Wayde van Niekerk talks Usain Bolt’s records as he awaits IAAF decision

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Wayde van Niekerk‘s long-term dreams are Usain Bolt‘s world records in the 100m and 200m, but first he eyes a more attainable goal: a change in the world championships schedule.

The IAAF council will this week consider Van Niekerk’s request for a shift in the worlds schedule to more easily allow him to race both the 200m and 400m at the meet in London in August, according to the Times of London.

Van Niekerk said in January that he was petitioning the IAAF. The current worlds schedule has the 200m first round taking place about two and a half hours before the 400m final.

There is precedent. The 1996 and 2016 Olympic schedules were changed for Michael Johnson and Allyson Felix‘s double attempts, though Felix failed to make the Rio team in the 200m.

Van Niekerk’s credentials are comparable to Johnson and Felix. He shattered Johnson’s 400m world record of 43.18, clocking 43.03 at the Rio Games out of lane 8 in August. Van Niekerk, coached by a great-grandmother, worried during the one-lap final that a buggy hamstring would bite him around the 200-meter mark as it had in the first round and semifinals. It never did.

Van Niekerk said in January he plans to double regardless of if the schedule is changed, according to South Africa media.

Van Niekerk is not expected to race Bolt at worlds, since Bolt said he will sit out the 200m as he cruises toward retirement. Still, the 24-year-old from Bloemfontein will be asked Bolt questions for the rest of his career.

“A lot of people say, ‘Wayde, you need to be more of an entertainer,'” Van Niekerk said, according to the Times. “I am not that type, but I see qualities I share with Usain Bolt, and that brings a form of comfort even if it won’t sell T-shirts.”

Van Niekerk specifically said in September he dreamed of being as fast as Bolt in the 200m.

“I am a 100, 200 and 400 athlete so will dream for every record there is,” Van Niekerk said, according to the Times on Tuesday. “What sort of athlete would I be if I didn’t?”

Van Niekerk is the only man in history to break 44 seconds for the 400m, 20 seconds for the 200m and 10 seconds for the 100m. His 100m and 200m personal bests — 9.98 and 19.94 — are well off Bolt’s world records from 2009 — 9.58 and 19.19.

So while he will likely be a strong 400m favorite at worlds, he may be a 200m underdog behind the likes of Olympic silver medalist Andre De Grasse of Canada.

In other Rio reflections to the Times, Van Niekerk said a rush in South Africa to associate his Olympic 400m title with race via the hashtag #ColouredExcellence “broke his heart.” (“Coloured” is not necessarily an offensive term in South Africa.)

“It shocked me that as soon as the flag was off my shoulders it became about race,” Van Niekerk said, according to the report. “Didn’t they see what I had done? In South Africa it is a problem how easily people want to classify you racially. People want to put themselves in groups but then go to work with black and white people. Isn’t that racist?

“I got abused a lot. I got called traitor because I didn’t accept I was coloured. Black people told me I was living a blind life, but I know what’s going on around me. I just don’t want to support it. It would be better if we all lived as South Africans.”

The day after Van Niekerk’s gold in Rio, his agent received a phone call from Oscar Pistorius wishing to congratulate his countryman from prison, according to the Times. Last July, Pistorius was sentenced to six years in prison for murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in 2013. Pistorius became the first double amputee to run in the Olympics in 2012.

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MORE: Van Niekerk set to race at Usain Bolt’s home finale

Russia, Belarus hockey teams will return to top division world championships if ban lifted

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Russia and Belarus national men’s ice hockey teams and Russia’s women’s team will be placed in the top-level world championships in 2023 if their current bans from competition are lifted by next spring.

The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) announced Friday that Russia and Belarus teams, if and when their suspensions are lifted, will return to the divisions that they occupied prior to their until-further-notice bans due to the war in Ukraine last February.

The IIHF said that the number of teams in the world championships will remain the same (16 for the men, 10 for the women), meaning that Russia and Belarus would take the place of teams that qualified, with those teams moving into a lower division world championship.

“There would be no promotion,” in that scenario, according to the IIHF. Last year, Slovenia and Hungary earned promotion into the top-level men’s world championship. France earned promotion into the top-level women’s world championship.

