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

UCI looks for new host for 2020 World Road Cycling Championships

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The International Cycling Union (UCI) is looking for a new host for the 2020 World Road Cycling Championships due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Switzerland can no longer host the week-long event in late September after a national decision to extend a ban on events with more than 1,000 people through next month.

Amid reports the competition has been canceled, the UCI clarified Wednesday that it still hopes to hold it in some form, perhaps without some of the junior or senior races.

It now seeks an “alternative project,” preferably still in Europe and on the same dates (Sept. 20-27).

Worlds were due to start in Switzerland on the same day that the rescheduled Tour de France ends, though the senior elite men’s races are typically not on the first three days.

The Tour de France is still scheduled to start Aug. 29.

Last year, American Chloe Dygert starred at road worlds, winning the time trial in dominant fashion. Other world champions in Olympic events: Annemiek van Vleuten (road race), Rohan Dennis (time trial) and Mads Pedersen (road race).

MORE: Chloe Dygert had the most dominant ride in history. It still drives her nuts.

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Michael Phelps qualifies for first Olympics at age 15 in 2000

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In the biggest race of his young life, a 15-year-old Michael Phelps turned for the last 50 meters in fourth place of the U.S. Olympic Trials 200m butterfly final on Aug. 12, 2000.

His mom, Debbie, couldn’t watch. She turned away from the Indianapolis Natatorium pool and stared at the scoreboard. Both Debbie and Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, mentally prepared their consolation speeches for the rising Towson High School sophomore outside Baltimore.

Then Phelps, fueled by nightly Adam’s Mark chicken sandwich-and-cheesecake room service and amped by pre-race DMX on his CD player, turned it on. He zoomed into second place, becoming the youngest U.S. male swimmer to qualify for an Olympics since 1932.

Phelps had “come out of nowhere in the last six months” to become an Olympic hopeful, NBC Sports swimming commentator Dan Hicks said on the broadcast. True, Phelps chopped five and a half seconds off his personal best that March.

“He doesn’t know what it means to go to the Olympics and how it’s going to change his life,” Tom Malchow, the 1996 Olympic silver medalist who held off Phelps in that trials final, said that night, according to The Associated Press. “He’s going to find out soon.”

Phelps, who did his trademark arm flaps before the trials final, made Bowman look like a prophet. Four years earlier, the coach sat Debbie down for a conversation she would not soon forget.

“Told me what he projected for Michael,” Debbie said, according to the Baltimore Sun‘s front-page story on a local 15-year-old qualifying for the Sydney Games. “He said that in 2004, he would definitely be a factor in the Olympics. He also said that he could be there in 2000, to watch out for him. At the time, he was only 11.”

The trials were bittersweet for the Phelps family. Whitney, one of Phelps’ older sisters, withdrew before the meet with herniated discs in her back that kept her from making an Olympics after competing in the 1994 World Championships at age 14.

After Phelps qualified for the Olympics, one of the first people to embrace him was Whitney on the pool deck.

The next week, Phelps, still with bottom-teeth braces, did his first live TV sitdown on CNN, swiveling in his chair the whole time, according to his autobiography, “Beneath the Surface.”

The next month, Phelps finished fifth in his Olympic debut, clocking a then-personal-best time that would have earned gold or silver at every previous Olympics.

Following the Olympic race, gold medalist Malchow patted Phelps on the back, according to “No Limits,” another Phelps autobiography. What did Malchow say?

“The best is ahead of you.”

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