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Wayde van Niekerk wins 400m; top rival held out of race

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Wayde van Niekerk is halfway to a historic double at the world championships. His biggest rival this season wasn’t even allowed in the stadium for Tuesday’s 400m final.

Van Niekerk, who broke Michael Johnson‘s 400m world record in Rio, repeated as world champion in 43.98 seconds. The Bahamas’ Steven Gardiner took silver in 44.41, followed by Qatar’s Abdalelah Haroun in 44.48.

Van Niekerk was much faster at the Olympics (43.03) and 2015 Worlds (43.48), but he didn’t need to be that swift in London. He eased off crossing the finish line with that comfortable lead yet still lay on the track in exhaustion afterward.

Later, Van Niekerk said “freezing” conditions slowed him. Temperatures were in the low 60s on Tuesday.

“I struggled to get myself warmed up and ready,” he said, according to the IAAF. “I was doubting my momentum. In the last 150 [meters] I tried putting in an extra gear, but I couldn’t catch my stride until my last few meters.”

Meanwhile, Botswana’s Isaac Makwala was held out of the final due to what the IAAF said was “an infectious disease” but insisted that he was not sick and had never seen a doctor. Makwala ranks No. 1 in the world this year in the 200m and No. 3 in the 400m (43.84), the events Van Niekerk was favored to sweep this week.

Van Niekerk said it was “heartbreaking” to learn of Makwala’s absence. Makwala also did not start the 200m on Monday.

“I saw him just before the 200m heats, and the only thing I could think of was putting my arms round him and telling him to get well soon,” Van Niekerk said.

Makwala was the latest 400m star to bow out of the event at worlds. The 2012 Olympic champion Kirani James did not enter worlds due to illness. The 2008 Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt failed to qualify for Tuesday’s final, citing plantar fasciitis.

Everybody other than Van Niekerk was racing his first individual championship final on Tuesday, including the top American, Fred Kerley, who was seventh. Full results are here.

Now, Van Niekerk sets his sights on sweeping the 400m and 200m. Only Johnson has accomplished this feat at a worlds.

Van Niekerk is the heavy favorite in the 200m (final Thursday) with the top challengers in that event also absent. Usain Bolt chose not to race the 200m this year, and Olympic silver medalist Andre De Grasse pulled out ahead of worlds with a strained hamstring.

In other events Tuesday, Rio bronze medalist Sam Kendricks became the first American man in 10 years to win an Olympic or world pole vault title. The first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve cleared 5.95 meters for gold ahead of Pole Piotr Lisek and world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France.

“I need to make up some training and see my soldiers when I go back home,” Kendricks said. “I got a call from the secretary of the Army wishing me good luck just yesterday, so I had to call him back, tell him how I did.”

Kenyan Olympic champion Conseslus Kipruto overtook U.S. Olympic silver medalist Evan Jager on the final lap of the 3000m steeplechase and won in 8:14.12. Jager held on for bronze in 8:15.53, behind Moroccan Soufiane Elbakkali.

Jager became the first U.S. medalist in a world steeplechase, while Kenya won its ninth straight Olympic or world title in the event. That’s the longest-running dynasty in the sport.

“I would have been really pissed if I was not on the podium, but I guess I’m just disappointed because I had pretty high hopes of coming in here and winning gold,” Jager said, citing Kipruto’s recent ankle injury that kept the Kenyan to one track training session in the month preceding worlds.

France’s Pierre Ambroise-Bosse was the surprise 800m champion in 1:44.67 in the absence of world-record holder David Rudisha and every Rio medalist. Poland’s Adam Kszczot, .28 behind, won silver, as he did in 2015. Kenyan Kipyegon Bett took bronze.

Tori Bowie did not show up for the 200m heats, two days after she won her first world 100m title. Bowie said after the USATF Outdoor Championships in June that she did not want to run multiple individual races at worlds. Last week, she said her 200m status would be determined after the 100m.

Elaine Thompson, who swept the Olympic 100m and 200m, chose not to race the 200m at worlds. Thompson was shockingly fifth in the 100m on Sunday.

