PHOENIX – By day, Akeem Haynes is a sprinter in training for the Rio Olympics and a strong candidate to carry the baton for Canada in the men’s 4×100 relay.
By night, he’s a philosopher and self-help writer determined to pass on his experience to others who might be struggling in silence.
“He’s 23 now, but he’s more like 70,” coach Stuart McMillan says after a recent morning session in the blazing heat at the Altis training centre in Phoenix. “He spends a lot of time in his own brain and thinking about life and what his purpose is.”
His purpose, this weekend, is to run a personal best in the men’s 100 metres at the Canadian Olympic trials in Edmonton. The soft-spoken Calgarian is one of five men entered in Saturday’s race with the Olympic qualifying standard of 10.16 seconds. Canada can send a maximum of three men to the start line of the marquee event at the Rio Games.
At 23, he technically could be in the mix for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. But Haynes is determined to seize this moment.
“Don’t be one of those people who always waits for next time,” Haynes wrote Wednesday on Twitter. “That option might not be there down the road. Sometimes you have to just go for it.”
Haynes is not about to feel intimidated by his competitors at the Canadian trials. Sure, he’s racing against Andre De Grasse — the world championships bronze medallist who signed an $11.25-million shoe contract with Puma — and Aaron Brown, who dipped under the magic 10-second mark last month with a time of 9.96 seconds.
But Haynes trains daily with De Grasse in the shadow of Camelback Mountain at Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix. And when healthy, he shows signs of one day breaking the 10-second barrier himself.
“Akeem has the talent, the drive, the desire and the energy to be a world-class sprinter,” McMillan says. “There’s no doubt. Absolutely no doubt. That’s what I foresee happening.”
McMillan first met Haynes when he was a Grade 11 student at Calgary’s Crescent Heights High School. He saw a kid oozing with talent but battling major challenges on the home front.
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Born in Jamaica, Haynes moved to Yellowknife with his mom Kim at age seven (he initially thought all the snow was salt.) At 10, Haynes and his mom settled in Calgary.
“In the early stages, we stayed with a friend on their mattress,” Haynes says. “My mom worked three jobs, and that house was already full with six other people. We just made do. She used to clean apartments. At one point, she was managing a hotel. She was also a receptionist.”
McMillan was a world-renowned bobsleigh coach, but he found time to work two or three days a week with Haynes. The talented youngster saw his 100-metre time drop to 10.49 seconds from 11.09.
In high school, Haynes struggled academically. So when Florida State called with a scholarship offer, he couldn’t meet the admission requirements. Plan B was to go to Barton County Community College in Great Bend, Kansas. The junior college counts track greats Tyson Gay, Veronica Campbell and Aleen Bailey as alumni.
Haynes qualified for the Canadian relay team at the 2012 London Olympics, and was named a spare. He watched helplessly as Justyn Warner, Gavin Smellie, Oluseyi Smith and Jared Connaughton finished third, only to be disqualified for a lane violation.
Injuries dogged Haynes when he moved to the University of Alabama. In between training and his studies, he found time to write a self-help book called Love, Life & Legacy that centres on dealing with hardships.
“Let’s just say I’ve had a very rough background and upbringing,” he says. “But I don’t ever let that get me down.”
Haynes reconnected with McMillan in 2015 and joined the Altis training group. With no national team carding money at the time, Haynes quietly struggled to get by.
“He lived on the floor, literally on the floor of a friend – one of his training partners,” McMillan says. “He didn’t have a mattress or anything. Just a sleeping bag on the floor. He didn’t have any cutlery, utensil, dishes or anything. Just an empty apartment and a sleeping bag. And he did that for six months before I found out.”
These days, Haynes is back to receiving federal funding and is a member of the scholarship program at Altis. He sleeps in a proper bed.
With his basic needs met, he can focus on running fast.
“It’s up to you how you want to respond to tough situations in your life,” he says. “You can either use it against you or you can use it to mould you and shape you into something bigger than you ever thought you could be. I always choose that second path.”
Friday: Three events to watch
Johannes Eisele / AFP / Getty Images
Johannes Eisele / AFP / Getty ImagesBrianne Theisen-Eaton will sharpen her shot put for the Olympic heptathlon by competing in the event at the Canadian Olympic trials.
Brianne Theisen-Eaton, shot put qualifying round: The world championship silver medallist has already qualified for Rio in the heptathlon, but the pride of Humboldt, Sask., is competing at the trials in the shot put. Theisen-Eaton is a favourite for heptathlon gold in Rio and one of the stars of the 2016 Canadian Olympic team. She is married to American Ashton Eaton, a world champion decathlete. Together, they hope to become the first married couple from different countries to win gold in the same Olympics.
Genevieve Lalonde, 3,000-metre steeplechase: The 24-year-old Guelph, Ont., native set a new Canadian record of nine minutes, 32.17 second in May after spending three months this winter in Ulukhaktok, N.W.T., working on her master’s degree in geography. A self-described Arctic nerd, Lalonde is one of six Canadian women who have met the Olympic standard time in the steeplechase. A maximum of three can go to Rio, which should make for an exciting final.
Hilary Stellingwerff, 1,500 metres: Stellingwerff is the poster child for Canadian athletes hurt by rampant doping at the London Olympics. Technically, she finished sixth in the semifinal, narrowly missing out on qualifying for the final despite a furious charge to the finish line. Since then, three of the women who advanced — including gold medallist Asli Cakir Alptekin of Turkey — were banned for doping infractions, and a fourth, Russian Tatyana Tomashova, is under investigation for alleged blood doping. Stellingwerff is fighting for another chance at Olympic glory. To get to Rio, she must finish in the top two or three of a deep field that includes Nicole Sifuentes, Sheila Reid and Gabriela Stafford.
Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020
Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.
Theo Bair (MLS)
This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)
Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.
Connor McDavid (NHL)
McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.
Chuba Hubbard (College Football)
The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.
2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.
Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo
Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.
The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.
Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.
Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.
“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”
Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.
Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.
Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.
“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”
Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.
“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”
Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.
Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.
“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”
After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.
“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”
None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.
“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.
Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.
“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”
That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.
“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.
Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month
NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.
The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.
Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.
“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.
“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”
It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.
For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.
Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.
A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.
It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.
Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.
“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.
“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”
Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.
“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.
“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”
And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.
“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”
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