Ashton Eaton

Aries Merritt wins bronze before kidney transplant; incredible Worlds performances

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An incredible day of on-the-track performances at the World Championships on Friday included:

  • Aries Merritt, an Olympic champion and world-record holder, earned bronze in the 110m hurdles while running with kidney function at less than 20 percent and four days before getting a kidney transplant from his sister. “The bigger message is don’t give up,” Merritt told Lewis Johnson on Universal Sports. “Just keep fighting. You can persevere through anything if you put your mind to it.”
  • Ashton Eaton, also an Olympic champion and world-record holder, ran the fastest 400m ever in a decathlon to lead after the first of two days nearly at his world-record pace. Eaton hasn’t completed a decathlon in more than two years.
  • The Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers won the 200m in 21.63 seconds to become the third fastest woman ever in the event.
  • U.S.-born women came into Worlds with 25 of the 26 fastest times in the world this year in the 100m hurdles. They won zero medals in the 100m hurdles final.
  • American Tianna Bartoletta won the long jump World title, 10 years after her previous gold medal in the event.

“This bronze medal is going to shine brighter than my gold,” Merritt told media in Beijing. “It’s very hard to run [three] rounds with my current state of health.”

Merritt will hope to try to defend his Olympic title in Rio after his kidney transplant. More on Merritt’s kidney condition here.

“If I can pull it off, it would be nothing but a blessing,” Merritt told Johnson on Universal Sports. “Special things happen in the Olympic Games, so if I make it, you never know what will happen.”

Bartoletta and Merritt won the U.S.’ two medals Friday, giving it 14 overall with four golds. Kenya has more golds (six) and is second in overall medals with 11, with two days left. U.S. track and field has won at least 22 medals at each of the last eight Olympics or World Championships.

Full results from Friday are here.

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will have World Championships coverage Saturday (2:30 p.m. ET) and Sunday (2 p.m.). Usain Bolt is expected to return for his final event, the 4x100m relay, on Saturday.

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Schippers won the 200m in 21.63. The world record is held by Florence Griffith-Joyner (21.34). Second all time is Marion Jones* (21.62). Schippers outleaned Jamaican Elaine Thompson (21.66) for gold.

Another Jamaican, two-time Olympic 200m champion, Veronica Campbell-Brown took bronze in 21.97 for her 17th career Olympic or Worlds medal.

“I think I’ll not sleep for the next night,” Schippers, the 2013 Worlds heptathlon bronze medalist who won 100m silver Monday and had a 200m personal best of 22.03 before the final, said on the BBC.

Schippers chose to focus on the sprints over the heptathlon earlier this year and said she doesn’t think she’ll compete in a heptathlon again.

“Now I’m a sprinter, I’m sure,” Schippers said on BBC Radio.

Olympic champion Allyson Felix did not contest the 200m at Worlds but said she will do it at the Rio Olympics, should she make the team at the Olympic trials (top three). Felix’s personal best in the 200m is 21.69.

Eaton leads the decathlon after five of 10 events after running the fastest decathlon 400m of all time, a 45.00, and screaming after he crossed the finish line. Eaton’s time would have qualified for the Olympic 400m final as recently as 2004.

“I thought the clock was off by a second, I swear,” Eaton, who took 2014 off from the decathlon to run the 400m hurdles, told media in Beijing. “They should go back and check it.”

That moved Eaton to 4,703 points and a 173-point lead over Canadian Damian Warner. Eaton is 25 points shy of his world-record pace from the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials.

“I’m just happy to be doing a decathlon, honestly. It’s been so long,” Eaton told Johnson on Universal Sports. “If the world record’s there, I’ll go for it, but I just want to win.”

Another U.S. medal hopeful, Olympic decathlon silver medalist Trey Hardee, dropped out of the decathlon with a lower back injury suffered during the long jump.

“I’m devastated to have to withdraw from the competition,” Hardee said, according to USA Track and Field. “I tried everything to try to make it through but it just wasn’t mean to be.”

The U.S. had a chance to sweep the top four in the 100m hurdles, but two of its quartet were eliminated in the semifinals, 2013 World champion Brianna Rollins was fourth and Sharika Nelvis, the fastest woman in the world this year at 12.34, was last place in 13.06.

Jamaica’s Danielle Williams won in a personal-best 12.57, followed by Germany’s Cindy Roleder (12.59), Belarus’ Alina Talay (12.66). Rollins missed bronze by .01.

The top two from the U.S. Championships — two-time Olympic medalist Dawn Harper-Nelson and NCAA champion Keni Harrison — were eliminated in the semifinals.

Harper-Nelson crashed after hitting the second hurdle with her trail leg. Harrison false started out of the next heat.

“Caught me and took me down,” Harper-Nelson said on Eurosport. “I feel like, before I realized it, I was going to the ground.”

In the 110m hurdles, Merritt took bronze in 13.04 behind Russian Sergey Shubenkov (12.98) and Jamaican Hansle Parchment (13.03). The 2013 World champion David Oliver was seventh after knocking down the first hurdle.

Bartoletta captured the long jump title after countrywoman Brittney Reese, the 2009, 2011 and 2013 World champion and 2012 Olympic champion, failed to make the final.

