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

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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.

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Bianca Andreescu to miss U.S. Open

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Bianca Andreescu withdrew from the U.S. Open, citing “unforeseen challenges, including the Covid pandemic” compromising her ability to prepare to defend her Grand Slam title.

“I have taken this step in order to focus on my match fitness and ensure that I return ready to play at my highest level,” Andreescu, a 20-year-old Canadian, posted on social media. “The US Open victory last year has been the high point of my career thus far and I will miss not being there. However, I realize that the unforeseen challenges, including the Covid pandemic, have compromised my ability to prepare and compete to the degree necessary to play at my highest level.”

Andreescu’s absence means the U.S. Open, the first Grand Slam tournament since tennis resumed amid the coronavirus pandemic, will be without both 2019 male and female singles champions.

Rafael Nadal previously announced he would not defend his title, saying he would rather not travel given the global situation. Roger Federer is also out after knee surgery. Women’s No. 1 Ash Barty didn’t enter, either, citing travel concerns.

Last year, Andreescu made her U.S. Open title run as the 15th seed, sweeping Serena Williams in the final. Ranked 208th a year earlier, she became the first player born in the 2000s to win a Slam and the first teen Slam winner since Maria Sharapova at the 2006 U.S. Open.

Andreescu then missed the Australian Open in January due to rehab from a knee injury that forced her to retire during a match at the WTA Finals on Oct. 30. She also missed the French Open and Wimbledon in 2019 following a rotator cuff tear.

MORE: Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis competition

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Noah, Josephus Lyles, after years of supporting each other, meet on track’s highest level

Noah Lyles, Josephus Lyles
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When Noah and Josephus Lyles first talked about turning professional out of high school — Josephus brought it up before their junior year — the goal was, of course, to sprint on the sport’s highest international level — together.

They will do that in Monaco on Friday (2 p.m. ET, Olympic Channel and NBC Sports Gold).

The Lyles brothers will compete in the same Diamond League meet for the first time, and in the same race to boot. Though Noah has long focused on the 200m and Josephus the 400m, they will both contest the shorter distance at Stade Louis II.

“This is going to be really special,” Noah said.

“It makes me more comfortable, just knowing me and my brother are in the same race,” said Josephus, at his first Diamond League meet since 2018.

Noah, when asked the significance of the race that’s coming more than four years after they turned pro, suggested a reporter ask their mom.

“She’s probably over the moon right now,” he said.

Josephus remembered their mom, Keisha Caine Bishop, screaming in excitement upon learning last week that he earned a lane in Monaco. Noah, the reigning world 200m champion, was already in the field.

“It is definitely harder to watch,” when they’re in the same race, Bishop said, “but not because you’re worried about who’s going to win and who’s going to lose, because I don’t look at track like that.

“My nervousness more comes from I just want them both to do their best, so that we can all celebrate as a family. Because if one has a great race and the other one doesn’t have a great race, then it’s kind of hard for everybody to celebrate. You have to compartmentalize your emotions a little more.”

Bishop, an NCAA 4x400m champion at Seton Hall in the 1990s, is familiar with the balance. Even though her two sons born one year and four days apart last raced against each other in January 2017 at their first professional meet.

“The only reason I run track is because of Noah, honestly,” Josephus, who is younger, said while sitting next to Noah in 2017, days before their pro debut. “When I first started track, I quit because I didn’t like it.”

Josephus, a 400m/800m runner before giving it up, returned to the sport in eighth grade. He had planned to try out for the basketball team. Noah, originally a high jumper, was still doing track and field at the time, so Josephus went out for it, too. This time, he focused on races one lap and shorter.

“Turns out I was really good,” Josephus said. (The Lyles’ sister, Abby, ran one track race around age 6 and didn’t care for it, later finding her passion in biochemistry.)

Throughout high school, the brothers tore up tracks while attending T.C. Williams in Alexandria, Va., best known for the film “Remember the Titans.”

