Ezekiel Kemboi, king of celebrations, retires from steeplechase

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Ezekiel Kemboi ended the most decorated steeplechase career in history, one year later than originally planned.

The 35-year-old Kenyan finished 11th at the world championships in London on Tuesday, then confirmed he was turning to road racing.

“Next year, hopefully, I’ll do my first marathon,” in April, Kemboi told media in London. “But I’m done with the 3000m steeplechase.”

Kemboi won the 2004 and 2012 Olympic titles, plus all four world titles from 2009 through 2015. He tacked on world silver medals in 2003, 2005 and 2007. The former high school DJ began running seriously in 2001.

Kemboi went into the Rio Games saying he would move to road racing after the Olympics. But he was stripped of his bronze medal hours after the final for stepping off the track. His disqualification gave the bronze to France’s notorious bad boy Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad, who had four years earlier exchanged jerseys with Kemboi and carried the diminutive Kenyan in his arms after their London Olympic one-two finish.

“I had opted to retire right after the Olympics only if I had come home with this medal,” was posted on Kemboi’s Facebook page that day. “Now I feel that I have to bring back this medal, not by protesting again but right on track. Kemboi is not retired, I will be coming to London 2017 to reclaim my medal from France. No limits.”

Kemboi was also well-known for his title celebrations. They ranged from going shirtless to wearing the Kenyan flag as a skirt to crossing the finish line all the way out in lane 7.

The most famous was at the 2011 Worlds, where Kemboi dedicated a dance to Usain Bolt, who had been disqualified for a false-start in the 100m final.

“My friend Usain Bolt wasn’t in the finals and couldn’t dance in the finals,” Kemboi said then. “So I had to do the dance for my friend Usain Bolt.”

There was little reason to bask in glory after Tuesday’s final. Kemboi finished 15 seconds behind winner and countryman Conseslus Kipruto, who extended Kenya’s dynasty to nine straight Olympic or world steeplechase titles. It’s the longest active streak for one nation in any track and field event.

“I’m not disappointed; I’m so happy to be here in London,” Kemboi said. “This is my eighth world championships, so I’m so happy. The [other] guys, it’s their second, third. So, for me, it’s a long season, long career. Four times world champion, two times Olympic champion, I’m so happy.”

In 2012, Kemboi had charges dropped by a woman who claimed he had stabbed her for resisting sexual advances. Kemboi denied wrongdoing.

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MORE: Will Bolt win his final race?

Kyle Dake repeats as world wrestling champ; next challenge: Jordan Burroughs

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Kyle Dake recovered from an unspecified freak accident that required surgery, and not wrestling in a meet for eight months, to repeat as world champion at 79kg, a non-Olympic weight class, on Sunday.

The next six months will bring another challenge — beating Jordan Burroughs for an Olympic spot.

“Every year I have a goal of being the best guy in the world. Last year, I proved it. This year, I proved it,” Dake told Trackwrestling.com. “I’ve got my work cut out for me, coming up.”

Dake, a four-time NCAA champion at Cornell who considered quitting after finishing second at U.S. trials year after year, is now in his freestyle prime. He backed up going unscored on at worlds last year by beating his four opponents in Kazakhstan this week by a combined 27-4, capped by topping Azerbaijan’s Jabrayil Hasanov 4-2 in a final rematch.

Kid Dynamite is unquestionably one of the world’s best pound-for-pound wrestlers.

That was not the case four years ago. Then, an internationally inexperienced Dake moved out of the 74kg division, and up to 86kg for the Olympic year, to avoid facing Burroughs because Burroughs had a bye into the Olympic trials final as the reigning world champion. Dake ended up losing the 86kg trials final to J’den Cox, who on Saturday repeated as world champion himself.

The four-year difference would seem to favor Dake over Burroughs at April’s trials, where Dake has a bye into the semifinals and Burroughs into the final.

Burroughs, at 31 years old, is on the back end of his career. He just missed the finals of back-to-back world championships for the first time, though he came back for bronze medals. Burroughs has made every U.S. world or Olympic team at 74kg dating to 2011 and earned a medal every time, save his tearful Rio Olympic exit.

Dake, reluctant four years ago to detail his decision to move out of 74kg, determined before this week’s worlds that he would choose 74kg over 86kg (where Cox likely waits again).

“74 seems like a good spot for me,” Dake told Trackwrestling last month.

The number of weight classes drops from 10 at worlds to six at the Olympics, ensuring that at least two of these Americans will not make the Tokyo team:

Burroughs — 5x Olympic/world champion
Dake — 2x world champion
David Taylor — 2018 World champion (missed 2019 while injured)
Cox — 2x world champion
Kyle Snyder — 2x Olympic/world champion

Later Sunday, Snyder rallied from being upset in the 97kg semifinals on Saturday to snag a bronze medal with a 5-0 win over Georgian Elizbar Odikadze. A potential third straight world final between Snyder and Russian Abdulrashid Sadulayev was the most anticipated match of the championships, but Snyder was beaten one match early by Azerbaijan’s Sharif Sharifov.

Sadulayev, meanwhile, blanked Sharifov 4-0 to complete a 30-3 romp through his four matches to repeat as world champ.

“The hardest part about it I would say is just the fact that I didn’t get to wrestle Sadulayev again,” said Snyder, a Rio Olympic champion and a 2015 and 2017 World champion who shared bus and elevator rides with Sadulayev on Saturday and Sunday. “I felt prepared for him.”

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MORE: Jordan Burroughs: Time is running out

Israel is first nation to qualify for 2020 Olympic baseball tournament

Margo Sugarman
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Israel’s baseball team, which captivated at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, is headed to its first Olympics next summer.

Israel won a joint European-African tournament to become the first nation to qualify for baseball’s return to the Games after the sport was voted off the program after Beijing 2008.

It joins host nation Japan. Four more countries will qualify — two at the global Premier12 in November, another from the Americas and one more from a last-chance qualifier next year.

Israel, ranked 19th in the world, advanced via its best opportunity in Italy this week. It upset the highest-ranked European nations — the Netherlands (No. 8) and host Italy (No. 16) — and wrapped it up with an 11-1 win over South Africa on Sunday.

Its run came two years after Israel, then ranked 41st, beat South Korea, Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands and Cuba before bowing out of the World Baseball Classic. And one week after Israel finished fourth at the European Championship.

Israel’s roster at this week’s Olympic qualifier lacked many of the MLB veterans that it had at the World Baseball Classic. Israeli citizenship was not required at the WBC.

Its most recognizable player is Danny Valencia, an infielder who played parts of nine MLB seasons from 2010-18. Joey Wagman, its starting pitcher for its first and last games this week, plies his trade for the independent-league Milwaukee Milkmen.

MLB players are unlikely to feature at the Tokyo Games, but minor leaguers are expected to be eligible as in the past.

The rest of the Olympic field is likely to be nations from North America (such as the U.S., Cuba, Mexico or Canada) or Asia (South Korea, Chinese Taipei) or Australia.

Baseball will not be on the 2024 Olympic program but could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

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MORE: USA Baseball taps longtime catcher to be Olympic qualifying manager