Wayde van Niekerk breezes to another historic 400m time (video)

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In his first major 400m since Rio, Wayde Van Niekerk showed promise that he could challenge his world record at the world championships next month.

The South African won in 43.62 seconds in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Thursday, easing up in the final few strides in the fastest time in the world since his 43.03 world record at the Olympics.

“I do have a love-hate relationship with the 400m,” Van Niekerk said, according to the IAAF. “Finishing a 400m is always painful but, this time around, I am actually pleasantly surprised about how I digest the lactic acid.”

Full Lausanne results are here.

It’s Van Niekerk’s third-fastest time ever — trailing only Rio and his 2015 World title. Nobody else has run that fast since 2007. Only Michael Johnson‘s 43.44 from the 1996 Olympic Trials was faster this early in a year.

Van Niekerk is the clear favorite for worlds in London, where the men’s 400m final is Aug. 8 and he plans to race the 200m later in the meet. Upstart American Fred Kerley is the only other man to break 44 seconds this year, clocking 43.70 at an NCAA meet on May 26.

Van Niekerk has already set personal bests in the 100m, 200m and 300m this year.

Also Thursday, Justin Gatlin won the 100m in 9.96 seconds, his third straight race between 9.95 and 9.98 seconds. However, the 35-year-old Gatlin has slowed this year, coming off a leg injury. He ran 9.80 and 9.75 in Lausanne in 2014 and 2015.

“I’m not at my A-game at the moment,” Gatlin said, according to the IAAF. “That shows I am human. … And I’ve shown that even with setbacks in my preparation, I am still a competitor. I have been consistent under 10 [seconds], and that is important.”

Gatlin, the Rio silver medalist, beat a field Thursday that did not include Usain Bolt (who has not broken 10 in two races this year), Jamaican champion Yohan Blake or Olympic bronze medalist Andre De Grasse.

In the women’s 400m hurdles, Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad walked off after the first hurdle. Olympic bronze medalist Ashley Spencer won in 53.90, though Spencer failed to qualify for worlds by placing fourth at the USATF Outdoor Championships two weeks ago.

Rio gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz finished seventh in the 1500m in his first Diamond League meet of the year. Centrowitz, the first U.S. Olympic 1500m champion in 108 years, was second at the USATF Outdoor Championships after a series of setbacks, including an emergency room visit.

Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers took the women’s 200m in 22.10 seconds, well off the fastest time in the world this year held by Tori Bowie (21.77). However, Bowie and Olympic 200m gold medalist Elaine Thompson may both skip the 200m at worlds, opening the door for the defending world champ Schippers and Olympic 400m winner Shaunae Miller-Uibo.

Christian Taylor lost an international triple jump for the first time since May 2015. Cuban rival Pedro Pablo Pichardo outdistanced the double Olympic champion, 17.60 meters to 17.49.

Olympic champion Ryan Crouser won the shot put with a 22.39-meter heave. Crouser and 2015 World champion Joe Kovacs have combined for the 18 best throws in the world this year, with Crouser holding 14 of them. But Kovacs wasn’t in the Lausanne field.

Maria Lasitskene, competing as a neutral high jumper during Russia’s ban, missed on three attempts at a world-record height of 2.10 meters. Still, the 2015 World champion cleared 2.06, best in the world since 2011.

The Diamond League moves to London on Sunday, with NBC Sports Gold coverage at 7:20 a.m. ET and Universal HD coverage at 9 ET.

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MORE: Olympic 400m champion to miss world champs

Caeleb Dressel takes gold, silver at short course worlds as rival DQed

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Caeleb Dressel earned his second individual silver medal in as many events at short-course worlds, while one of his top rivals was disqualified in Friday’s 50m freestyle final in Hangzhou, China.

Dressel, who tied Michael Phelps‘ record with seven gold medals at 2017 Worlds in the larger, Olympic-size pool, finished second to Russian Vladimir Morozov in Friday’s 50m free. Morozov clocked 20.33 seconds — just .07 off the world record — while Dressel touched in 20.54.

Another medal favorite, Great Britain’s Ben Proud, originally finished third but was disqualified for moving on the starting block too early.

“I twitched on the racing block, something I’ve done before, something I’m not too happy with about myself,” Proud said, according to FINA.

Dressel also led off the U.S.’ winning 4x50m free relay on Friday, breaking his American record in the 50m free. Dressel has four golds (all in relays) and two silvers with two days left at the meet. He also finished second in Thursday’s 100m butterfly to South African Chad le Clos.

Short-course worlds are held in even years in 25-meter pools rather than 50-meter pools used at the Olympics. U.S. Olympic champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Lilly King are among those not competing this week.

WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

In other events Friday, Hungarian Katinka Hosszu earned her third individual title of the week, this one in the 100m individual medley. Hosszu swept the IMs at the Rio Olympics and the last three world championships in an Olympic-size pool.

Ledecky rival Ariarne Titmus of Australia broke Chinese Wang Jianjiahe‘s world record in the 400m freestyle, relegating the 16-year-old Wang to silver.

American Ryan Murphy, who swept the Olympic 100m and 200m backstrokes, took silver in the 50m back, .05 behind Russian rival Yevgeny Rylov.

Another American, Kelsi Dahlia, picked up her second individual butterfly medal of the week, taking bronze in the 50m fly won by Dutchwoman Ranomi Kromowidjojo.

Worlds continue Saturday, with finals streaming live on OlympicChannel.com and the Olympic Channel app.

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Watch Colin Kaepernick introduce Tommie Smith, John Carlos at USATF Night of Legends

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Twenty-four members of the 1968 U.S. Olympic track and field team appeared at the USATF Night of Legends. Two in particular received a standing ovation before an award presentation.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who earned 200m gold and bronze medals and then raised their black-gloved fists on the medal stand, were introduced via video by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a fellow athlete fighting for social justice.

“Fifty years ago, these two men shook the world,” Kaepernick said in the video. “Their selfless and courageous act had an impact on the heart and mind of millions and have been a huge inspiration to me, personally. They laid the foundation not only for what the conscience of an athlete should look like, but also the world.”

Smith and Carlos then walked on stage at the Night of Legends, which honored the top U.S. athletes and performances of 2018, along with Hall of Fame inductees. NBCSN will air the event on Saturday at 11 p.m. ET.

They presented the Jesse Owens Award, which goes annually to the top U.S. male athlete. Fellow 200m sprinter Noah Lyles earned the honor.

“If he would give you and I a two-day head start, I think we could beat him in the 200m,” Carlos joked to Smith. “We’ve got to lean,” Smith replied.

Lyles, 21, joined Usain Bolt as the only men to break 19.7 seconds in the 200m four times in one year. His best time — 19.65 — was the world’s fastest since Bolt’s last world title in 2015. Lyles also became the youngest U.S. men’s 100m champion in 34 years. He’s the second-youngest person to earn USATF Athlete of the Year after Allyson Felix.

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MORE: John Carlos, Tommie Smith remember 1968 Olympics on 50th anniversary