Wayde van Niekerk upset in 200m, feels ‘disrespected’ by rival

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Wayde van Niekerk was in tears.

Not for missing gold in the 200m by two hundredths of a second. But for what he perceived as people feeling he didn’t deserve his 400m title two days earlier, specifically his top rival, Isaac Makwala.

Van Niekerk, the South African seen as the heir apparent to Usain Bolt as track’s superstar, was upset by Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev in the world 200m final in London on Thursday. Guliyev overtook Van Niekerk on the straightaway and won in 20.09 seconds.

Van Niekerk got silver in a photo finish over Jereem Richards of Trinidad and Tobago, who clocked the same time.

Van Niekerk came thisclose to joining Michael Johnson as the only athletes to win the 200m and 400m at a single worlds. When Van Niekerk learned he took silver in the 200m behind the unknown Guliyev, he smiled, clapped and screamed in apparent joy.

But once Van Niekerk reached the media, he was closer to inconsolable. He broke down before a BBC interview, confusing any informed viewer.

“After 400m, there was quite a lot of people that felt I didn’t deserve it,” he said. “I work just as hard as every other competitor I compete against. I show everyone else respect. I think I didn’t get the respect I deserve after the 400m.”

Of anybody in any event, Van Niekerk might be the most respected athlete when it comes to the 400m.

He put on one of the greatest performances in Olympic history to win the Rio 400m out of lane 8 in 43.03 seconds, breaking Johnson’s hallowed world record. That came one year after Van Niekerk won his first world title and had to be taken off on a stretcher.

Van Niekerk then easily repeated as world champion in the 400m on Tuesday in 43.98 seconds. But many lamented that his biggest rival this season — Makwala of Botswana was held out of the 400m final due to his medical controversy. Makwala was sixth in the 200m final, likely gassed from having raced twice Wednesday after the IAAF re-entered him.

“There’s something fishy they [the IAAF] don’t want to tell us,” Makwala told the BBC on Wednesday regarding his 400m exclusion. “Usain Bolt is out now. They want someone to be a face of IAAF.”

The IAAF said it was following recommendations from Public Health England regarding Makwala, who claimed he was not sick.

“My emotion came when Wayde van Niekerk crossed the line with 43.98 I looked at that time,” said Makwala, who ran 43.84 in a July 21 race in Monaco, where he lost to Van Niekerk. “That time was just normal time that I can do. I was in shape for more than that time. … So after I saw him crossing the line, it was like, this was my time. This was my time to take a gold medal here.”

The post-200m interview with Van Niekerk continued. The South African did not mention Makwala, leading to more confusion:

Phil Jones (BBC): It seems strange that anybody could even remotely question you when, as Olympic champion and world-record holder, they wouldn’t view you as a worthy winner. Where are you getting that sense from?

Van Niekerk: It was no secret that my finals, a lot of people felt that the results would have been other way, but I’ve proven everyone wrong today. Like I said, I’m going to prove it over and over again that I deserve where I am and I deserve what I’ve achieved.

Jones: This talk the other day of the conspiracy, the IAAF conspiracy. Did you hear that, and what were you thinking when you did?

Van Niekerk: Yeah, like I said, I feel it’s very unfair, especially, like you said, it’s not an overnight success that I achieved. I’ve been coming through the rankings the last few years as any competitor, so I really feel I’ve worked for where I am today. But it’s fine, I guess everyone’s going to be angry and people’s going to be upset the way things work out, but this is a competition. We’re all challengers. We all came out here for one thing, and that’s medals.

Later, Van Niekerk confirmed his comments were regarding Makwala.

“To be honest with you, it really did upset me a bit,” he said in a press conference. “Especially, the amount of respect I have shown each and every competitor I compete against, including Makwala. I’ve always shown him massive respect, and for him to come out and, I think, mention my name among something fishy happening in the IAAF, pointing me out as a favorite.

“I wouldn’t say [it] affected me. I just expected more from someone that I’ve been competing with for the last few years now. … For him to come out with that statement, I think it was a bit disappointing.”

Track and field is changing, especially in the sprints.

Jamaica finished worlds with one medal in the men’s and women’s 100m, 200m and 400m combined (Bolt’s 100m bronze). No Jamaicans or Americans made the men’s 200m podium.

