Aries Merritt wins bronze before kidney transplant; incredible Worlds performances

Ashton Eaton
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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.

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In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

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Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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