After Trials chaos, it’s Caster; U.S. 800m Olympians get no break in Rio

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EUGENE, Ore. — Chrishuna Williams has never raced against Caster Semenya, but she has watched video of the dominant South African this year.

“I notice how her first lap, she like sits behind,” Williams said after finishing third in the turbulent U.S. Olympic Trials 800m final, earning a Rio berth on Monday. “Then her last lap, she just takes off. … That’s something I’ve never seen.”

Williams, a 23-year-old who shifted from the 400m to the 800m in 2015, is one of three U.S. women, and everyone else, who are overwhelming underdogs behind Semenya in the two-lap race in Rio.

Williams ran a personal-best 1:59.59 in Monday’s final at Hayward Field, getting on the three-woman team for Rio by .04 of a second over Molly Ludlow.

Winner Kate Grace also had a personal best, 1:59.10, after not racing on the track in 2015 due to tearing a toe-joint tendon. Grace had never made the podium at an NCAA or U.S. Championships and didn’t decide to run the 800m (in addition to the 1500m) at Trials until two or three weeks ago.

Ajee’ Wilson, the fastest woman in the world in 2014, was second to Grace in 1:59.51. Wilson, who turned professional after high school in 2013, grabbed third place at the 2015 U.S. Championships while running with one shoe on. She withdrew from the world championships team six weeks later due to a stress reaction in her left tibia.

The unlikely trio of Grace, Wilson and Williams emerged Monday from a chaotic last 200 meters that doused the hopes of six-time U.S. champion Alysia Montaño and Brenda Martinez, the only U.S. woman to earn an Olympic or world 800m medal since 1988.

The 800 meters is the shortest track event where runners (sprinters from the gun, in the case of some) are not separated by lanes for the entire race.

“There’s going to be casualties,” Wilson said. “It sucks when it’s you.”

Track and Field Trials: Daily Schedule | TV Schedule

Yet few expect Semenya to draw that kind of misfortune in Rio.

Semenya, best known for a gender-testing scandal after winning the 2009 World title at age 18, re-emerged this year with her fastest times in five years. The sudden revival came after a July decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport that suspended for two years a 2011 IAAF ruling that regulated women’s testosterone levels for competition eligibility.

Semenya, who was kept out of competition by the IAAF for 11 months in 2009 and 2010 while undergoing gender tests, has performed well at various times before the 2011 ruling, during the regulation period (2012 Olympic silver medal) and now without the regulation.

While the Americans ran in the 1:59s on Monday (and no faster earlier this year), Semenya has clocked no slower than 1:58.26 at her last four meets. Semenya is undefeated in 10 800m races this year and, in the higher-profile ones, has appeared to win comfortably without requiring full effort.

As Williams hinted, Semenya hangs back for the first lap (the first 700 meters, really) and shows her cards for, at most, the final 100 meters. In Doha. In Rabat. In Rome.

The world record of 1:53.28, set by Czech Jarmila Kratochvílová in 1983, is talked about as under threat. Semenya has also clocked personal bests in the 400m and 1500m this year, though they aren’t quite medal-caliber times. Her coach said in May there was no plan to add a second individual event in Rio.

Of Grace, Wilson and Williams, only Wilson has raced against Semenya. Wilson finished higher than Semenya in their first three races — all during Semenya’s down years in 2013 and 2014 — and then was dusted by the South African in Rome on June 2.

“I don’t really remember much of it,” said Wilson, who ran 2:03.33 (her worst international time as a pro) to Semenya’s 1:56.64 and was the last finisher of 11. “I was kind of off my game myself. It was kind of like, I was watching the race from second-hand anyway.”

The philosophy against Semenya is the same against anybody. Run to win, Wilson said.

“If I need to be in 1:56, 1:57 shape, then that’s what we’re going to do,” Wilson (personal-best 1:57.67 from 2014) said, pausing before adding, “regardless of who’s in the race.”

MORE: Olympic high jump champ not on Russian appeals list for Rio

Geraint Thomas cuts Julian Alaphilippe’s Tour de France lead

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FOIX, France (AP) — When one French rider starts to fade, another comes to the fore. One way or the other, France may still be on course for its first Tour de France winner since 1985.

Dancing over his saddle, his mouth wide open and gasping for air, Thibaut Pinot launched a ferocious attack Sunday and profited from the first signs of weakness in the high mountains from French race leader Julian Alaphilippe to edge closer to the yellow jersey in the overall standings.

Ascending the last uphill finish in the Pyrenees with a display of power and fluidity that signaled that he’ll also be a major contender to win the Tour, Pinot gained time on all his rivals for the second consecutive day following his triumph at the famed Tourmalet mountain in the previous stage.

Heading to the second and final rest day Monday ahead of what promises to be a climactic final week in the Alps, the race is exquisitely poised. Six riders are all within 2 minutes, 14 seconds of each other at the top of the standings.

