Tori Bowie is new sprint sensation at U.S. Championships

Tori Bowie
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The public address runner introductions at the Prefontaine Classic 200m went in descending order, beginning from lane eight. For terrified Tori Bowie, in lane one, that only enhanced the audible sense of her much more accomplished competition.

Bowie, about to start the second 200m race of her pro career, looked out on the revered Hayward Field track during applause for the women who preceded her on May 31. To her right stood the World, Olympic and NCAA champions in the event.

“I really need to run well,” Bowie thought. “Or I’m going to get embarrassed. I never want to be last.”

Bowie, predominantly a long jumper until the last two months, hadn’t been told she was added to the Prefontaine 200m field until about 48 hours before the race.

She won it, in 22.18 seconds. Bowie slashed .39 of a second off her previous 200m race time and posted the fastest 200m of the year. The time would have won a silver medal at the 2013 World Championships.

“Did this really just happen?” she thought after. “This really just happened.”

Bowie, 23, also won 100m sprints in Rome and New York the next two weeks.

The Mississippian who finished 12th in the 100m and fourth in the long jump at last year’s U.S. Outdoor Championships is the sprint revelation of this non-Olympic, non-World Championships season. She is the best U.S. women’s sprinter of 2014, so far.

Bowie is entered in the 100m again at this week’s U.S. Outdoor Championships in Sacramento, Calif. The first round is Thursday night, and the semifinals and finals Friday.

USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships broadcast schedule

Bowie is also on the start lists for the 200m and long jump but said earlier this week she only planned to compete in the 100m. Maybe next year she will contest all three events. Maybe in two years.

“I’m penciling her in as one of the first names to make the team in Rio,” NBC Olympics analyst Ato Boldon said. “She’s here to stay. She’s not just a 2014 story. This is a name that everybody else is going to have to remember.”

Bowie goes by a shortened version of her given name Frentorish (“I want you to have a name that no one else has,” her father said). She was left by her biological mother at a foster home with her sister at age 2. Her paternal grandmother took custody one year later in Sandhill, Miss., a community with a 24-word Wikipedia entry.

“The closest Walmart to us is probably 15 miles away,” said Julie Crockett, a secretary at Bowie’s high school and her godmother.

Bowie grew up with her best friend sister, Tamarra, who is 11 months younger, and about 30 extended family members. They played basketball, shot BB guns and picked blackberries.

The sisters were dragged to track and field by their high school basketball coach, who made it mandatory if nothing else for conditioning. They considered boycotting, Tamarra said, because of the short shorts. Their grandmother, their moral compass, wouldn’t let them.

“It wasn’t so bad,” said Tamarra, a triple jumper now trying to get into law school. “We started winning everything.”

“My first track experience wasn’t actually a track experience,” Bowie, a sophomore then, said. “It was kind of like my basketball coach taking me out to this grassy area and making us run in a circle.”

Pisgah High School didn’t have a track. Yet Bowie still won a state long jump title (in the third or fourth meet of her life, she estimates) and then two more as a junior and senior.

“It was kind of overwhelming,” Bowie said, “because who wins state championships their first year competing and has absolutely no idea what they’re doing?”

Athletes to watch at U.S. Championships

Bowie’s name is on five or six banners inside the Pisgah High School gym wall for track and basketball.

“She was by far one of the best athletes,” Crockett said. “It was just, how far can this go?”

At first, about 100 miles south. Bowie, a homebody, joined the track and field team at Southern Miss.

Southern Miss coach Kevin Stephen marveled at Bowie’s ability to power through grueling workouts and said in her first race or two as a freshman, she dropped two seconds off her high school best in the 200m.

Stephen told Bowie she could be world class in the 200m if she focused on it, but she humbly brushed away the notion and continued to focus on the long jump, winning the 2011 NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Championships.

“She’s not about second place,” Stephen said. “She’s all about putting in the work to get that top spot. … We only scratched the surface the type of athlete she was.”

Bowie graduated with a psychology degree in December 2012, but before that she couldn’t eat, speak or compete that summer. She suffered a broken jaw in an off-the-track freak accident and missed the Olympic Trials.

She watched the London Olympic long jump, won by fellow Magnolia State native Brittney Reese, and thought, I could beat these women.

She showed professional promise in the long jump and finished second at the U.S. Indoor Championships in February (Reese did not compete there). But she wasn’t satisfied enough and considered quitting the sport in her first year as a pro. Her grandmother wouldn’t allow it.

“She’s the greatest support system I’ve ever had, and she’s never been to the track,” Bowie said.

In March, Bowie finished last in long jump qualifying at the World Indoor Championships in Sopot, Poland, and called her agent who had lobbied on behalf of her sprinting potential. She was ready for a change, ready to run.

Bowie moved from the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., and began working with sprint coach Lance Brauman in Clermont, Fla., full time in the spring. Brauman is best known as the coach of Tyson Gay, a longtime rival of Usain Bolt who just finished a one-year doping suspension.

“It has been the piece that’s been missing from the puzzle,” said Bowie, working in particular to develop her start technique. “I was so used to training on my own and not having anyone to push me.”