Bishop recalled the times one brother supported the other through adversity. Such as when Noah prayed for Josephus’ success in 2014, when Josephus was on crutches with a twisted ankle. Josephus came back that season to win the 400m at the New Balance Nationals, where Lyles took second in the 200m.

“When they race, they are more concerned about the other person than they are themselves,” Bishop said.

Or in 2016. Josephus suffered a season-ending torn right hip flexor two months before the Olympic Trials. A year before, as a high school junior, Josephus ran a 400m time that would have made the Olympic Trials final, where the top six of eight men would qualify for the Olympics.

Josephus still watched his brother race at trials, in the 200m, from the Hayward Field stands.

“He was trying to be strong,” Bishop said, “but I knew, as a mom, that it was very painful.”

Josephus excitedly detailed the experience on camera after Noah broke the national high school record and nearly pulled off the incredible, coming .09 shy of the Olympic 200m team of three men.

“Sometimes it can get a little hard. If one of us is doing well and the other one is not doing well, it can be rough,” Josephus said. “On the other hand, it can be really good because it’s a lot of support. It’s almost like an accountabili-buddy.”

The brothers achieved their goal by signing with Adidas shortly after trials.

Then in 2017, Noah strained his right hamstring and withdrew from the USATF Outdoor Championships before the 200m final. The family gathered before leaving the stadium in Sacramento.

“I said, ‘OK guys, we have to walk out of this warm-up area, and we have to do it as a team,'” Bishop said. “‘At the end of the day, the only people left will be the three of us. And it’s not just the end of today. It’s going to be the end of your careers. When all the newspapers are gone, television cameras, nobody’s writing about us, we are still a family, and that is all that matters.”

Josephus continued to battle the hip injury, yet lowered his 400m personal best in 2017 (making his Diamond League debut during Noah’s absence) and 2018. At the 2018 USATF Outdoors, Noah won the 100m and Josephus placed sixth in the 400m.

If it had been an Olympic or world championships year, both would have made the U.S. team. Instead, they looked to qualify for their first biennial world outdoor championships in 2019.

That spring, Josephus began throwing up every time he ate. He left a European swing after just one race. He saw several doctors leading into nationals, where he was eliminated in the semifinals. He got an endoscopy and learned his diaphragm was restricted, affecting his eating and breathing. It was fixed after the meet.

“A rough year,” Josephus said.

Noah won the U.S. 200m title two days after Josephus’ 400m semifinal. Noah took gold at the world championships in Doha, after which his most meaningful interaction came by phone with his brother, who was back home in the States after dealing with those chest problems.

Support flowed from both ends of the line — congratulations from an inspired Josephus and excitement from Noah, amped for the upcoming Olympic year and the prospect of a Lyles in every flat sprint and men’s relay in Tokyo.

“I never try to forget that I can be in that same position of being injured, and he could be the one doing well,” Noah said last fall. “So I want to always be able to bring good support to him.”

Noah and Josephus live together in a house near their training base in Clermont, Fla.

The pandemic relegated them to grass fields when tracks were closed for nearly two months. When they returned to more normal training, their coach, Lance Brauman, started putting Josephus in groups with 100m and 200m sprinters, including his brother, regularly for the first time.

Josephus, who beat Noah and world 110m hurdles champion Grant Holloway for a Virginia high school indoor 55m title in 2016, raced a pair of 200m in July. He lowered a five-year-old personal best from 20.74 to 20.41 and then 20.24, which helped book the spot in Monaco.

“When I run 19 [seconds], that’ll be that next level,” said Josephus, while noting the 400m remains his primary event. “I still have a little bit ways to go. Hopefully, this weekend will be a game-changer.”

Here they are, the week after what would have been their first Olympics this summer. Noah and Josephus Lyles are in the same race at the most anticipated track meet of the year.

The Olympic cycle has been bittersweet, said Bishop, reminded of what she stressed to her sons through the ups and downs.

“Life comes in seasons, and your season might not come when you wanted it to come,” she said. “The lesson might not be the lesson you thought it would be, but your season will come.”

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