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Wayde van Niekerk wins 400m; top rival held out of race

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Wayde van Niekerk is halfway to a historic double at the world championships. His biggest rival this season wasn’t even allowed in the stadium for Tuesday’s 400m final.

Van Niekerk, who broke Michael Johnson‘s 400m world record in Rio, repeated as world champion in 43.98 seconds. The Bahamas’ Steven Gardiner took silver in 44.41, followed by Qatar’s Abdalelah Haroun in 44.48.

Van Niekerk was much faster at the Olympics (43.03) and 2015 Worlds (43.48), but he didn’t need to be that swift in London. He eased off crossing the finish line with that comfortable lead yet still lay on the track in exhaustion afterward.

Later, Van Niekerk said “freezing” conditions slowed him. Temperatures were in the low 60s on Tuesday.

“I struggled to get myself warmed up and ready,” he said, according to the IAAF. “I was doubting my momentum. In the last 150 [meters] I tried putting in an extra gear, but I couldn’t catch my stride until my last few meters.”

Meanwhile, Botswana’s Isaac Makwala was held out of the final due to what the IAAF said was “an infectious disease” but insisted that he was not sick and had never seen a doctor. Makwala ranks No. 1 in the world this year in the 200m and No. 3 in the 400m (43.84), the events Van Niekerk was favored to sweep this week.

Van Niekerk said it was “heartbreaking” to learn of Makwala’s absence. Makwala also did not start the 200m on Monday.

“I saw him just before the 200m heats, and the only thing I could think of was putting my arms round him and telling him to get well soon,” Van Niekerk said.

Makwala was the latest 400m star to bow out of the event at worlds. The 2012 Olympic champion Kirani James did not enter worlds due to illness. The 2008 Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt failed to qualify for Tuesday’s final, citing plantar fasciitis.

Everybody other than Van Niekerk was racing his first individual championship final on Tuesday, including the top American, Fred Kerley, who was seventh. Full results are here.

Now, Van Niekerk sets his sights on sweeping the 400m and 200m. Only Johnson has accomplished this feat at a worlds.

Van Niekerk is the heavy favorite in the 200m (final Thursday) with the top challengers in that event also absent. Usain Bolt chose not to race the 200m this year, and Olympic silver medalist Andre De Grasse pulled out ahead of worlds with a strained hamstring.

In other events Tuesday, Rio bronze medalist Sam Kendricks became the first American man in 10 years to win an Olympic or world pole vault title. The first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve cleared 5.95 meters for gold ahead of Pole Piotr Lisek and world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France.

“I need to make up some training and see my soldiers when I go back home,” Kendricks said. “I got a call from the secretary of the Army wishing me good luck just yesterday, so I had to call him back, tell him how I did.”

Kenyan Olympic champion Consenslus Kipruto overtook U.S. Olympic silver medalist Evan Jager on the final lap of the 3000m steeplechase and won in 8:14.12. Jager held on for bronze in 8:15.53, behind Moroccan Soufiane Elbakkali.

Jager became the first U.S. medalist in a world steeplechase, while Kenya won its ninth straight Olympic or world title in the event. That’s the longest-running dynasty in the sport.

“I would have been really pissed if I was not on the podium, but I guess I’m just disappointed because I had pretty high hopes of coming in here and winning gold,” Jager said, citing Kipruto’s recent ankle injury that kept the Kenyan to one track training session in the month preceding worlds.

France’s Pierre Ambroise-Bosse was the surprise 800m champion in 1:44.67 in the absence of world-record holder David Rudisha and every Rio medalist. Poland’s Adam Kszczot, .28 behind, won silver, as he did in 2015. Kenyan Kipyegon Bett took bronze.

Tori Bowie did not show up for the 200m heats, two days after she won her first world 100m title. Bowie said after the USATF Outdoor Championships in June that she did not want to run multiple individual races at worlds. Last week, she said her 200m status would be determined after the 100m.

Elaine Thompson, who swept the Olympic 100m and 200m, chose not to race the 200m at worlds. Thompson was shockingly fifth in the 100m on Sunday.

With those two out, Thursday’s semifinals are headlined by Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo, defending world champion Dafne Schippers and U.S. champion Deajah Stevens. The final is Friday.

Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad led three Americans into Thursday’s 400m hurdles final. A fourth American, 2015 World silver medalist Shamier Little, did not advance out of the semifinals.

In the javelin, Barbora Spotakova won her second world title, a decade after her first crown. Spotakova, a 36-year-old mother with 2008 and 2012 Olympic golds, threw 66.76 meters to edge China’s Li Lingwei (66.25) and Lyu Huihui (65.26).

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Yul Moldauer falls, still wins P&G Champs; world team named

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Yul Moldauer is a grease monkey at heart. There’s something about having a tool in his hands and a problem to solve that speaks to him, a hobby he picked up from his father while growing up in Colorado.

So when the pressure rises at a gymnastics meet, Moldauer goes to what he calls his “peace zone.” To get there he takes 10 to 15 deep breaths and lets his mind drift away to a garage or a highway somewhere.

The thing is, Moldauer’s current car is pretty reliable and doesn’t require a ton of work. Kind of like Moldauer’s gymnastics.

Staked to a 1.95-point lead heading into second and final day of the P&G Championships on Saturday night, Moldauer overcame a shaky start to hold off Oklahoma teammate Allan Bower and capture the all-around title.

The 20-year-old posted a two-day total of 171.6, a full point better than Bower and nearly two points clear of Olympic alternate Donnell Whittenburg. He leads the six-man team for October’s world championships in Montreal.

“I’m definitely still a little shocked,” Moldauer said.

Joining Moldauer on the world team is Whittenburg, plus Olympians Sam Mikulak and Alex Naddour and other world rookies Marvin Kimble and Eddie Penev.

There is no team event at worlds. Just individual all-around and apparatus finals.

P&G CHAMPS: TV Schedule | Final Five Updates | Results

Maybe he shouldn’t be. Moldauer, who in 2016 became the second freshman to win the NCAA all-around, began the year with an impressive win over Olympic all-around silver medalist Oleg Verniaiev at the AT&T American Cup on March 4. Now he finds himself at the forefront of the next wave for the Americans after most of the core of the national team at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics retired.

Not bad for a kid who was so lean when he arrived at Oklahoma that head coach Mark Williams worried Moldauer wouldn’t be strong enough to handle the increased difficulty at the NCAA and senior elite levels.

“It hasn’t been an issue,” Williams said. “This has been earned.”

Akash Modi, the reigning NCAA champion who has developed a friendly rivalry with Moldauer during their collegiate careers, began the night with the best chance at chasing down Moldauer but ended up fourth thanks to significant form breaks on pommel horse and high bar.

“I wouldn’t say it was a terrible day,” said Modi, who professed his love for Taco Bell on NBCSN cameras after routines. “I just wasn’t really ‘on.’ I didn’t attack.”

Naddour, the Olympic pommel horse bronze medalist, locked up a world spot with a 15.25 on pommels. Naddour made an “I see you” gesture after nailing his dismount on pommels, a nod to the rest of the field that awaits in Montreal.

“Wanted to let them know I’m coming for them,” Naddour said. “It’s not going to be easy this year.”

Whittenburg went through another uneven night but finished with a flourish, posting 14.85 on still rings and a 15 on vault to surge past Modi into third. The importance of reaching the all-around podium wasn’t lost on Whittenburg, who was the top U.S. all-arounder at 2015 Worlds but then missed the five-man Rio squad. He’s finally ready to put the disappointment behind him.

“I definitely feel the confidence and the energy going up for me,” Whittenburg said.

Mikulak, recovering from an Achilles tear in February, finished second on pommel horse and third on high bar to make a compelling case to high-performance director Brett McClure that he’s healthy enough to contribute to the world team.

Mikulak’s injury, however, prevented him from competing in the all-around after winning the last four national titles. Mikulak ceded the stage to Moldauer and Modi.

Moldauer talked about the need to just focus on the little picture and not the big one after taking a substantial lead on the first night of competition Thursday. Maybe, but he appeared jittery during the start of finals. He sailed off the high bar on his first event, scoring a 12.8 that briefly opened the door for the rest of the field.

“I told myself it’s one event,” said Moldauer, whose lead dropped to .65. “I have five other events I can make points on.”

And he did, putting up a 14.95 on floor exercise that equaled the best of the night and put him firmly back in control. Needing only to avoid a total collapse on parallel bars to win, he could hear his teammates clapping as he neared his dismount. Moldauer nearly shorted it, his left leg hitting one of the bars on the way down. When his feet hit the mat and stuck, he raced to embrace Williams and celebrate a title that should make him a force in the program as he enters his prime.

While Williams, the Olympic team coach last summer, knows there’s another level for Moldauer to reach. A national championship is an important step in the process.

“He’s got a certain amount of cockiness,” Williams said. “He wants to show people he’s a performer and he can do really good gymnastics.”

