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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Geraint Thomas attacks, takes Tour de France lead ahead of Chris Froome

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British Olympic track cycling champion Geraint Thomas grabbed the Tour de France lead, attacking with three and a half miles to win a summit finish on Stage 11 on Wednesday.

Thomas now leads a Team Sky one-two in the overall standings, 85 seconds ahead of four-time Tour winner Chris Froome, as the three-week Grand Tour passed the halfway mark.

“Froome is the [Team Sky] leader here, so there’s no pressure on me,” Thomas said Tuesday, according to Cyclingnews.com. “It’s a bonus for me to be up there, and hopefully I can be there for as long as possible.”

The Tour continues Thursday with stage 12 to Alpe d’Huez, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold (full broadcast schedule here).

The 109-mile stage features three beyond-category climbs — Col de la Madeleine, Croix-de-Fer and the iconic Alpe d’Huez finish after 21 switchbacks to close out the Tour’s three days in the Alps. The overall standings are sure to change.

Greg Van Avermaet, the Rio Olympic road race champion, went into stage 11 with a 2:22 lead, which he had tripled on the first mountain day Tuesday.

But Van Avermaet, who predicted he would lose the yellow jersey before stages Tuesday and Wednesday, cracked on the second of three major climbs Wednesday. He finished in a group 22 minutes after Thomas.

Van Avermaet is a super one-day racer but not a strong climber.

Thomas dons the yellow jersey for a second straight Tour. The 2008 and 2012 Olympic track cycling gold medalist won the opening stage in 2017 and wore the maillot jaune four days before Froome took over en route to his fourth title in Paris.

There was talk before and during this year’s Tour that Thomas could challenge Froome as Sky’s team leader, even though Froome has won the last three Grand Tours and is going for record-tying fifth Tour de France crown.

But Thomas and Sky have played that down.

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U.S. Olympic, USA Gymnastics leaders set for another Senate hearing

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Recently replaced U.S. Olympic Committee acting CEO Susanne Lyons, USA Gymnastics President and CEO Kerry Perry and Michigan State interim president John Engler are scheduled witnesses for a Senate subcommittee hearing next Tuesday on reforms following the Larry Nassar sexual-abuse crimes.

The hearing is titled, “Strengthening and Empowering U.S. Amateur Athletes: Moving Forward with Solutions” and will stream live at https://www.commerce.senate.gov/ on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. ET.

“The hearing will focus on changes made by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), USA Gymnastics (USAG), and Michigan State University (MSU) to protect Olympic and amateur athletes from abuse,” according to the subcommittee’s website. “It will examine recent reforms to provide safe environments for athletes and how these reforms are being implemented.”

The subcommittee held hearings April 18 and June 5 with testimonies from gymnasts and other athletes who were abused, former Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon and former senior vice president of USA Gymnastics Rhonda Faehn. Former USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny also attended the June 5 hearing but refused to answer questions.

Lyons and Perry were questioned at a House subcommittee hearing May 23.

The USOC last Thursday named Sarah Hirshland its new CEO, replacing Lyons, who had been in the role on an interim basis since Scott Blackmun resigned in February. Blackmun, who had been CEO since January 2010, left citing prostate cancer and the USOC’s need to immediately address the USA Gymnastics sexual-abuse scandal.

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