Bowie said she feels no added pressure with her ascent over the last two months, with victories in Rome, New York and Oregon. She hasn’t changed. She still picks up her phone before and after races and calls her grandmother, who cries out of joy. She still carries books in her purse, three currently, and leans on inspirational phrases.

“My deepest fear is not that I am inadequate,” Bowie texted, paraphrasing a line from Marianne Williamson‘s “A Return To Love.” “My deepest fear is that I am powerful beyond measure.”

Bowie has not forgotten the long jump. She plans to jump again at European meets later this season, but the focus this week is on the 100m. Her sister flies to Sacramento to watch the semis and finals Friday.

“It’s like I run the race with her,” Tamarra said. “When she’s on that line, I’m about to run it, too. It’s always been like that.”

Bowie’s performances are well-known at Pisgah High School, where the principal has staff laminate and post Bowie’s articles and results around the halls.

“Do I feel like I have what it takes to beat the best? Yes, I do feel that way,” Bowie said. “I just didn’t expect it to happen right now.”

Jenn Suhr enters U.S. Championships with new pole, unfinished story

World Athletics Athletes of the Year: Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, Mondo Duplantis

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and Mondo Duplantis were named World Athletics Athletes of the Year after world record-breaking performances in 2022.

McLaughlin-Levrone, who lowered her 400m hurdles world record twice this year, won the award for the first time. She became the first American to win Athlete of the Year since fellow 400m hurdler Dalilah Muhammad in 2019.

“I would describe 2022 for myself by just saying incredible,” McLaughlin-Levrone said. “Everything that we aimed to do we were able to accomplish.”

The other finalists were Nigeria’s Tobi Amusan, who broke the 100m hurdles world record en route to the world title; Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who won her fifth world 100m title; Peru’s Kimberly Garcia, who swept the 20km and 35km race walk world titles, and Venezuela’s Yulimar Rojas, who broke her own triple jump world record and swept the indoor and outdoor world titles.

McLaughlin-Levrone has said she wants to add the flat 400m to her program in the coming years. She has never run that event at a senior championship meet, but showed her flat potential in the 4x400m relay at worlds in July. Her split — 47.91 seconds — made her the seventh-fastest relay performer in history and second-fastest in the last 33 years behind Allyson Felix.

At next summer’s world championships, the women’s 400m hurdles first round heats start 2 hours and 20 minutes before the women’s 400m semifinals. Top-level pros rarely race multiple times in one session in a distance longer than 200 meters at any meet.

Duplantis, the Louisiana-raised Swede, won the men’s award for the second time in three years. He upped his pole vault world record three times in 2022 and swept the world indoor and outdoor and Diamond League titles in the event.

“It’s probably been by far the best year that I’ve ever had,” Duplantis said.

The other men’s finalists were Moroccan steeplechaser Soufiane El Bakkali, who went undefeated in 2022; Norwegian runner Jakob Ingebrigtsen, the world outdoor 5000m champion who ran the world’s fastest mile in 21 years; Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge, who broke his own marathon world record by 30 seconds, and American Noah Lyles, who broke Michael Johnson‘s 26-year-old national record in the 200m.

Duplantis will likely try to continue upping his world record one centimeter at a time like Ukraine legend Sergey Bubka did on an almost annual basis from 1984 through 1994. Duplantis’ current record is 6.21 meters. The next significant milestone is 6.25 meters, or 20 feet, 6 inches.

“We’ll so how high, but I want to push it higher than people think is even possible,” he said.

Erriyon Knighton became the first athlete to twice win the Rising Star award, given to the top U20 track and field athlete.

Knighton, 18, took 200m bronze at the world championships on July 21 in Eugene, Oregon, becoming the youngest individual sprint medalist in championships history. He was part of a U.S. medals sweep with Lyles and Kenny Bednarek.

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A wild Grand Prix Final has a quadruple Axel, the Brits and a figure skating tale for the ages

Ilia Malinin
Getty
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The world’s best figure skaters gather for the first time this season at this week’s Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy. The Who’s Who is a very different group than from February’s Olympics, as expected, with the fall Grand Prix Series also producing some unpredictable stories.

Of the 18 skaters who won Olympic medals outside of the team event, just two of them competed internationally this fall. As was known before the season, all Russians are banned indefinitely due to the war in Ukraine. China’s top skaters didn’t enter the Grand Prix Series. Nathan Chen and the French ice dance couple of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are on indefinite, possibly permanent breaks after winning long-awaited golds.

It is time for new stars to emerge. That happened. American Ilia Malinin, last year’s world junior champion at age 17, became the first skater to land a quadruple Axel in competition in September. Then he did it again in October, and again in November.

It is time for new stories to emerge. The Grand Prix Final is the most exclusive event in figure skating — taking the top six per discipline from the Grand Prix Series — since it was introduced in 1996. This year, Belgium and Great Britain qualified skaters for the first time in more than a decade. Japanese men who were seventh and eighth at their national championships last season are in the field. As is a 39-year-old pairs’ skater from Canada who competed against Michelle Kwan in the 6.0 scoring era.

