Wayde van Niekerk makes like Usain Bolt in 400m first round

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LONDON (AP) — It was almost vintage Usain Bolt.

Slow start, work your way up, and at the end look left and right before coasting first across the line in a jog.

This time it was Wayde van Niekerk winning his opening heat in the 400m on Saturday, his first race of possibly six in as many days at the world championships. The Olympic champion crossed in 45.27 seconds, .26 ahead of Nery Brenes of Costa Rica.

Like Bolt, a rival setting off faster no longer phases him. Van Niekerk just made sure he produced some extra power on the final straight to rein in Brenes.

Van Niekerk is seeking to win gold in both the 400m and 200m over the next week. He is tipped by many to become the sport’s next star now that Bolt is retiring after the world championships.

In both races, though, he might find his toughest rival in Isaac Makwala of Botswana. Makwala was just as good in his heat. Following a fast start, it was a jog in the finishing straight as he finished in 44.55 for the top time of the day.

The two are equally tight competitors in the 200, too, yet there is no bitterness in their rivalry.

“Wayde van Niekerk is my brother,” Makwala said. “We want to conquer the world together and make the final for Africa. He is so friendly and a lovely guy.”

The pair dominated the morning session at the Olympic Stadium, but by dusk, all eyes will be on Bolt as he tries to bow out with a last individual gold in the 100m (3 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Other finals on Saturday are the men’s discus and long jump, and the women’s 10,000m.

The two-day heptathlon also started and after two events Olympic champion Nafi Thiam took the lead. She scaled 1.95 meters in the high jump to reach a total of 2,215 points.

In a battle of 22-year-olds, Yorgelis Rodriguez matched Thiam in the high jump with an incredible 8-centimeter improvement of her personal best to keep in touch in the overall standings with 2,207 points. Caroline Schafer of Germany was third with 2,165.

One of Thiam’s toughest rivals, Katarina Johnson-Thompson, only cleared 1.80 in the high jump, well short of her best of 1.98, to dent her gold-medal hopes. She was in fifth position with 2,053 points.

In the women’s 100m, all the favorites advanced to the semifinals despite a downpour that affected many of the runners.

Twenty-year-old Gina Luckenkemper of Germany, who raced before the rain came, had the top time of 10.95 seconds. She was the only woman to break the 11-second mark.

Olympic champion Elaine Thompson of Jamaica easily won her heat in 11.05, while Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands had more of a struggle finishing second to Marie-Josee Ta Lou of Ivory Coast. Ta Lou had the second-best time of 11.00.

Tori Bowie of the United States got the worst of the rain but still looked very strong as she took her heat in 11.05.

The semifinals and final are set for Sunday.

In men’s shot put qualifying, Tomas Walsh had a massive throw of 22.14 meters, which the IAAF said was the second-biggest in the 34-year history of the event. The championship record is 22.23 meters, set by Werner Guenthor in 1987.

Joining Walsh in Sunday’s final with a first automatic qualifying mark were Olympic champion Ryan Crouser and two-time world champion David Storl of Germany.

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World silver medalist opts out of figure skating Grand Prix

Elizabet Tursynbaeva
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Elizabet Tursynbayeva, the 2019 World silver medalist, said she will not compete in figure skating’s upcoming Grand Prix Series, according to Kazakhstan’s Olympic Committee.

Tursynbayeva noted in stating her decision that world ranking points will not be awarded in the series, which starts with Skate America from Oct. 23-25.

Fields for the six Grand Prix events, held on consecutive weekends through November, have not been released.

Skaters will be restricted to one Grand Prix start — halved from the usual two — and to the event in their home nations or closest to their training locations.

Tursynbayeva trains in Russia, one of six nations to host Grand Prix events.

Previously, Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu announced he would not compete on the Grand Prix due to coronavirus pandemic-related travel risks.

Russian Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova, who announced an indefinite break from competition last December, is also not expected to compete. She is hosting a Russian skating-themed TV show but has not announced her future competition plans.

Tursynbayeva took silver behind Zagitova at the most recent world championships in 2019, a surprise given her 12th-place finish at the PyeongChang Olympics. Tursynbayeva withdrew before her 2019 Grand Prix events, reportedly after suffering an injury.

Last season’s top skaters were all first-year seniors — Russians Alena Kostornaya, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova. The world championships were not held due to the pandemic.

Two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

MORE: Orser reacts to Medvedeva’s coaching switch

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Serena Williams battles, then rolls into French Open second round

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Serena Williams overcame early struggles, sweeping past countrywoman Kristie Ahn 7-6 (2), 6-0 to reach the French Open second round.

Williams, again eyeing a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title, started out like somebody who went 16 months between clay-court matches. She needed 74 minutes to take the first set from the 102nd-ranked Ahn, recovering twice after having her serve broken.

She dominated the second set in 27 minutes, advancing to play Bulgarian and fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova, a rematch of their three-set U.S. Open quarterfinal three weeks ago.

Williams, in long sleeves and tights, had 15 winners to 28 unforced errors in the first set in cloudy, sub-60-degree weather on Monday.

“I hate the cold. I’m from L.A. and I live in Florida,” Williams said before the tournament, which was postponed from its usual May/June slot due to the coronavirus pandemic. “For half my life I’ve never seen snow. Cold weather and me do not mix.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Williams also noted before the tournament that she was “not at 100 percent physically” and spent most of her time in France “rehabbing” without giving specifics. She took a medical timeout with a left Achilles injury in her last match, a U.S. Open semifinal loss to Victoria Azarenka,

“I wouldn’t be playing if I didn’t think I could perform,” Williams said Saturday. “I don’t know any athlete that ever plays physically when they’re feeling perfect. That’s just something I think as athletes we have to play with.”

Earlier Monday, newly crowned U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem rolled 2014 U.S. Open winner Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Thiem, the 2018 and 2019 French Open runner-up, next gets American Jack Sock, a former top-10 player now ranked No. 310. Sock took out countryman Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 for his first main draw win at the French Open in four years.

Rafael Nadal begins his quest for a record-extending 13th French Open title and male record-tying 20th Grand Slam singles title later Monday.

The French Open first round concludes Tuesday with top-ranked Novak Djokovic in action.

MORE: Halep, Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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