Allyson Felix wins 400m, fastest women upset at U.S. Championships

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Allyson Felix won the national 400m title, while World champion LaShawn Merritt was upset at the U.S. Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore., on Saturday.

Felix, the Olympic 200m champion and 2011 World 400m silver medalist, surged in the last 100 meters to run down Natasha Hastings in the women’s 400m final, prevailing in 50.19 seconds (race video here).

“I just wanted to let them not get too far away from me, and I knew I could be strong coming home,” Felix told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “I’m a sprinter. I finally got to sprint a little bit. I made it hard on myself.”

Athletes are competing at Hayward Field looking to finish in the top three of their events to make the team for the World Championships in Beijing from Aug. 22-30.

U.S. qualifiers for World Track and Field Championships | Full U.S. Championships results

Felix has said she will run either the 200m or the 400m at Worlds but not both, since the 200m semifinals and 400m final at Worlds are 70 minutes apart.

“I feel like I still haven’t reached my potential there [in the 400m],” Felix said, according to Reuters. “I feel like I could challenge myself there.

“But I still love the 200.”

Felix’s decision will be key for the fastest 400m woman in the world the last two years — Francena McCorory. McCorory finished fourth in the U.S. final and will only be able to race the individual 400m at Worlds if Felix opts out of it. Olympic champion Sanya Richards-Ross failed to qualify for the U.S. 400m final.

Merritt, the 2008 Olympic champion, was edged for the men’s 400m title by David Verburg, 44.63 to 44.66 (race video here). Vernon Norwood and 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony flag bearer Bryshon Nellum also made the Worlds team, as Merritt had a bye into Worlds as defending champion.

In the 100m hurdles, 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson prevailed in 12.55, ahead of Kendra Harrison and Sharika Nelvis (race video here). That trio is joined on the U.S. team for Worlds by defending World champion Brianna Rollins.

Summer and Winter Olympian Lolo Jones and Jasmin Stowers, who this year became the second U.S. woman ever to run 12.40 or better three times in a career, failed to make the Worlds team.

Olympic and World champion Brittney Reese took second in the long jump to 2005 World champion Tianna Bartoletta. They’re joined on the Worlds team by Olympic bronze medalist Janay DeLoach and Jasmine Todd, who also qualified in the 100m Friday.

Two-time World medalist Matthew Centrowitz won the 1500m in 3:37.25 (race video here), ahead of Robby Andrews and Olympic silver medalist Leo Manzano. Manzano edged Ben Blankenship by .02 for third, but Andrews and Manzano must run the qualifying standard 3:36.20 by Aug. 9 to make the Worlds team, or else Blankenship, who already has the standard, will go to Beijing.

“Winning wasn’t good enough,” Centrowitz told media in Eugene. “I wanted to really dominate. … Going into that home stretch, I wanted the race to be won already. … I think I did that.”

Bershawn Jackson, the 2005 World champion and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, won the 400m hurdles in 48.29 (race video here). He’s joined on the U.S. team for Worlds by Olympic and World silver medalist Michael Tinsley, 2014 U.S. champion Johnny Dutch and 2007 and 2009 World champion Kerron Clement.

U.S. men make up the five fastest 400m hurdlers in the world this year, led by Jackson.

American record holder Emma Coburn won her fourth 3000m steeplechase national title in 9:15.59, the second fastest time in the world this year (race video here). A U.S. woman has never won an Olympic or Worlds steeplechase medal.

“There’s only three, four, five really competitive women [in the world], so I hope to be one of them,” Coburn told Lewis Johnson on NBC.

Sam Kendricks won the pole vault, with 2007 World champion Brad Walker second and also making the World Championships team. Kendricks is ranked tied for fifth in the world this year.

The U.S. Championships conclude Sunday, highlighted by the men’s and women’s 200m finals featuring Justin Gatlin (NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra from 4-6 p.m. ET)

Asafa Powell, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce star at Jamaican Championships; Yohan Blake out

John McFall, Paralympic medalist, becomes first parastronaut in Europe

John McFall
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The European Space Agency made history Wednesday by selecting an amputee who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident to be among its newest batch of astronauts — a leap toward its pioneering ambition to send someone with a physical disability into space.

John McFall, a 41-year-old Briton who lost his right leg when he was 19 and later won a Paralympic 100m bronze medal in 2008, called his selection at Europe’s answer to NASA “a real turning point and mark in history.”