In many Olympic sports, qualifying for one year’s world championships is based on the previous year’s world championships results. With Russia and Belarus banned from most world championships in 2022, international federations must be decide how to reintegrate Russia and Belarus into world championships and Olympic qualifying if and when bans are lifted.

“To be clear, this decision does not indicate a return of the Russian and Belarusian teams to IIHF competition,” IIHF President Luc Tardif said in a press release. “Congress needed to take this decision so that the IIHF members understand the terms of a future reintegration of these countries into the IIHF program. The IIHF Council will continue to monitor the war in Ukraine.”

Teams of Russian men’s players earned gold and silver medals at the last two Olympics. Those teams could not compete under the Russian flag due to the national ban over doping sanctions. Russia’s women last earned a medal at the 2016 World Championship.

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U.S., China set for FIBA Women’s World Cup gold-medal game

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SYDNEY — Breanna Stewart and the United States used a dominant defensive effort to beat Canada and reach the gold-medal game of the FIBA Women’s World Cup for the fourth consecutive tournament.

Stewart scored 17 points and the Americans raced out to an early lead to put away Canada 83-43 on Friday, reaching a Saturday gold-medal game with China. The 43 points was the fewest scored in a semifinal game in World Cup history.

“Canada has been playing really well all tournament and the goal was just to come out there and really limit them,” said U.S. forward Alyssa Thomas. “We were really locked in from the jump with our game plan.”

China edged host Australia 61-59 in the later semifinal to reach its first global championship game since the 1994 Worlds, the last time it won a medal of any color. The U.S. beat China 77-63 in group play last Saturday, the Americans’ closest game of the tournament.

“Our goal was to to win a gold medal and we’re in position to do that,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said.

The U.S. (7-0), which is on a record pace for points and margin of victory in the tournament, took control of the game early scoring the first 15 points. The Americans contested every shot on the defensive end as the Canadians missed their first nine attempts from the field. On the offensive end, Stewart, A’ja Wilson and Thomas basically got any shot they wanted.

“I think after that punch, it really took the air out of them,” Thomas said. “They didn’t know what to do with their offense anymore after that.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup Schedule, Results

Laeticia Amihere, who plays at South Carolina for former U.S. coach Dawn Staley, finally got Canada on the board nearly 5 minutes into the game making a driving layup.

By the end of the quarter the U.S. led 27-7. Canada had committed four turnovers — the same number the team had against Puerto Rico in the quarterfinals which was the lowest total in a game in 30 years.

The Americans were up 45-21 at the half and the lead kept expanding in the final 20 minutes. The win was the biggest margin for the U.S. in the medal round topping the 36-point victory over Spain in the 2010 World Cup.

Canada (5-2) advanced to the medal round for the first time since 1986 and has a chance to win its first medal since taking the bronze that year.

“We didn’t get it done today, but what we’re going to do is take this with what we learned today and how we can turn it up tomorrow,” Canada captain Natalie Achonwa said. “It’s still a game for a medal and it’s just as important for us.”

The U.S. has won seven of the eight meetings with Canada in the World Cup, although the last one came in 2010. The lone victory for Canada came in 1975.

The victory was the 29th in a row in World Cup play for the Americans, who haven’t lost since the 2006 semifinals against Russia. The Soviet Union holds the World Cup record with 56 straight wins from 1959-86. This is only the second time in the Americans’ storied history they’ve reached four consecutive gold-medal contests. They also did it from 1979-90, winning three times.

This U.S. team, which has so many new faces on it, is on pace to break many of the team’s records that include scoring margin and points per game. The Americans also continued to dominate the paint even without 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner, outscoring its opponents by an average of 55-24.

Amihere led Canada with eight points.

RECORD BREAKING

The low point total broke the mark of 53 that South Korea scored against Russia in 2002.

“We’re starting to build that identity,” Wilson said of the defensive effort. “We’re quick and scrappy and I think that’s our identity.”

The U.S. is averaging 101 points a game. The team’s best mark ever coming into the tournament was 99.1 set in 1994.

STILL RECOVERING

Kahleah Copper sat out after injuring her left hip in the win over Serbia in the quarterfinals. Copper landed hard on her hip driving to the basket and had to be helped off the court. She hopes to play on Saturday. Betnijah Laney, who also got hurt in the Serbia game, did play against Canada.

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