Getty Images

Five women’s races to watch at world track and field championships

Leave a comment

Not that Allyson Felix needs any more superlatives, but she is likely to finish these world championships with the most medals of any athlete in history.

Felix has 13 career world medals, tied with Usain Bolt and one shy of retired Jamaican Merlene Ottey‘s record. Bolt will race in two events at his last worlds. Felix will race at least two and possibly three, if she is placed on the 4x100m relay as has traditionally been the case.

Felix’s focus is on her opener, the 400m, where she has the most anticipated head-to-head showdown out of the women’s events at the London meet that runs from Friday through Aug. 13.

In Rio, Felix was edged at the finish line by a diving Shaunae Miller-Uibo. The move caused many to cry foul at the Bahamian, though it was perfectly legal and Felix did not criticize it.

Felix and Miller-Uibo are once again the class of the 400m this year.

Familiar faces dot the other key women’s events. None more scrutinized than South African Caster Semenya, who is eight years removed from her 2009 Worlds breakout and subsequent gender-testing controversy.

Semenya hasn’t lost an 800m race in nearly two years, but she has been pushed this season and is tacking on the 1500m at worlds for the first time.

WORLDS: TV Schedule | 5 Men’s Races to Watch | 5 Women’s Races

Five women’s races to watch in London:

100 Meters
Sunday, 4:50 p.m. ET on NBC

Elaine Thompson has not lost a 100m race that she has finished since May 2015, according to Tilastopaja.org. It is the longest stretch of 100m dominance since Marion Jones‘ four-year winning streak from 1997 to 2001 (the last year invalidated and the entire streak dubious due to doping). Aside from Jones, you have to go back at least 30 years.

This season, Thompson is the only woman to break 10.80 seconds. She’s done it twice. Olympic silver medalist Tori Bowie beat Thompson in the Pre Classic 200m, but her best wind-legal 100m time this year is 10.90. Rio bronze medalist Dafne Schippers has four times broken 11 seconds in 2017, but none faster than 10.95.

1500 Meters
Monday, 4:50 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No clear favorite here. Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon is the Olympic champion. Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba is the world champion and world-record holder. Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan has the three fastest times in the world this year.

Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya is also entered in this event, but she hasn’t raced an international 1500m in six years. There’s also Jenny Simpson, the 2011 World champion and Rio bronze medalist. Plus British hope Laura Muir, who has the fastest time in the world since Dibaba’s record run two years ago.

400 Meters
Aug. 9, 4:50 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Allyson Felix and Shaunae Miller-Uibo haven’t gone head-to-head over 400m since Miller-Uibo’s famous dive across the finish line to win by .07 in Rio. This year, each is undefeated at 400m, though Felix has raced just twice and Miller-Uibo three times.

Still, Felix has the fastest time in the world in 2017. Miller-Uibo’s times rank Nos. 3, 4 and 5 behind Felix and U.S. champion Quanera Hayes. Felix is looking to join Cathy Freeman as the only women to win multiple world 400m titles.

100 Meter Hurdles
Aug. 12, 3:05 p.m. ET on NBC

Keni Harrison‘s only defeat since the start of 2016 was at the Olympic Trials (where she shockingly failed to make the Rio team). In that span, the middle child in a family of 11 kids has run the 11 fastest times in the world in this event out of those in the world championships field. That includes breaking a 28-year-old world record last year. She’s an even bigger favorite with Olympic champion Brianna Rollins suspended for missing three drug tests.

The pick for silver may be Australian Sally Pearson, who came back from a broken wrist in 2015 and torn hamstring in 2016 to post her fastest time since winning the 2012 Olympic title. Pearson and defending world champion Danielle Williams of Jamaica will try to keep the U.S. from sweeping the medals as it did in Rio.

800 Meters
Aug. 13, 3:10 p.m. ET on NBC

This event got a lot more interesting on July 21, when Ajee’ Wilson shattered the American record to become the first woman to disrupt Rio medalists Caster SemenyaFrancine Niyonsaba and Margaret Wambui in nearly two years. Wilson got third in that race, .34 behind Semenya and .14 behind Niyonsaba as Wambui faded to ninth.

Now, Wilson looks to continue her ascent since turning pro out of high school in 2012. In 2013, she placed sixth at worlds. In 2014, she won the U.S. title and two Diamond League races. In 2016, she finished second at the world indoor championships (behind Niyonsaba and ahead of Wambui). Rio did not go as hoped as she was eliminated in the semifinals.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Usain Bolt is down to his last, blazing curtain call

2019 USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships TV schedule

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBC, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold combine to air live daily coverage of the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, starting Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.

The top three per individual event are in line to qualify for the world championships in Doha in late September and early October, should they have the world standard time or mark.

Sprint trio Christian Coleman (100m and 200m), Noah Lyles (200m) and Michael Norman (400m) headline the event. Each is 23 or younger and fastest in the world this year in his primary event.

Allyson Felix and Justin Gatlin represent the veterans. Felix, a 33-year-old with 17 combined Olympic and world titles, is entered in her first meet since having daughter Camryn via emergency C-section at 32 weeks on Nov. 28.