The six terrible ascents above 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) in the Alps, peppered over three mountain stages, will likely decide who will stand on top of the podium on the Champs-Elysees next Sunday.

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV Schedule | Full Standings

“The high mountains have only just begun,” said Alaphilippe. “The Alps are going to be a big mouthful.”

Surging from the mist and rain, Pinot crossed the finish line of Sunday’s Stage 15 in second place, 33 seconds behind Simon Yates, who posted a second stage win after a long solo raid, three days after his first stage victory in the southwestern mountain range.

The 29-year-old Pinot was irresistible when he made his move seven kilometers from the summit. Only Emanuel Buchmann and defending champion Geraint Thomas’ teammate Egan Bernal could follow. But Pinot accelerated again about 2 kilometers later to drop them for good.

Pinot moved to fourth place overall, 1 minute, 50 seconds behind Alaphilippe.

“The weather conditions and the stage were good for me, I had good sensations, I needed to make the most of it,” said Pinot. “I need to keep going up in the general classification, the most difficult stages are looming.”

While Pinot was escorted by his faithful Groupama-FDJ teammate David Gaudu in the final ascent toward Prat d’Albis, Alaphilippe was isolated without a single teammate to help him in the 12-kilometer climb and cracked, yet managed to salvage his yellow jersey.

Alaphilippe was so exhausted after his effort up the hill, where he grimaced through the rain, that he had to grip a roadside barrier afterward while he caught his breath.

“If I crack I hope he’ll carry the torch for the French,” Alaphilippe said about Pinot.

Thomas, who had already conceded time to Pinot at the Tourmalet, remained second in the general classification. He got dropped when Pinot took the lead from a reduced group of contenders but did not panic. He rode at his pace until he accelerated with 1.5 kilometers left to cut the overall gap on Alaphilippe from 2 minutes, 2 seconds to 1:35. Steven Kruijswijk of the Netherlands stood third overall, 1:47 off the pace.

Thomas said after the stage he could have tried to follow Pinot earlier but instead opted for a conservative approach because he did not want to bring back Alaphilippe to the front. Bernal was with Pinot and the Welshman would not take the risk of chasing down their common rival. Bernal, a Colombian with excellent climbing skills, remains involved in the fight for the yellow jersey, 2:02 behind Alaphilippe.

“I felt better than yesterday but I needed to try to pace it when it all kicked off,” Thomas said. “It’s a difficult one, tactics wise. I wanted to go, I had the legs to go but I wasn’t going to chase down Egan Bernal with Alaphilippe on my wheel.”

Coming right after the ascent of the Tourmalet, Stage 15 ran close to the ancient Cathar castles and was a punishing ride totaling more than 39 kilometers of climbing.

Alaphilippe was so exhausted after his effort up the hill, where he grimaced and dribbled through the rain, that he had to grip a roadside barrier afterward while he caught his breath.

“If I crack I hope he’ll carry the torch for the French,” Alaphilippe said about Pinot.

Yates, the Vuelta defending champion, was given a free reign by the peloton when he took part in an early breakaway as he was not a threat overall. He made his decisive move about 9 kilometers from the line.

“I’m very proud of that,” Yates said of his second victory at this Tour.

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Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce turns back the clock, wins another Diamond League

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Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce continues to show she’s just as fast as before childbirth, winning a Diamond League 100m in 10.78 seconds in London on Sunday.

Fraser-Pryce, a 32-year-old, two-time Olympic champion, beat a field that included the two fastest women of 2018, Brit Dina Asher-Smith (10.92) and Ivorian Marie-Josee Ta Lou (10.98).

It lacked the only woman ranked higher than Fraser-Pryce this season, Rio Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, who edged her countrywoman at the Jamaican Championships on June 21.

But Fraser-Pryce has now broken 10.79 three times this season, her first time doing so since 2013. She could become the oldest woman to win an Olympic or world 100m title in Doha in two months.

“10.78 is a fabulous time,” she said. “My aim for Doha is definitely to be on the podium. For me, it’s a long season from here, so I am hoping my experience will come into play.”

Full London results are here. The meet lacked U.S. stars who are preparing for this week’s USATF Outdoor Championships, where world champs spots are at stake. The Diamond League resumes Aug. 18 in Birmingham, Great Britain.

Also Sunday, Kenyan Hellen Obiri won an anticipated head-to-head with Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan in the 5000m. Obiri, the world champion, clocked 14:20.36, the world’s fastest time in two years. Hassan, who nine days ago broke the mile world record, took third in a European record 14:22.12.

Swede Daniel Ståhl won a discus that included the world’s top three this year and the reigning Olympic and world gold and silver medalists. Stahl launched a 68.56-meter throw to overtake Jamaican Fedrick Dacres.

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