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

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Jordan Thompson, U.S. volleyball’s new weapon, took unique route to NCAA history

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It was about this time last year that Jordan Thompson first appeared on the radar of U.S. women’s volleyball coach Karch Kiraly. Since, Thompson emerged as the youngest starter, and arguably a star, for the national team.

She goes into what could be her final weekend of college volleyball as one of the most dominant athletes in any sport. And one of the most unique stories in NCAA history.

Thompson plays not for a Big Ten or Pac-12 powerhouse, but for Cincinnati, a school that, before she arrived, never made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The unranked Bearcats upset second-ranked Pittsburgh in the second round last Saturday. They play Penn State, winner of six of the last 12 NCAA titles, in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

In 33 games this season, Thompson has registered a Division I-leading 768 kills, which is 143 more than the next most prolific attacker. That margin of 143 is the same number that separates No. 2 from No. 31.

Last season, she had 827 kills, which was 240 more than anybody else and a single-season record (by 112 kills) since NCAA match formats shifted from 30-point to 25-point sets in 2008.

She is a contender, if not a favorite, to be AVCA National Player of the Year. All of the previous winners dating to 1985 came from schools that reached at least one Final Four.

On Oct. 4, a UCF player’s face caught the wrong end of a Thompson attack. Cincinnati teammates watching from the bench dropped to the floor in astonishment.

Thompson tallied 50 kills in one match alone on Nov. 3, becoming the first D-I player to do so in 20 years.

That happened on Senior Day. Before that match, Thompson received a plaqued No. 23 jersey and flowers.

She posed for a photo standing with her husband, former Cincinnati offensive lineman Blake Yager, her mother, Mary, whose bribes helped Thompson develop into an attacker, and her father, 1990s Harlem Globetrotter Tyrone Doleman (and brother of Pro Football Hall of Famer Chris Doleman).

Mary has been most instrumental, raising Thompson as a single mom in Minnesota. Thompson, who is 6 feet, 4 inches now, was always tall for her age.

She played youth basketball against older girls and grew frustrated by the physical contact. Kneepads weren’t comfort enough. She decided to give volleyball a try in middle school.

“She was very timid,” Mary said of her daughter, who has since gotten 10 tattoos, including one of a hummingbird. “She would tell me she didn’t want to hurt anyone on the other side of the net. I told her I would give her a dollar for every time she would whack it. And I would give her $10 if she would actually hit someone on the other end of the court.”

It took a while, but Thompson was motivated by her love of horses. The payouts from her mom went toward a saddle and a bridal. A box with horse equipment remains in the family garage back home.

“She was trying to build up her supplies to be able to one day say to me, look, I’ve got a saddle, I’ve got all of my tack, I’ve got stuff to clean the hooves, can we get a horse now?” Mary said. 

After just two years of club volleyball, Thompson received her first Division-I scholarship offer. It came from Syracuse. Thompson was a high school sophomore.

“In the back of my head, I’m thinking, I’m never going to get another offer, so I better take this one,” she said.

Thompson was intent on Syracuse for a year before a coaching change led her to decommit. She wasn’t sure if many schools knew she had reopened her recruiting. A Minnesota club teammate had committed to Cincinnati and suggested Thompson take a visit.

The Bearcats went 3-29 the season before she committed.

“I said, Jordan, you can play D-I at Texas. You can go to Nebraska,” Mary said. “She was like, no, no, I want to play all four years. I actually want to get playing time, mom. She really struggled believing how good she could be.”

The biggest obstacle came junior year. In a preseason training session, Thompson collided with that Minnesota club teammate, Jade Tingelhoff, and tore the UCL in her dominant, right arm. She was in an armpit-to-wrist brace for two months post-Tommy John surgery, including three weeks with her arm locked in place.

She couldn’t brush her hair, had a hard time brushing her teeth and found it difficult showering and getting dressed.

She still went to every Bearcats game and traveled with the team. Cincinnati went from 22-10 her sophomore season to 13-19 that year without her on the court.

“It ended up being OK,” Tingelhoff said. “She came back that next season — I’m not kidding — 10 times as better than she was even the previous year.”

As a redshirt junior, Thompson and her 827 kills helped Cincinnati to a 26-8 record and its first NCAA Tournament win in seven years. She also caught the eye of Kiraly by the end of that 2018 season.

“She was one of the elite players in all of college volleyball,” he said. “Probably the only one who came from a conference other than the ones known for producing the most NCAA champions, like the Big Ten and the Pac-12.”

By last spring break, Thompson had become a favorite of U.S coaches at a camp to help select teams for summer international tournaments.

She had a one-on-one conversation with Kiraly, the only person to own Olympic indoor and beach gold medals. The legend told her she had potential to play at the Pan American Games. Later, he upped the praise to say she was ready for the top-level Nations League, a precursor to Olympic qualifying.

Thompson made her national team debut in May. By August, she came off the bench to help spur a comeback in a crucial Olympic qualifying match. The next day, she was in the starting lineup for the U.S.’ final Olympic qualifier, where the Americans clinched a Tokyo 2020 berth.

“I think a lot people don’t know she is still in college,” two-time U.S. Olympic outside hitter Jordan Larson said then. “She still has one more year left.”

Agents reached out, but Thompson had no intention of giving up her final year of NCAA eligibility. She wanted to make history at Cincinnati. That was secured with the Sweet 16 berth.

With the new year, she will trade the Cincinnati red and black for Team USA colors. She will keep in mind what the U.S. coaching staff told the team during Olympic qualifying and what she called a dream summer.

“My big goal in life was I just wanted to be in the USA gym,” said Thompson, who is working on her master’s in criminal justice. “To hear that we’re all working towards this goal of trying to make this roster, and we are being looked as potential players to make that roster, my jaw dropped. To know that it’s even a remote possibility is mind-blowing.”

VIDEO: Brazil volleyball star faints during courtside interview

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Tahiti chosen for Olympic surfing competition at 2024 Paris Games

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Paris 2024 Olympic organizers want the surfing competition to be held in Tahiti, an island in French Polynesia that is about 9,800 miles from Paris.

It would break the record for the farthest Olympic medal competition to be held outside the host. In 1956, equestrian events were moved out of Melbourne due to quarantine laws and held five months earlier in Stockholm, some 9,700 miles away.

The Paris 2024 executive board approved the site Thursday — specifically, the village of Teahupo’o — and will propose it to the IOC. It beat out other applicants Biarritz, Lacanau, Les Landes and La Torche, all part of mainland France.

“If, ever, we have two alternatives, and where one alternative gives the athletes of a particular sport more closeness to the heart of the Games and allows them to enjoy the magic and the spirit of the Games better, then in the interest of the athletes, we prefer this solution,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in June when asked about Tahiti’s interest in hosting surfing.

Surfing will debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games but is not on the permanent Olympic program. Surfing was among sports added to the Paris 2024 program in June and could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

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