championships Pairs bronze medalist in 2000 – stated in her autobiography that her one-time coach, Gilles Beyer, raped her when she was 15.

According to a BBC report, “Mr Beyer has admitted to ‘intimate’ and ‘inappropriate’ relations with her, and said he was ‘sincerely sorry’.”

French prosecutors are now looking into assault allegations against Beyer and two other coaches; Beyer was previously investigated in the 2000s.

In response, Roxana Maracineanu, the French Minister of Sport, asked for the head of the French skating federation, Didier Gailhaguet, to resign. Gailhauget has been the head of the French federation from 1998-2004 and 2007 to now, but was involved in the judging scandal at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. A prior investigation indicated he had knowledge of the accusations against Beyer, but did nothing about them.

Maracineanu said that Gailhaguet “cannot absolve himself of his moral and personal responsibility.” Gailhuguet has scheduled a news conference for Wednesday; prosecutors say they will explore abuse in other sports beyond skating, such as swimming and tennis. .

Skiing ● The alpine skiing community received a shock on Sunday with the news of the passing of Jeff Shiffrin, the father of American skiing superstar Mikaela Shiffin, in Edwards, Colorado.

Shiffrin, 65, was injured in a home accident and transported to a Denver-area hospital, where he died several hours later. His wife Eileen, Mikaela and son Taylor Shiffrin were with him at the end.

He was a ski racer himself at Dartmouth and carved out a career as an anesthesiologist, but was also often seen at races to see his star daughter compete. Mikaela has left the FIS World Cup Tour and her return date is unknown.

Doping ● In an age where spectacle is everything, even the World Anti-Doping Agency is not immune.

In an unusual request, the agency asked the Court of Arbitration for Sport to hold its hearing of the appeal of its sanctions against Russia in public. Said WADA Director General Olivier Niggli (SUI): “WADA’s investigations on Russia, and this latest case of non-compliance, have generated huge interest around the world. It is WADA’s view – and that of many of our stakeholders – that this dispute at CAS should be held in a public forum to ensure that everybody understands the process and hears the arguments.”

This is suddenly becoming a trend. Prior to last November’s public hearing of the appeal by WADA to assess penalties against China’s star Freestyler Yang Sun, only one public hearing had been held. Now, the WADA case against Russia will be presented with public access, no doubt to include a live, online video stream. Stay tuned.

At the BuZZer ● The newest sign that the Apocalypse is coming soon:

CNN reported a story on competitive Tag – not, this is not a joke – and World Chase Tag will hold its fifth world event in 2020. Tweeted former IOC marketing chief Michael Payne, “Which future olympic host is going to put this forward to the ioc as a new medal sport. Small venue, mixed gender, can relate to very young demographic – ticks all the boxes!”

Replied Olympic expert Bill Mallon: “I think Ninja Warrior will precede it.”

Stop, please!