Van Niekerk’s brilliance is the biggest draw amid this landscape. He was seen as the favorite to sweep the 400m and 200m this week, boosted by the absences of Bolt (200m), Andre De Grasse (200m) and the last two Olympic champions in the 400m.

But the 200m-400m double is daunting, as Allyson Felix can attest. Van Niekerk, who raced six times in six days, was third in his 200m semifinal Wednesday and got into the eight-man 200m final as the last qualifier.

Johnson, now a BBC analyst, noted Van Niekerk’s repeated insistence that he dislikes the 400m.

“If you hate to run the 400m, then you probably hate to train for the 400m,” Johnson said. “When you’ve got to train for the 400m and the 200m and running a bunch of rounds, then take 400m training, and it’s just exponentially harder.”

Van Niekerk later said he planned to race the 100m and 200m at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

In other events Thursday, Christian Taylor won his third world title in the triple jump, edging countryman Will Claye by five centimeters. Taylor, the 2012 and 2016 Olympic champion, was aiming for Jonathan Edwards‘ world record of 18.29 meters but mustered a best jump of 17.68 meters.

“I’m a bit disappointed, to be completely honest,” Taylor told media in London. “I want to be the best ever. Unfortunately, every time you hear the triple jump is announced, whether the championship record, world record, it’s going to be Jonathan.”

Kori Carter won the 400m hurdles out of lane 9, coming back to beat Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad in 53.07 seconds. Muhammad got silver in 53.50, followed by Jamaican Rihanna Tracey in 53.74.

Carter, 25, fell in the 2015 Worlds semifinals and finished fourth with a finish-line dive at the 2016 Olympic Trials, missing Rio by one spot.

She plans to focus on the 100m hurdles next year.

Matthew Centrowitz, the first U.S. Olympic 1500m champion in 108 years, finished last in his first-round heat in a listless effort. Kenyan Asbel Kiprop, eyeing his fourth straight world title, headlines the field for Friday’s semifinals.

World champion Dafne Schippers and Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo won their 200m semifinals to make Friday’s final. Elaine Thompson and Tori Bowie, the Olympic and world 100m champions, chose not to enter the 200m.

Caster Semenya easily won her 800m heat to make Friday’s semifinals, three days after taking bronze in the 1500m. Semenya, who has not lost an 800m in nearly two years, is joined by new American record holder Ajee’ Wilson and Olympic silver and bronze medalists Francine Niyonsaba and Margaret Wambui.

Olympic and world 10,000m champion Almaz Ayana headlined the qualifiers into Sunday’s 5000m final. She’s joined by all three Americans — Molly HuddleShannon Rowbury and Shelby Houlihan.

Medal favorites Maria Lasitskene of Russia and American Vashti Cunningham were among the 12 qualifiers into Saturday’s high jump final.

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*Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated no Americans or Jamaicans made the men’s 200m final. None made the podium.

Ilia Malinin’s quadruple Axel sheds light on first figure skater to land triple Axel

Vern Taylor
Vern Taylor, the first figure skater to land a triple Axel in competition. (Getty Images)
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Vern Taylor arrived at the Riverside Skating Club in Windsor, Ontario, on Sept. 15 to do what he has done at that rink for the last three decades: coach figure skaters. But this day was different.

Taylor, who in 1978 became the first man to land a ratified triple Axel in competition, was told that 17-year-old American Ilia Malinin performed the first quadruple Axel the previous night.

“When we heard that he landed it, I said, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s terrific,'” Taylor said by phone.

He was then shown video of Malinin’s feat.

“Anything’s possible,” Taylor said. “43 years [later], that’s something. It’s knowing that you can perform the jump that makes it challenging.”

Malinin, the world junior champion, landed the most difficult jump in skating and checked off the only remaining quad yet to be performed.

At the 1978 World Championships in Ottawa, a 20-year-old Taylor broke through a similar barrier in hitting the last remaining unchecked triple jump. But while Malinin’s senior career seems to be just getting started, and many medals appear in his future, Taylor is largely a forgotten man outside of ardent figure skating followers.

