LaShawn Merritt crushes Kirani James for world title in 400 meters (video)

LaShawn Merritt
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Dh82JnwyMw

LaShawn Merritt turned one of the most anticipated head-to-head showdowns at the World Championships into a rout.

The American blasted past reigning world and Olympic champion Kirani James of Grenada in the 400-meter final Tuesday, winning in 43.74 seconds. The two were expected to battle closely for gold, but James was behind after 300 meters and appeared to tighten up on the final straightaway, never challenging.

“I put the pedal to the metal,” Merritt, who watched some of his previous races in preparation Monday night, told Universal Sports. “I knew it was going to take a 43-second race, and that’s what I was ready for mentally and physically. I told my coach, ‘We’re going to have to run a little bit tonight.'”

American Tony McQuay took silver in 44.40, one of six runners to beat the fading James (44.99). Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic earned bronze in 44.52 to follow up his Olympic silver medal.

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Merritt, 27 and the 2008 Olympic champion, set a personal best by .01 of a second and became the third man to win multiple world titles in the event, joining fellow Americans Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner. He failed to advance out of the heats at the London Olympics, beset by injury.

“I wanted to come back on this big stage, this world stage and put a great race together,” said Merritt, who mouthed “I’m back” to cameras after winning. “That’s what I did.”

James, 20, was more than one second slower than his fastest time of this season and his Olympic-winning time.

“I just died,” James told Universal Sports. “That doesn’t usually happen. I’m not quite sure what happened.”

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”