The P&G Championships conclude Sunday with the final day of women’s competition (7 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

MORE: Danell Leyva on why he’s retiring

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Aly Raisman speaks out about USA Gymnastics scandal

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Aly Raisman is ready to talk about “the elephant in the room.” And the six-time Olympic medalist thinks it’s time USA Gymnastics joins in a conversation she feels is long overdue.

The 23-year-old is calling for sweeping change in the organization in the wake of dozens of allegations of sexual abuse against former national team doctor Larry Nassar, a scandal that has left one of the U.S. Olympic movement’s marquee programs scrambling and Raisman shaken.

Nassar spent nearly 30 years as an osteopath with the USA Gymnastics program and is now in prison in Michigan after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography. Nassar is still awaiting trial on separate criminal sexual conduct charges in addition to being sued by over 125 women in civil court who claim he sexually assaulted them under the guise of treatment.

Nassar has pleaded not guilty to the assault charges and the dozens of civil suits filed in Michigan are currently in mediation.

Raisman, who was around Nassar regularly at the team’s training facility in Texas and at meets around the globe, declined to talk about whether she was treated improperly by Nassar. She did agree to speak more generally and called Nassar “a monster” and blames USA Gymnastics for failing to stop him and spending too much of the fallout attempting to “sweep it under the rug.”

“I feel like there’s a lot of articles about it, but nobody has said, ‘This is horrible, this is what we’re doing to change,’” Raisman said Saturday after she and other Final Five members were inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

Raisman served as a captain for both the Final Five and the Fierce Five that won gold in London in 2012. While several alleged Nassar victims have come forward, including 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Jamie Dantzscher, Raisman is the highest profile athlete yet to publicly reprimand the organization. Raisman said she kept quiet waiting after the initial allegations surfaced last summer, waiting for USA Gymnastics to own up to its mistakes.

While it is taking steps toward creating a safer environment for its athletes, she doesn’t believe it is doing nearly enough openly enough, adding she feels USA Gymnastics is trying to get on with business as usual.

“What people don’t realize is that this doctor was a doctor for 29 years,” Raisman. “Whether or not he did it to a gymnast, they still knew him. Even if he didn’t do it to you, it’s still the trauma and the anxiety of wondering what could have happened. I think that needs to be addressed. These girls, they should be comfortable going to USA Gymnastics and saying ‘I need help, I want therapy. I need this.’

USA Gymnastics launched an independent review of its policies in the wake of the allegations against Nassar and reporting by the Indianapolis Star that highlighted chronic mishandling of abuse allegations against coaches and staff at some of its over 3,500 clubs across the country.

In June, the federation immediately adopted 70 recommendations proffered by Deborah Daniels, a former federal prosecutor who oversaw the review. The new guidelines require member gyms to go to authorities immediately, with Daniels suggesting USA Gymnastics consider withholding membership from clubs who decline to do so.

The organization also named Toby Stark, a child welfare advocate, as its director of SafeSport. Part of Stark’s mandate is educating members on rules, educational programs, reporting and adjudication services.

Daniels said repeatedly that her review wasn’t designed to adjudicate the past, something that doesn’t fly with Raisman. She pointed to the reported $1 million severance package given to former president Steve Penny after he resigned under pressure in March as proof that the organization just doesn’t get it.

“I thought, ‘Wow, why couldn’t they create a program?’” Raisman said. “A million dollars is a lot of money. They could do a lot of things to create change. They could create a program. They could even contact all the families that have come forward and say ‘Can we help your kid with therapy?’”

Lynn Raisman, Aly’s mother, said USA gymnastics needs to “get rid of the people who knew and looked the other way.”

Raisman has used her celebrity and extensive social media reach as a platform to promote positive body image and anti-bullying. She’s currently living in Needham, Mass., working on her autobiography out in November while weighing whether to take a shot at the 2020 Games. (Raisman said last September that she planned to go for Tokyo 2020 after taking a year off from training)

Either way, she wants USA Gymnastics to evolve and stressed there’s a difference between her criticism of USA Gymnastics and the sport as a whole.

The sport is fine. It’s part of the fabric of her life. It’s the organization that needs to change. And she’s clear on the message she wants it to send.

“Everyone is important,” Raisman said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the Olympic champion or you’re an 8-year-old that goes to gymnastics in Ohio, or wherever you are in the U.S. Every single kid is important and I want USA Gymnastics to do a better job with that.”

P&G CHAMPS: TV Schedule | Final Five Updates | Results

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