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Broadcast Schedule

The U.S. qualified skaters into the Final in every discipline for the first time in 15 years. The team is led statistically by Malinin, the world No. 1 bidding to be the second-youngest man to win a Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko.

Malinin, whose mom won the 1999 Grand Prix Final, is one half of the most anticipated head-to-head showdown this week. He takes on Japan’s Shoma Uno for the first time since the world championships in March, when Uno won and Malinin placed ninth in his debut on that stage. This season, Malinin and Uno each won their two separate Grand Prix starts, with Malinin having the best total score by a scant 61 hundredths of a point.

NBC Sports analyst Johnny Weir called Malinin the favorite for the Final and for March’s worlds (which could include Olympic silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama of Japan, who has been sidelined this fall due to leg and ankle injuries). But Weir also said that if Malinin and Uno skate clean this week, the 24-year-old Uno has the advantage.

“He’s had the longevity. He’s had the time in front of these top judges. And artistically, he’s so excellent,” Weir said.

The world’s highest-scoring women’s singles skater this season will compete at the Final, but in the junior division. Japan’s Mao Shimada won both of her junior Grand Prix starts. She is 14 years old, and with the age limit being raised in coming seasons will not be old enough for the next Olympics in 2026 (reminiscent of countrywoman Mao Asada, who was too young the last time Italy hosted the Winter Games in 2006).

Without Shimada, and without the Russians who dominated recent seasons, the women’s field is the most closely bunched at the Final. Mai Mihara, who missed the Olympics after placing fourth at Japan’s Nationals last December, was the lone woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this fall. Kaori Sakamoto, last season’s world champion in the Russians’ absence, has the top score this season among senior women (and a shout out from Janet Jackson). But the six skaters at the Final are separated by just 4.47 points in best scores this fall.

American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, is the youngest woman in the field by four years. NBC Sports analyst Tara Lipinski said that Levito has a total package of jumps, artistry and competitive fire not seen in U.S. skating in many years. Levito, who has made short films, including “The Pickle Murder,” is reminiscent of Sasha Cohen, the last U.S. women’s singles skater to win an Olympic medal in 2006.

“There’s never a hand, finger, hair out of place when it comes to Isabeau’s skating,” Lipinski said. “Looking back at my first year as a senior, I was terrified. I looked like a junior coming up to the senior ranks. Isabeau, she’s gone past that phase.”

Pairs’ skating saw the highest turnover. The top five teams at the Olympics were Russian and Chinese, and none have competed internationally since. Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier took advantage at March’s worlds, becoming the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Knierim and Frazier won both of their Grand Prix starts this fall, but were flawed. Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who took silver at worlds, averaged 10 more points in their separate Grand Prix victories.

“Comparing people based on the scores that they accrue in different competitions is a nice way to see how people are faring in front of international panels, but it’s not a direct comparison between the two at all,” Weir said. “They’re very evenly matched.”

But the coolest story in pairs, and arguably in all of figure skating, is 39-year-old Canadian Deanna Stellato-Dudek. With partner Maxime Deschamps, she became the oldest Grand Prix podium finisher in October and the oldest champion in November. Stellato-Dudek, the 2000 World junior silver medalist in singles from Chicagoland, retired from figure skating in 2001 due to injuries, then came back in 2016 in pairs and switched nationality.

Weir recently came across photos of him with Stellato-Dudek when they competed at the same junior Grand Prix event in Norway in 1999.

“I’m pretty sure she was skating when I was skating, so that is a crazy feat in itself,” said Lipinski, whose last competition was winning the 1998 Olympics.

Ice dance, usually the most predictable of the four disciplines, sprung surprises this fall. Three-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates were the top returning couple based on results from last season’s Olympics and worlds, but the Americans rank outside the top three this fall by results and best total score.

Still, 2006 Olympic silver medalist Ben Agosto said they’re looking better than ever, having improved from their first Grand Prix to their second Grand Prix.

“The challenge for them is they’ve been so good for so long that they don’t want to get stale,” Agosto said of a couple that’s in their 12th season together. “They don’t want people to start to think, well, you know, two seasons ago was better than this, or five seasons ago was better than this. They want to always be reinventing, but then also capitalizing on their biggest strengths.”

Canadian veterans Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, ranked third among returning couples going into the fall, won both of their Grand Prix starts with the world’s top two scores across all events. Agosto believes that the field is closer than the point totals suggest and that some couples have been underscored, including Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, who qualified into the Final in the sixth and last spot.

Agosto said that Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson, Great Britain’s first Grand Prix Final qualifiers since 2009, can “blow the roof off” with their Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez rhythm dance and Lady Gaga free dance.

“You can just feel the the intensity that everyone is bringing after their Olympic experience and coming back and feeling rejuvenated and maybe feeling the adrenaline effect of having a little bit more of an opportunity because Papadakis and Cizeron are not there, because the Russians are not there,” Agosto said. “I’ve really seen across the board this group stepping up from last season, so I don’t think that it would just be a clear OK, well, if those other teams were in the game this year, they would, by default, be on top.”

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