World Relays

U.S., Jamaica, Kenya split wins at World Relays (video)

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The three leading nations in running shared victories on the first night of the debut of the IAAF World Relays in Nassau, Bahamas, on Saturday.

Three-time Olympic medalist Yohan Blake anchored Jamaica to victory in the 4x200m relay, breaking the world record held by a U.S. quartet that included Carl Lewis. The Jamaicans, without Usain Bolt, clocked 1 minute, 18.63 seconds, .05 better than the 20-year-old mark.

The U.S. botched its second baton exchange, anchor Wallace Spearmon crossed the finish line third, and the Americans were then disqualified, surely for that second exchange being out of the zone.

The U.S. got its only win in the night’s finale, the women’s 4x100m. A team of Tianna Madison, Alexandria Anderson, Jeneba Tarmoh and Lekeisha Lawson clocked 41.88 seconds, .4 of a second ahead of Jamaica.

Tarmoh, who tied for third in the 100m at the 2012 Olympic Trials and pulled out of a potential runoff, gave the U.S. a lead going into the final leg. That lead became insurmountable when Jamaica had a poor final handoff. The Jamaicans did not use Olympic and world 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in the relay. Fraser-Pryce pulled out of a meet in Shanghai on Sunday with a shin injury, according to Agence France-Presse.

Kenya won the meet’s first two finals, the men’s 4x800m and the women’s 4x1500m, the latter shattering the world record by 32 seconds.

The men prevailed despite being without Olympic gold medalist David Rudisha, the Olympic bronze medalist and its fastest 800m runner this year. The Kenyans clocked 7:08.40, nearly six seconds off the world record (set by Kenya in 2006).

Poland passed U.S. anchor Duane Solomon (fourth at the Olympics) for second place. Kenya held nearly a five-second lead going into the final leg. Poland and the U.S. almost erased it all, finishing within six tenths of the champions. The U.S. was missing world bronze medalist Nick Symmonds, who will also sit out next week’s Pre Classic with a knee injury.

The Kenyan women smashed the 4x1500m world record, set by Kenya in April, clocking 16:33.58 with world 1500m bronze medalist Hellen Obiri on anchor. The U.S. took second in 16:55.33, also better than the previous world record. The Americans lost any hope of challenging Kenya with a fall on the first baton exchange.

The U.S. advanced into both 4x400m finals Sunday. Olympic 400m champion Sanya Richards-Ross and triple jump champion Christian Taylor led the quartets in preliminary heats Saturday.

The women’s top competition will be Jamaica and Great Britain since Russia, which won the 2013 World Championship, did not start Saturday. The U.S. men, which could add Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt for the final, figure to be challenged by the Olympic 4x400m champion Bahamas on Sunday.

The World Relays conclude with the men’s and women’s 4x400m, men’s 4x1500m, women’s 4x800m, women’s 4x200m and men’s 4x100m finals on Sunday.

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U.S. figure skating could have its best world team since 2006

Nathan Chen performs during the men's free skate competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP
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KANSAS CITY — U.S. figure skating has a shot at medals in three of four disciplines at the world championships in Helsinki in two months, which hasn’t happened in 11 years.

Before this year, the U.S. men and U.S. women hadn’t boasted simultaneous medal contenders in a decade. Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek spent the 2010 Olympic cycle in the world elite, while the U.S. women faded. After they stopped competing, Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold moved into the women’s medal field while the U.S. searched for a new leading man.

He’s arrived. Nathan Chen confirmed he is one of the world’s best male skaters by landing a record seven quadruple jumps between two programs at Sprint Center this past week.

The 17-year-old already made the podium in an event that featured the world’s best, earning silver at the Grand Prix Final in December. Chen struggled with his short-program jumps at the Grand Prix Final and attempted one fewer quad overall yet still outscored everybody but Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu.

Of all of the U.S. medal hopes at worlds, Chen may face the stiffest trio of challengers. Not only is there Hanyu, but also two-time reigning world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, plus Japan’s Shoma Uno, all of whom rank higher than Chen in best total scores in international competition this season.

MORE: Chen believes Olympic gold is possible after U.S. title

Wagner, who shares a coach with Chen, did not have her best nationals. She finished second to surprise winner Karen Chen (no relation to Nathan), who has yet to factor internationally.

But Wagner said before and after the U.S. Championships that her focus was to peak for the world championships. The goal for nationals was to make the world team, which required not winning but finishing in the top three. Mission accomplished.

The concern with Wagner is that she hasn’t produced a world medal-caliber result yet this season. Her best score from the fall ranks her sixth among women going to worlds. But Wagner has shown in the last few seasons that she can pull it together for major events. There’s her 2016 World Championships silver medal, plus her three straight Grand Prix Final medals from 2012-14.

At worlds, Wagner will have to deal with a Russian trio capable of sweeping the podium, three strong Japanese skaters, plus the revelation of this season, Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond.

VIDEO: Wagner passed Puffs in emotional press conference moment

The U.S.’ strongest discipline continues to be ice dance. Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates finished second and third at the 2016 World Championships. They went one-two at the U.S. Championships this past week.

But two ice dance medals don’t appear to be in the cards in Helsinki. That’s because Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who earned gold and silver at the last two Olympics, came back this season after a two-year break.

Virtue and Moir broke international scoring records in the fall, sweeping their four starts. The two-time reigning world champions, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, also beat the U.S. couples at the Grand Prix Final.

The Shibutani siblings and Chock and Bates have never finished ahead of Virtue and Moir in competition. Neither has bettered the French since the December 2014 Grand Prix Final, either.

But all it takes is one dance medal, plus Chen and Wagner at their best in Helsinki, and the U.S. could go into the Olympic year in its best place since 2006.

MORE: Gracie Gold comments on split from coach Frank Carroll

Laurie Hernandez discusses life after Rio, new book on TODAY (video)

Laurie Hernandez
TODAY
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Laurie Hernandez‘s book, “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond,” is out Tuesday, and the Olympic champion gymnast stopped by TODAY on Monday to discuss its contents and life post-Rio.

An excerpt on Hernandez’s experience in Rio and the story of her floor-exercise wink to judges, is here.

On TODAY, Hernandez discussed another interesting anecdote from the book about tissues.

“Before Olympic Trials, we went out to eat, and I had a little breakdown because practice was really rough, and my routines weren’t coming the way I wanted them to,” she said. “This poor waitress kept bringing me over piles of tissues. … We were leaving, and my sister [Jelysa] told my dad, I’m going to save these tissues. I’m going to give them to her when she makes the team. I’m thinking to myself, you guys are crazy, this is not going to happen.”

Hernandez went on to finish second to Simone Biles at the Olympic Trials and make the five-woman Olympic team as the first U.S. female Olympian born in the 2000s.

The family celebrated the achievement, where Jelysa handed the tissues to Hernandez in a bag.

“Even when you fell, you couldn’t believe in yourself, we were there for you,” Jelysa told her.

“So it was a really defining moment,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez is away from gymnastics while promoting her book and touring with “Dancing with the Stars,” but she is expected to return to the sport at some point.

MORE: Hernandez explains 2017 goals: First date, driver’s license, Law & Order