He finished 12th at those 1978 World Championships. Taylor’s 1980 Olympic prospects were dimmed by the fact that Canada had just one men’s singles spot, and he had taken runner-up at nationals in 1978 and 1979 to Brian Pockar, who also outscored Taylor at those years’ world championships. So Taylor stopped competing a year before the Lake Placid Games.

“I didn’t have a reason,” he said. “I just decided to take a break.”

Taylor will always have that day at the world championships in Ottawa. He can still remember the nervousness, knowing that two other skaters also planned to attempt a triple Axel. They were unsuccessful, though Taylor didn’t know it.

“I didn’t see their jumps,” he said. “I didn’t want to know what was ahead of me.”

American David Jenkins landed a triple Axel in Movietone newsreel footage reported to be from 1957, but that was not in competition.

Taylor, skating to music from “Rocky,” put the triple Axel as the third jump of his program, according to reports at the time. The one YouTube video of it, published two years ago, has 32,000 views. It shows Taylor landing the three-and-a-half revolution jump on one foot and spinning out of it while managing to stay on that single skate blade amid a crowd roar.

“During that program, it was like a rock concert,” Taylor said. “I got the energy from the audience.”

The Montreal Gazette reported at the time that the jump was ratified three hours later. Italian Sonia Bianchetti, the men’s referee at the 1978 Worlds, said she met with the assistant referee, the ISU president and a technical delegate.

“During this short meeting it was recognized that Vern had completed the first triple Axel Paulsen jump [Norwegian Axel Paulsen was the skater who landed the first Axel jump in 1882, getting it named after him] in an officially recognized figure skating competition,” she wrote in an email last month. “The triple Axel was fully rotated and landed on one foot.”

One of the people inside the Ottawa Civic Centre that day was 16-year-old Canadian Brian Orser. Orser, inspired by Taylor, later became synonymous with the jump — labeled “Mr. Triple Axel” and landing it en route to silver medals at the Olympics in 1984 and 1988 and the 1987 World title.

Orser remembered Taylor visiting his skating club for an exhibition. Orser saw Taylor doing an Axel takeoff exercise off the ice, incorporated it into his own routine and began teaching it to his skaters after becoming a coach.

Yet another Canadian, Kurt Browning, was the first man to land a ratified quadruple jump of any kind in competition — a toe loop at the 1988 World Championships.

“For me, personally, it was huge,” he said, “because I was promised a car if I could land it.”

Through an agreement with an Edmonton car dealership, Browning was handed the keys to a Quattro — quad/Quattro — after hitting the toe loop. The skater was unaware that the dealer was merely leasing it to him. About six months later, Browning received a call asking to bring the car back.

Browning was inspired by American Brian Boitano, whom he previously saw land a quad outside of competition. Taylor motivated him, too.

“[Taylor] gave me permission, even at a young age, to start thinking bigger,” he said.

Browning also pointed to Jozef Sabovčík, a 1980s skater for then-Czechoslovakia who many believe was the first man to land a quad in competition, Browning included. Sabovčík was initially given credit for a quad toe loop at the 1986 European Championships, but weeks later it was invalidated because he touched down with his free foot, according to reports.

“I never want to come off as arrogant, but despite what ISU [International Skating Union] decided in the end, I do know that I landed the jump on that day,” Sabovčík, who said he performed a quad jump on his birthdays through age 44, wrote in an email. “The fact that most of the people in the skating world believe the same thing, it means everything to me that Kurt is one of them. It would have been nice to have my name in the Guinness Book of Records, but I am also not trying to change history.”

Sabovčík, now 58 and coaching in Salt Lake City, attended March’s world championships in Montpellier, France, where Malinin finished ninth. There, he spoke with Malinin’s parents, Russian-born Uzbek Olympic skaters Tatyana Malinina and Roman Skornyakov, whom he calls friends.

“They told me that he was already doing a quad Axel on a fishing pole harness [in practice], and that it was coming,” Sabovčík said.

Less than two months after that talk, the first video surfaced of Malinin landing a clean quad Axel — at a U.S. Figure Skating jump camp.

“I did not think [a quad Axel] was possible,” Sabovčík said. “It really has to be an athlete that can combine the technical ability with jumping ability with the speed of rotation. When Kurt and I jumped, we had a relatively speaking slow rotation, but we jumped really big compared to these kids. But Ilia, he has the vertical lift, but he [also] has an unbelievably fast rotation.”