“ESA has a commitment to send an astronaut with a physical disability into space … This is the first time that a space agency has endeavored to embark on a project like this. And it sends a really, really strong message to humanity,” he said.

The newly-minted parastronaut joins five career astronauts in the final selection unveiled during a Paris news conference — the conclusion of the agency’s first recruitment drive in over a decade aimed at bringing diversity to space travel.

McFall will follow a different path than his fellow astronauts because he will participate in a groundbreaking feasibility study exploring whether physical disability will impair space travel. It’s uncharted land, since no major Western space agency has ever put a parastronaut into space, according to the ESA.

Speaking with pride amid flashes of emotion, McFall said that he was uniquely suited to the mission because of the vigor of his mind and body.

“I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I lost my leg about twenty plus years ago, I’ve had the opportunity to be a Paralympic athlete and really explored myself emotionally … All those factors and hardships in life have given me confidence and strength — the ability to believe in myself that I can do anything I put my mind to,” he added.

“I never dreamt of being an astronaut. It was only when ESA announced that they were looking for a candidate with a physical disability to embark on this project that it really sparked my interest.”

The feasibility study, that will last two to three years, will examine the basic hurdles for a parastronaut including how a physical disability might impact mission training, and if modifications to spacesuits and aircraft are required, for example.

ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker said it was still a “long road” for McFall but described the fresh recruitment as a long-held ambition.

Parker said it started with a question. “Maybe there are people out there that are almost superhuman in that they’ve already overcome challenges. And could they become astronauts?”

Parker also says that he “thinks” it may be the first time the word “parastronaut” has been used, but “I do not claim ownership.”

“We’re saying that John (McFall) could be the first parastronaut, that means someone who has been selected by the regular astronaut selection process but happens to have a disability that would normally have ruled him out,” he said.

It will be at least five years before McFall goes into space as an astronaut — if he is successful.

Across the Atlantic, Houston is taking note. Dan Huot, a spokesman for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, home to the American agency’s astronaut corps, told the AP that “we at NASA are watching ESA’s para-astronaut selection process with great interest.”

Huot acknowledged that “NASA’s selection criteria currently remains the same” but said the agency is looking forward to working with the “new astronauts in the future” from partners such as the ESA.

NASA stressed that it has a safety-conscious process for vetting future astronauts who might be put in life-threatening situations.

“For maximum crew safety, NASA’s current requirements call for each crew member to be free of medical conditions that could either impair the person’s ability to participate in, or be aggravated by, spaceflight, as determined by NASA physicians,” Huot added.

NASA said future “assistive technology” might change the game for “some candidates” to meet their stringent safety requirements.

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Ilia Malinin in familiar position after Grand Prix Finland short program

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Ilia Malinin landed a quadruple Axel in his free skate to win his first two competitions this season. Less known was that the 17-year-old American had to come from behind to win each time.

An at least slightly injured Malinin looks up in the standings again after the short program of his third event, Grand Prix Finland. Malinin had erred landings on two of his three jumping passes in Friday’s short, where quad Axels are not allowed, then said he had a left foot problem, according to the International Skating Union.

“I’m a little bit injured, I’m playing it safe, protect it to make sure the injury doesn’t get worse,” he said, according to the ISU.

He tallied 85.57 points for second place, which is 3.39 fewer than leader Kevin Aymoz of France going into Saturday’s free skate.

Malinin, the world junior champion ranked No. 1 in the world in his first full senior season, merely needs to finish fourth or better (perhaps even fifth) to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final, which pits the top six per discipline in the world in a preview of March’s world championships.

Grand Prix Finland concludes with all of the free skates on Saturday.

GRAND PRIX FINLAND: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier Friday, world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium led the women’s short with 74.88 points, edging Mai Mihara of Japan by 1.3. Hendrickx and Mihara are in position to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. World champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan, South Korea’s Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito already have spots in the Final.

The world’s top ice dance couple this season, Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, improved on their world-leading rhythm dance score by tallying 87.80 points. They lead Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker by 6.87, with both couples in position to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini topped the pairs’ short program by 4.3 points over Americans Anastasiia Smirnova and Danil Siianytsia. The Italians rank fourth in the world this season behind three teams that aren’t in the Finland field but will be at the Grand Prix Final, including world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier of the U.S.

Smirnova and Silanytsia are competing in their lone Grand Prix this season after withdrawing before Skate America, making them ineligible for Grand Prix Final qualification. Their short program score ranks fourth among American pairs this season, putting them in contention for one of three spots on the team for worlds, to be decided after January’s national championships.

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