Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin set up duel; South African stretchered off after 400m gold

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Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin set up another showdown, medal standings leader Kenya earned two more gold medals and a South African won the 400m in the sixth fastest time ever and then was taken off the track on a stretcher at the World Championships on Wednesday.

The U.S. won three medals Wednesday, but no golds, giving it one gold and nine total medals through five of nine days.

Kenya leads the medal standings with six golds and 11 total, including a men’s javelin gold Wednesday, its first ever Olympic or Worlds field event medal.

The U.S. will hope to gain and surpass Kenya in the final four days, but the biggest storyline Thursday will be another Bolt-Gatlin showdown in the 200m final. It comes 10 years after their first race together in the 2005 Worlds 200m final (video here).

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Bolt, the reigning two-time Olympic and three-time World champion, won his 200m semifinal in 19.95 seconds, appearing to spend time during his race looking up at a stadium video screen and, briefly, across to the second-place finisher.

That’s the first time the Jamaican has gone sub-20 in an Olympic or Worlds 200m semifinal and his first sub-20 since he won the 2013 World Championships in 19.66.

“A bit tired,” Bolt said on the BBC, repeating what he said after the first round Tuesday.

How much is left in the tank?

“I don’t know until we see tomorrow,” he said. “My 200m is my best event. I live for this. … I know I’m going to do well. It’s not even a question. … I’m not going to lose my favorite event.”

A few minutes earlier, Gatlin clocked 19.87, the fastest time of all the semifinalists. Gatlin came into Worlds having clocked 19.57, 19.68, 19.68 and 19.71 since the start of 2014, the four fastest times in the world in that span.

On Sunday, Bolt beat Gatlin by .01 in the 100m final in a time slower than Gatlin’s semifinal clocking earlier that night. Gatlin struggled to keep his form in the last several meters of the final, costing him gold.

Is Gatlin, after tearing up following the 100m final, ready to face Bolt again?

“Of course, ready for a matchup with anybody,” Gatlin told Lewis Johnson on Universal Sports.

Thursday’s final will not include Olympic bronze medalist and 2013 Worlds silver medalist Warren Weir, who failed to advance out of the semifinals.

Later Wednesday, South African Wayde van Niekerk won the 400m in 43.48 seconds, a time that would have beaten Michael Johnson at the 1996 Olympics. Johnson set the world record of 43.18 on this date 16 years ago.

Van Niekerk was taken off the track on a stretcher later after minutes of celebrating around the Bird’s Nest. He went to a hospital as a precaution, according to the BBC.

The 2013 World champion LaShawn Merritt finished second in a personal best in 43.65, followed by Grenada Olympic champion Kirani James in 43.78. It marked the first time three men went sub-44 in a 400m race.

Merritt earned his 10th career Worlds medal, matching Carl Lewis and Allyson Felix for the most in U.S. history. Felix can win her 11th in the women’s 400m final Thursday.

Earlier, the Czech Republic’s Zuzana Hejnova became the first woman to repeat as World champion in the 400m hurdles, prevailing in 53.50, the fastest time in the world this year.

“It’s very hard to be favorite, and I was very nervous before the final,” Hejnova said on the BBC.

Americans Shamier Little (53.94) and Cassandra Tate (54.02) won silver and bronze in their global championship debuts. Little, who had the fastest time in the world coming into Beijing, was in tears Monday after squeaking into the final in the eighth and last spot.

“Yesterday I was saying I deserved to be here,” Little, 20, told Johnson on Universal Sports. “I showed that today.”

U.S. Olympic champion Jenn Suhr tied for fourth in the pole vault, failing to clear 4.80 meters. Suhr also failed to clear 4.80 at the 2012 Olympics in poorer weather conditions in London. Cuban Yarisley Silva cleared 4.90 meters on her third and final attempt to take gold after 2012 Olympic silver and 2013 Worlds bronze.

Julius Yego won the javelin, becoming the first Kenyan to earn an Olympic or Worlds medal in a field event. Yego threw 92.72 meters, the farthest in the world since 2001. Yego, who learned the javelin by watching YouTube videos, is now the third best javelin thrower of all time.