In the men’s 1500m, all three Americans advanced to Sunday’s final — Olympic silver medalist Leo Manzano, two-time Worlds medalist Matthew Centrowitz and Robby Andrews. The field also includes Algerian Olympic champion Taoufik Makhloufi and Kenyan two-time defending World champion Asbel Kiprop.

Usain Bolt says he may retire after Rio Olympics

Kyle Dake repeats as world wrestling champ; next challenge: Jordan Burroughs

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Kyle Dake recovered from an unspecified freak accident that required surgery, and not wrestling in a meet for eight months, to repeat as world champion at 79kg, a non-Olympic weight class, on Sunday.

The next six months will bring another challenge — beating Jordan Burroughs for an Olympic spot.

“Every year I have a goal of being the best guy in the world. Last year, I proved it. This year, I proved it,” Dake told Trackwrestling.com. “I’ve got my work cut out for me, coming up.”

Dake, a four-time NCAA champion at Cornell who considered quitting after finishing second at U.S. trials year after year, is now in his freestyle prime. He backed up going unscored on at worlds last year by beating his four opponents in Kazakhstan this week by a combined 27-4, capped by topping Azerbaijan’s Jabrayil Hasanov 4-2 in a final rematch.

Kid Dynamite is unquestionably one of the world’s best pound-for-pound wrestlers.

That was not the case four years ago. Then, an internationally inexperienced Dake moved out of the 74kg division, and up to 86kg for the Olympic year, to avoid facing Burroughs because Burroughs had a bye into the Olympic trials final as the reigning world champion. Dake ended up losing the 86kg trials final to J’den Cox, who on Saturday repeated as world champion himself.

The four-year difference would seem to favor Dake over Burroughs at April’s trials, where Dake has a bye into the semifinals and Burroughs into the final.

Burroughs, at 31 years old, is on the back end of his career. He just missed the finals of back-to-back world championships for the first time, though he came back for bronze medals. Burroughs has made every U.S. world or Olympic team at 74kg dating to 2011 and earned a medal every time, save his tearful Rio Olympic exit.

Dake, reluctant four years ago to detail his decision to move out of 74kg, determined before this week’s worlds that he would choose 74kg over 86kg (where Cox likely waits again).

“74 seems like a good spot for me,” Dake told Trackwrestling last month.

The number of weight classes drops from 10 at worlds to six at the Olympics, ensuring that at least two of these Americans will not make the Tokyo team:

Burroughs — 5x Olympic/world champion
Dake — 2x world champion
David Taylor — 2018 World champion (missed 2019 while injured)
Cox — 2x world champion
Kyle Snyder — 2x Olympic/world champion

Later Sunday, Snyder rallied from being upset in the 97kg semifinals on Saturday to snag a bronze medal with a 5-0 win over Georgian Elizbar Odikadze. A potential third straight world final between Snyder and Russian Abdulrashid Sadulayev was the most anticipated match of the championships, but Snyder was beaten one match early by Azerbaijan’s Sharif Sharifov.

Sadulayev, meanwhile, blanked Sharifov 4-0 to complete a 30-3 romp through his four matches to repeat as world champ.

“The hardest part about it I would say is just the fact that I didn’t get to wrestle Sadulayev again,” said Snyder, a Rio Olympic champion and a 2015 and 2017 World champion who shared bus and elevator rides with Sadulayev on Saturday and Sunday. “I felt prepared for him.”

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MORE: Jordan Burroughs: Time is running out

Israel is first nation to qualify for 2020 Olympic baseball tournament

Margo Sugarman
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Israel’s baseball team, which captivated at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, is headed to its first Olympics next summer.

Israel won a joint European-African tournament to become the first nation to qualify for baseball’s return to the Games after the sport was voted off the program after Beijing 2008.

It joins host nation Japan. Four more countries will qualify — two at the global Premier12 in November, another from the Americas and one more from a last-chance qualifier next year.

Israel, ranked 19th in the world, advanced via its best opportunity in Italy this week. It upset the highest-ranked European nations — the Netherlands (No. 8) and host Italy (No. 16) — and wrapped it up with an 11-1 win over South Africa on Sunday.

Its run came two years after Israel, then ranked 41st, beat South Korea, Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands and Cuba before bowing out of the World Baseball Classic. And one week after Israel finished fourth at the European Championship.

Israel’s roster at this week’s Olympic qualifier lacked many of the MLB veterans that it had at the World Baseball Classic. Israeli citizenship was not required at the WBC.

Its most recognizable player is Danny Valencia, an infielder who played parts of nine MLB seasons from 2010-18. Joey Wagman, its starting pitcher for its first and last games this week, plies his trade for the independent-league Milwaukee Milkmen.

MLB players are unlikely to feature at the Tokyo Games, but minor leaguers are expected to be eligible as in the past.

The rest of the Olympic field is likely to be nations from North America (such as the U.S., Cuba, Mexico or Canada) or Asia (South Korea, Chinese Taipei) or Australia.

Baseball will not be on the 2024 Olympic program but could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

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MORE: USA Baseball taps longtime catcher to be Olympic qualifying manager