Gatlin, 37, has a bye into worlds as the defending 100m champion. He could be Coleman’s biggest threat in the 100m after breaking 9.9 seconds for the first time since the Rio Olympics.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Olympic champions, world-record holder to miss USATF Outdoors

Day Time (ET) Network Key Events
Thursday 3:45-11 p.m. NBC Sports Gold 100m first round, 10,000m finals
Friday 1:30-9 p.m. NBC Sports Gold 100m finals, 400m semifinals
7-9 p.m. NBCSN
Saturday 2-6 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Finals: 400m, women’s 1500m, 100m hurdles
4-6 p.m. NBC
Sunday 4-9 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Finals: 200m, men’s 1500m, 110m hurdles
7-8 p.m. NBCSN
8-9 p.m. NBC

Beachvolley Vikings, sport’s top team, inspired by Kerri Walsh Jennings

FIVB
Leave a comment

HAMBURG, Germany — Kerri Walsh Jennings smiled at the decade-old picture of her posing with a young Anders Mol.

Since Walsh Jennings met Mol, the now-22-year-old and his 23-year-old Norwegian partner Christian Sorum have become the top-ranked team in the world.

“Those boys inspire me a lot,” she said. “That’s how I want Brooke [Sweat] and I to play, really.”

Walsh Jennings met Mol in his native country at the 2009 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in Stavanger. Mol attended with his father, Kare, who was coaching the Norwegian teams, as well as his brother Hendrik and cousin Mathias Berntsen.

Walsh Jennings noticed the young Norwegians, who are now nicknamed the “Beachvolley Vikings,” eagerly doing the pepper drill on the sand between matches from 6 a.m. until well after dark.   

“She walked by and told us, ‘Hey, you guys are so good that if you guys keep practicing, you’re going to be playing on this stage one day,’” Mol recalled.

Mol’s passion for the sport only increased as he hit puberty.

As a teenager, he derailed his family’s vacation plans in San Diego by making them battle traffic up to Los Angeles to hear Walsh Jennings give a speech.

Childhood photo of Mol and Walsh Jennings. Courtesy of Anders Mol.

At 13 or 14, Mol and his brother beat their parents for the first time. Impressive, considering Mol’s father was a former national indoor team player and his mother, Merita Mol (née Berntsen), competed in beach volleyball at the 1996 Olympics.

At 16, he enrolled in ToppVolley Norway, a beach and indoor volleyball school that is a two-hour boat ride north from Stavanger. For three years, the boys would attend classes, lift weights and train for a minimum of 20 hours per week. Free time often meant pick-up soccer matches, which occasionally proves useful on the sand.

“It doesn’t look like Hogwarts,” Mol said, “but it sounds like Hogwarts because everybody is like a big family in this school.”

When Mol graduated, he played a year of professional indoor volleyball in Belgium. But he quickly realized that he preferred the freedom of beach volleyball, where players book their own travel, hire their own coaches and schedule their own practices.

In 2017, Mol was named the international tour’s top rookie. By the end of the 2018 season, Mol and Sorum had firmly established themselves as the world’s top team, winning their final three international tournaments including the FIVB World Tour Finals.

They have not slowed down in 2019, winning three tournaments on three different continents over three weeks in May. They have won 36 of their last 38 matches.

“The best blocker right now is Anders, and the best defender is Christian,” said three-time U.S. Olympian Jake Gibb. “It’s not really fair.”

The only two teams who have defeated the Norwegians since April 28 — Germany’s Julius Thole/Clemens Wickler and Brazil’s Bruno Schmidt/Evandro Goncalves — did not offer any clues on how to do it.

Wickler admitted that “in no other stadium would we have won this game” after the Hamburg world championships semifinal played July 6 in front of more than 12,000 hometown fans, the largest crowd either team had ever experienced. Mol and Sorum rebounded to claim the bronze medal the next day over Americans Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb.

Bruno rebuffed multiple teams who approached him looking for the secret to beating Norway.

“I’ve never seen a player like Anders who is so powerful and so skilled at the same time,” said Bruno, the 2016 Olympic champion with former partner Alison. “Players like that raise the level of this sport.”

Much of their success can be attributed to their defensive scheme. Most teams play a “zone defense,” with each player defending half of the court. The Norwegians play a “read defense” that gives each player the freedom to react and move to where they think the attacking player will hit the ball.

NBC Sports analyst Kevin Wong compared the Norwegians to “free safeties” in football.

“They are the most innovative defensive team we’ve seen in a long time,” he said.

The pair is relatively unknown outside Norway — neither has a Wikipedia page in English — and even in Norway they claim they are nowhere near as famous as the Alpine skiers nicknamed the “Attacking Vikings.”

But that will change.

At worlds, the pair hired a videographer to capture content for their YouTube and Instagram channels. They launched a Beachvolley Vikings clothing line that includes a “Sleeping Christian” shirt. They patiently fulfilled each and every request for pictures and autographs after matches.

“They are like rock stars,” said American Taylor Crabb, talking extra loud to be heard over a crowd of teenage girls hoping to take a selfie with the tall, blonde Norwegians. “Fans can relate to them because they see guys around their age becoming the No. 1 team the world.”

It is not just fans who are lining up to see the Norwegians.

“I love to watch them play,” said 2016 Brazilian Olympian Pedro Solberg, who made his international debut when Mol was just 8. “Every chance I get to watch them I do, because I learn a lot from them.”

Whether Mol and Sorum struggle with anything is up for debate. When asked, Kare boasted about beating them at the card game “President and the bum.”

“They are really smart in beach volleyball,” he said, “but they are really stupid in card playing.”

But both players disputed their coach’s claim.

“It’s not true at all,” Sorum said. “He loses even when he has the best cards.”

The Beachvolley Vikings are just getting started. 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser pointed out that beach volleyball players typically do not peak until their late 20s or early 30s.

“In my book, they are already among the top teams to ever play,” he said. “There are no holes in their game. I don’t see why they can’t keep this going.”

OlympicTalk editor Nick Zaccardi contributed to this report.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Brazil Olympic beach volleyball champs form dangerous teams after split