With those two out, Thursday’s semifinals are headlined by Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo, defending world champion Dafne Schippers and U.S. champion Deajah Stevens. The final is Friday.

Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad led three Americans into Thursday’s 400m hurdles final. A fourth American, 2015 World silver medalist Shamier Little, did not advance out of the semifinals.

In the javelin, Barbora Spotakova won her second world title, a decade after her first crown. Spotakova, a 36-year-old mother with 2008 and 2012 Olympic golds, threw 66.76 meters to edge China’s Li Lingwei (66.25) and Lyu Huihui (65.26).

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David Taylor will not defend wrestling world title

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David Taylor waited five years to get his chance at the world championships. The wait will also be a little longer than expected to defend his world title.

Taylor suffered a knee injury in a May 6 match and underwent surgery, according to his social media. He was to face Pat Downey in two weeks for the U.S.’ spot at 86kg at September’s world championships, but that’s not happening now.

“The nature of competing as a professional athlete is a delicate one,” was posted on Taylor’s accounts. “One year, you find yourself winning the tilte of the 86 kg World Champion and being voted best pound for pound wrestler on earth. In the blink of an eye, you lose yourself in thought over the noisy lull of the MRI machine, hoping that the pain in your knee isn’t what you fear most.”

Taylor, 28, was one of three U.S. men to earn maiden world titles last October in Budapest, along with fellow former NCAA standouts J’den Cox and Kyle Dake.

Taylor upset Iran’s Olympic and world champion Hassan Yazdani in his first match at worlds. He suffered a knee injury in his second match and said he was kicked in the face in the semifinals. He then dumped Turkey’s top-seeded Fatih Erdin in the final, scoring a two-point takedown in the first 10 seconds and getting a 12-2 tech fall.

“To be able to earn it the way that I earned it, there’s no easy way,” Taylor said. “I wrestled every single best guy every single round.”

Taylor became the oldest first-time Olympic or world champion for USA Wrestling since 2006. He had finished second or third at trials for the 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017 World teams and the 2016 Olympic team. He is one of four men to win the NCAA Wrestler of the Year award multiple times, doing so in 2012 and 2014 for Penn State.

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Sam Girard, Olympic short track champion, surprisingly retires at age 22

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Sam Girard, who avoided a three-skater pileup to win the PyeongChang Olympic 1000m, retired from short track speed skating at age 22, saying he lost the desire to compete.

“I leave my sport satisfied with what I have accomplished,” Girard said in a press release. “This decision was very well thought through. I am at peace with the choice that I’ve made and am ready to move onto the next step.”

Girard and girlfriend and fellow Olympic skater Kasandra Bradette announced their careers end together in a tearful French-language press conference in Quebec on Friday.

Girard detailed the decision in a letter, the sacrifices made to pursue skating. Notably, moving from his hometown of Ferland-et-Boilleau, population 600, to Montreal in 2012. His hobbies had been of the outdoor variety, but he now had to drive an hour and a half from the training center just to go fishing.

In PyeongChang, Girard led for most of the 1000m final, which meant he avoided chaos behind him on the penultimate lap of the nine-lap race. Hungarian Liu Shaolin Sandor‘s inside pass took out South Koreans Lim Hyo-Jun and Seo Yi-Ra, leaving just Girard and American John-Henry Krueger.

Girard maintained his lead, crossing .214 in front of Krueger to claim the title. He also finished fourth in the 500m and 1500m and earned bronze in the relay.

“My first Olympics, won a gold medal, can’t ask for more,” he said afterward.

Though Girard was already accomplished — earning individual silver medals at the 2016 and 2017 Worlds — he came to PyeongChang as the heir apparent to Charles Hamelin, a roommate on the World Cup circuit whom Girard likened to a big brother. Girard earned another world silver medal this past season.

Hamelin, after taking individual gold in 2010 and 2014, left PyeongChang without an individual medal in what many expected to be his last Olympics. However, he went back on a retirement vow and continued to skate through the 2018-19 season.

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