The recent proliferation of quads in men’s and women’s skating can be attributed to several factors, including better boots, better ice conditions and improvements in technology that can aid coaching. Still, there are concerns about if and how the pounding of training quads can wear down a skater physically.

“It’s a lot of pain you don’t feel at first, but you know it comes later,” said Frenchwoman Surya Bonaly, who started training a quad in 1989 and attempting it through the mid-1990s. Bonaly had two hip surgeries after her competitive career.

Even Taylor faced those questions.

“People said, ‘Aren’t you worried about injuring yourself?'” he said. “I would say, ‘No, I want you to know it can be done.'”

Sabovčík never tried a quad Axel in his skating days, but Browning did for less than a week in the early 1990s after winning four consecutive world titles.

“Just playing with it,” said Browning, who never tried it in competition. “Ilia has that special ability to not only get up in the air, but then he has that beautiful rotation that doesn’t look hurried. It’s fast, it’s quick as lightning, but it doesn’t look hurried. It’s so easy. Like a good golfer swings easy, and the ball goes 400 yards.”

Browning recalled a conversation he had with two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who in recent years made the quad Axel his quest. Hanyu attempted it in competition last season but did not land it cleanly before retiring in July. He said upon retirement that he still hoped to master the jump for his non-competitive show career.

“I asked Yuzu one day, ‘When you do quad Axel, does it just feel like you’re up there forever?'” Browning said. “And he kind of looked at me funny, and he goes, ‘Yeah, like it never ends.'”

The skating world awaits the reserved Hanyu’s thoughts on Malinin’s quad.

“Knowing Yuzu, I would think he’d be very supportive,” said Orser, who coached Hanyu for nearly a decade. “He appreciates that kind of athleticism.”

Orser also noted what comes with being the first — and so far only — skater to land a rarefied jump. Malinin, who headlines Skate America in two weeks, will be asked about the quad Axel in just about every interview for the foreseeable future. For some skaters, they may feel a responsibility to land it all the time.

“But I don’t think [Malinin] thinks too much about it,” Orser said. “His technique is perfect, so he’ll be fine.”

The inevitable topic after that is the next progression in skating: the first quintuple jump. Orser said that Hanyu did five-rotation Salchows in practice with the aid of a harness.

“It’s just a little bit more rotation than the quadruple Axel, so it’s not that far off,” said Sabovčík, whose unratified quad toe loop came eight years after Taylor’s triple Axel. “Now that I’ve seen the quad Axel, I don’t think it’s impossible.”

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Aleksandra Trusova splits from coach Eteri Tutberidze, months after Olympic tears

Alexandra Trusova, Eteri Tutberidze
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Olympic figure skating silver medalist Aleksandra Trusova reportedly split from coach Eteri Tutberidze‘s group, eight months after a tearful scene after the Olympic free skate.

Trusova, 18, will now be coached by Svetlana Sokolovskaya, according to Russian media reports dating to Saturday. All Russian skaters are ineligible to compete internationally indefinitely due to the national ban over the war in Ukraine, but Russia is still holding domestic events.

At the Beijing Winter Games, Trusova became the first woman to land five quadruple jumps in a free skate. She had the highest score that day, but it wasn’t enough to make up the gap to fellow Tutberidze pupil Anna Shcherbakova from the short program.

Moments after the competition ended, Trusova was seen crying and yelling at Sergey Dudakov, a member of Tutberidze’s coaching team.

“Everyone has a gold medal! Everyone has! Only I don’t! I hate figure skating! I hate! I will never step on the ice again! Never!” she said in Russian.

Shcherbakova had the individual gold, and the other Russian women’s singles skater at the Games, Kamila Valiyeva, skated both programs of the team event. The Russians placed first in the team event, but medals will not be awarded until Valiyeva’s doping case is adjudicated. It’s possible that Valiyeva gets retroactively disqualified, the Russian team gets disqualified and the other nations all move up with the U.S. going from silver to gold.

Trusova performed at the Russian test skates last month, withdrawing after her short program due to a back injury.

Trusova previously left Tutberidze in 2020 for two-time Olympic champion turned coach Yevgeny Plushenko‘s group, then moved back to Tutberidze’s group after the 2020-21 season.

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