Phyllis Francis wins upset 400m title; Allyson Felix ties medal record

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Phyllis Francis disrupted the anticipated Allyson FelixShaunae Miller-Uibo rematch, surging in between the stars to win the world 400m title on Wednesday.

Miller-Uibo, who edged Felix by .07 in Rio, was poised to win her first world title through 350 meters. But the Bahamian stumbled with about 20 meters left and dropped back to fourth on a rainy, chilly night in London.

In came Francis, passing Felix to her left and Miller-Uibo to her right to grab gold in a personal-best 49.92 seconds, the slowest winning time in world championships history (that weather).

Qatar’s Salwa Eid Naser was second in 50.06, followed by Felix in 50.08 for bronze. Miller-Uibo slowed home in 50.49.

Francis, 25, improved on her fifth-place finish in Rio. The former University of Oregon standout from Queens, N.Y., was second at both the 2016 Olympic Trials and the USATF Outdoor Championships in June.

“At the finish line I was surprised. I thought I was second or third,” Francis said, according to The Associated Press. “But then they told me, ‘You are first.’ That is crazy.”

Felix, though she didn’t repeat as world champion, bagged her 14th career world championships medal, tying the record shared by Usain Bolt and Merlene Ottey. Felix can pass both of them with 4x100m and 4x400m medals this weekend.

“I cannot lie, I am disappointed to lose one gold tonight, but the championships is not over yet, so we keep going,” the 31-year-old Felix said, according to The New York Times. “But this was the race that mattered to me, the individual race. That is what it is about. So to come up short tonight is never fun.”

In other events, Botswana’s Isaac Makwala continued a whirlwind week by running a pair of 200m races, including one alone, to qualify for Thursday’s final. Makwala, the top-ranked 200m runner this year, qualified safely after being medically cleared to re-run following a stomach virus.

More from Makwala here.

Meanwhile, favorite Wayde van Niekerk squeaked into the final in the last qualifying spot, third in his semifinal in 20.28 seconds. Van Niekerk is trying to join Michael Johnson as the only sprinters to sweep the 200m and 400m at one world championships. The South African won the 400m on Tuesday.

Karsten Warholm became the first Norwegian man to win a world championships race, clocking 48.35 in the 400m hurdles. Also the slowest winning time in worlds history. Olympic champion Kerron Clement took bronze, .17 behind.

Mo Farah headlined the qualifiers into Saturday’s 5000m final, which will be the last championship track race of his career before moving to road racing. Farah has won all five Olympic and world 5000m titles since 2011.

China’s Gong Lijao dethroned American Michelle Carter in the shot put, throwing 19.94 meters. Gong, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, took fourth in Rio behind Carter, who became the first U.S. Olympic women’s shot put champ.

Carter, who came into worlds ranked fifth in the world this year, took bronze behind Hungarian Anita Marton, repeating her finish from 2015 Worlds.

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MORE: World Championships TV schedule

WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships rhythm dance, women’s free skate

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Can Bradie Tennell hold off 14-year-old Alysa Liu? The U.S. Figure Skating Championships crowns its female medalists on Friday, live on NBC Sports.

Action starts with the rhythm dance at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:25 on Gold, with NBC TV coverage starting at 8.

LIVE STREAM: Rhythm dance — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s free skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Tennell topped Thursday’s short program with a clean slate of jumps, plus the highest artistic score.

She bettered Liu in the short program last year, too, but fell in the free skate to take silver. Liu, meanwhile, landed two triple Axels to win by 3.92 points and become the youngest U.S. champion in history.

Another skater to watch is Gracie Gold, the two-time U.S. champion competing at nationals for the first time in three years. Gold, lauded for her return from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety, struggled with jumps in the short and is in 13th place of 18 skaters.

In the rhythm dance, past U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are expected to begin a duel that should come down to Saturday’s free dance.

Key Skate Times
5:32 p.m. — Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
5:38 — Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
5:44 — Madison Chock/Evan Bates
8:07 — Gracie Gold
10:03 — Karen Chen
10:11 — Amber Glenn
10:27 — Bradie Tennell
10:35 — Mariah Bell
10:43 — Alysa Liu

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, who defected, eyes Tokyo Games as German or refugee

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LÜNEN, Germany (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.

Kimia Alizadeh is trying to rebuild her life and career after she announced this month she had left Iran, citing sexism on the part of officials there.

“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” Alizadeh said at a meeting with journalists at a taekwondo club.

“I am sure that I will be judged by many, but I am just 21 years old and can attend world tournaments and future Olympics. However, I will spare no effort to get the best result at this time as well.”

She added she doesn’t expect ever to compete in Iran again.

Alizadeh was just 18 when she won bronze in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, catapulting her to instant fame at home. Despite Iran’s long history of victories in men’s wrestling and weightlifting, no Iranian woman had ever won a medal before.

However, Alizadeh was frustrated with life in Iran despite her Olympic success. In an Instagram post this month announcing she had left Iran, she accused Iranian officials of sexism and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Alizadeh hasn’t given up hope of being able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. However, getting there would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether she tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.

Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.

“If the German government assists me and I can go through this process as fast as possible, I might be able to make it to the Olympics, too,” she said.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, the former world judo champion Saeed Mollaei moved to Germany after walking off the Iranian team at the world championships in Japan. He said Iranian officials had tried to force him to withdraw so as not to compete against an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

Alizadeh said she just wants “a peaceful life,” and she’s not looking back.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she said. “I think it is not even clear enough now and. in the years to come, I will understand what a good decision I made.”

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MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics