Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin breeze into Worlds 100m semifinals; Farah golden again

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Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin took their first strides toward a 100m final showdown at the World Championships in Beijing, easily winning their heats Saturday to reach Sunday’s semifinals.

Great Britain’s Mo Farah won his second straight 10,000m World title. Michelle Carter captured bronze in the shot put for the first U.S. medal on the opening day of the meet.

Bolt won his opening round sprint in 9.96 seconds, easing up as he crossed the finish line. Earlier, Gatlin took his heat in 9.83 seconds, relaxing through the finish (full Saturday results here).

“Overall, it was good, I didn’t really use much stress,” Bolt said on the BBC, adding later that he’s definitely in the physical shape to run 9.6 seconds.

Bolt, whose world record from 2009 is 9.58, appears beatable after dealing with injuries since the start of 2013. His best time since September 2013 is 9.87 seconds. Bolt’s only defeat in five career Olympic/World Championships 100m was in 2011, when he was disqualified for a false start in the final.

Gatlin, five years removed from a four-year doping ban, has run 9.80 or faster six times since the start of 2013. No other man in the world has clocked 9.80 or faster once in that span.

“My coach said go out there, execute the first 40, 45 meters,” Gatlin told media in Beijing. “That’s what I did. After that, he literally says go out there and do what you want to do.”

Bolt and Gatlin will next race in the semifinals Sunday (7:10 a.m. ET) and, if they advance, the eight-man final later Sunday (9:15 a.m.). The other top medal contenders — Jamaican Asafa Powell, American record holder Tyson Gay and rising Baylor junior Trayvon Bromell — also advanced in 9.95, 10.11 and 9.91, respectively. Gay said he’s had hip issues since his last race in Monaco on July 17.

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will have World Championships coverage Saturday from 3-4:30 p.m. ET and on Sunday from 1-2:30 p.m. ET.

World Championships: Men’s events to watch | Women’s events | Broadcast schedule

Also Saturday, Great Britain’s Mo Farah emerged from a five-man leading group in the final lap of 25 to prevail in the 10,000m in 27:01.13. Farah also won the 10,000m at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 World Championships.

Kenyan Geoffrey Kamworor, who clipped Farah from behind with about 300 meters to go, took silver, .63 behind. Another Kenyan, Paul Tanui, earned bronze. U.S. Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp was fifth after finishing fourth at the 2013 Worlds.

“There was three or four times where I nearly went down,” Farah said on the BBC. “I don’t know if [other runners were] deliberately trying to take me out.”

Farah can try for his third straight World Championships or Olympic sweep of the 5000m and 10,000m in the 5000m final next Saturday.

“Hopefully it didn’t take too much out of me,” Farah said on the BBC. “It’s just a matter now of recovering.”

Earlier, Great Britain’s Jessica Ennis-Hill took the heptathlon lead through four of seven events in her first global championship since she won the 2012 Olympic title and gave birth to baby boy Reggie on July 17, 2014.

Ennis-Hill tallied 4,005 points, 80 more than countrywoman Katarina Johnson-Thompson. Canadian Brianne Theisen-Eaton, the world leader this year coming into Worlds, is fourth with 3,865 points. Ennis-Hill had 4,158 points through four of seven events en route to her Olympic gold in London.

The final three heptathlon events are Sunday.

Michelle Carter, the daughter of 1984 Olympic shot put silver medalist and former San Francisco 49ers nose tackle Michael Carter, won the first U.S. medal of Worlds, bronze in the women’s shot put. German Christina Schwanitz took gold, followed by China’s Gong Lijiao getting silver.

On Saturday morning, all medal contenders in the women’s 1500m advanced to Sunday’s semifinals, including Ethiopian world record holder Genzebe Dibaba, American record holder Shannon Rowbury and 2011 World champion Jenny Simpson.

Evan Jager began his quest to become the first American to win a Worlds 3000m steeplechase medal, advancing to Monday’s final with the top Kenyans, including two-time Olympic champion Ezekiel Kemboi.

Kenyan Olympic champion and world-record holder David Rudisha reached Sunday’s 800m semifinals, along with fellow medal favorites Nijel Amos of Botswana and Mohammed Aman of Ethiopia.

Bershawn Jackson, the fastest man in the 400m hurdles this year, failed to advance to Sunday’s semifinals, finishing in seventh place in his first-round heat. Jackson said he had a hamstring injury.

Historic upset in men’s marathon

Maya Moore withdraws from Olympic consideration

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Maya Moore, the U.S. second-leading scorer at the Rio Olympics, withdrew her name from Tokyo Olympic consideration and will skip a second straight WNBA season.

Moore is on hiatus from competitive basketball to focus on criminal justice reform. Specifically, the case of a man who was sentenced to 50 years in prison but Moore believes is innocent, according to The New York Times.

USA Basketball confirmed Wednesday’s Times report that Moore took her name out of consideration for the 12-player Tokyo Olympic team, which is expected to be named in late spring or early summer.

“We are going to miss Maya tremendously, but we also respect her decision,” U.S. women’s national team director Carol Callan said, according to the report. “A player of Maya’s ability does not walk away from the gym lightly. Everyone feels it. The thing that makes her so special is her approach, her dedication, which has always been contagious for our team.”

Moore last played for the U.S. in major competition at the Rio Olympics. She was one of the leaders on a team that earned a sixth straight gold medal. Moore started all eight games and averaged 12 points per game, second on the team behind fellow former University of Connecticut star Diana Taurasi.

Breanna Stewart, another former UConn standout, entered the starting lineup at the 2018 FIBA World Cup in Moore’s absence and earned tournament MVP. Stewart is returning after missing the entire 2019 WNBA season with an Achilles tear.

Moore also started five games at the 2012 London Olympics as the team’s youngest player.

Moore, 30, said “this is not the time” to retire, according to the Times, but it’s unknown when she might return to the national team or to the WNBA, where she won four titles and an MVP with the Minnesota Lynx from 2011-18.

“I got to experience the best of my craft, and I did that multiple times,” Moore said, according to the report. “There is nothing more I wish I could experience.”

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Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

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NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

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