Kenya’s Hyvin Jepkemoi won the women’s 3000m steeplechase (video here), while American Emma Coburn dropped to fifth after being in second place on the final lap. Coburn hoped to become the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic or Worlds steeplechase medal.

Two-time Olympic 200m champion Veronica Campbell-Brown advanced to the 200m semifinals despite shifting into the lane to her outside coming around the curve of the race, as she did at the 2005 World Championships. Campbell-Brown would have been disqualified if she impeded the runner in that lane.

Neither the Olympic champion Felix nor 2013 World champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce are competing in the 200m at Worlds. Fraser-Pryce won the 100m on Monday. Felix was the fastest qualifier into Thursday’s 400m final.

Hammer thrower briefly leaves World Championships gold medal in taxi

Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

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Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

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Can T.J. Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022?

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T.J. Oshie will be 35 years old during the next Winter Olympics. Jonathan Quick will be 36. Now that the NHL is one key step closer to returning to the Winter Games, the question surfaces: which 2014 Olympians will have a difficult time returning to rosters in 2022?

Oshie was the last of the 14 forwards chosen for the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, beating out Bobby Ryan and Brandon Saad, in part for his shootout prowess.

In group play against Russia, Oshie was memorably tapped by U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma six times in a shootout, including all five in the sudden-death rounds. Oshie beat Sergei Bobrovsky four times, including the game winner.

“After I went out for my third attempt, I figured I was going to keep going,” Oshie said, according to USA Hockey. “Each time I would look up to see what [Bylsma] had to say, and he would just give me a nod every time. I kind of started laughing toward shot five and six because it was getting kind of ridiculous.”

Oshie became known as “T.J. Sochi” on social media. President Barack Obama congratulated him on Twitter. The U.S. eventually lost to Canada in the semifinals and Finland in the bronze-medal game.

When the NHL chose not to send its players to the PyeongChang Winter Games, it may have spelled the end of Oshie’s Olympic career.

Consider that the oldest forward on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team was 29, six years younger than Oshie will be come 2022. A recent Olympic roster prediction from The Hockey Writers put Oshie in the “Just Missed Out” list.

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire has Oshie among the finalists for the last forward spots in his early U.S. roster prediction.

“I wouldn’t discount T.J. Oshie because shootout is still part of it,” McGuire said. “He still has his shootout moves, even though he’s not getting any younger.”

Quick, the unused third goalie in 2010, played 305 out of 365 minutes in net for the U.S. in Sochi. He was coming off a Stanley Cup in 2012 and en route to another one in 2014.

Since, he was sidelined by a knee injury that required surgery. He remains the Los Angeles Kings’ No. 1 goalie, which almost automatically puts an American in the Olympic roster discussion these days.

“Somebody like Jonathan definitely merits consideration just because of his achievement level over time, but I think he’d be the first person to tell you injuries have definitely affected him,” McGuire said of Quick, looking to become the second-oldest U.S. goalie to play in the Olympics after Tom Barrasso in 2002. “It’s not going to be easy for him.”

The U.S. could bypass Quick for three Olympic rookies in 2022. Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson and Ben Bishop have superior save percentages and goals-against averages and more games played than Quick since the start of the 2018-19 season.

A wild card is Spencer Knight, the 19-year-old No. 1 from the world junior championships who last year became the highest-drafted goalie since 2010 (No. 13 to the Florida Panthers). Knight would break defenseman Bryan Berard‘s record as the youngest U.S. Olympic hockey player in the NHL era.

The Canadian roster has traditionally been deeper than the U.S. The talent is overwhelming at center, led by Sidney CrosbyConnor McDavidPatrice Bergeron and Nathan MacKinnon. The Canadians must get creative if the likes of veterans Jonathan Toews and John Tavares will join them in Beijing.

Toews, then 21, was the best forward at the 2010 Vancouver Games and Canada’s only one on the all-tournament team. While Toews’ last NHL All-Star selection was in 2017, his last two seasons have been his best in terms of points per game since 2011.

“The one thing that Canada is very good at, they do it extremely well, they select players that fit roles,” McGuire said, noting Mike Richards shifting to the wing during the 2010 Olympics. “When you look at the overwhelming depth that Canada has, that’s going to be the thing that’s going that’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how it plays out at center.”

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