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.

Amy Cragg to withdraw from U.S. Olympic marathon trials

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Defending champion Amy Cragg will miss the Feb. 29 U.S. Olympic marathon trials with an illness, according to her social media.

“The Trials are the reason I have shown up every day for the last four years, so this has been an extremely difficult decision,” was posted on her social media. Cragg later said she had Epstein-Barr virus, according to multiple reports.

Cragg, 36, was among the favorites to grab three Olympic spots at trials in Atlanta, despite not having competed over 26.2 miles since the February 2018 Tokyo Marathon.

She withdrew from the 2018 Chicago Marathon with a hamstring injury and also scratched a month before the 2019 Chicago Marathon, citing signs pointing to needing more time after the previous year’s injury.

Cragg, fourth at the 2012 Olympic trials, relegated Des Linden and Shalane Flanagan to second and third at the 2016 trials. Linden and Flanagan went on to win the Boston and New York City Marathons, respectively, ending long U.S. women’s victory droughts.

Cragg went on to finish ninth in Rio and earn a 2017 World bronze medal, the first world championships marathon podium finish for an American woman since the first worlds in 1983.

Cragg could still make the Tokyo Olympic team in the 10,000m if she races at track trials in June. She won the 2012 Olympic trials 10,000m but hasn’t raced the distance on the track since May 2017.

“Right now my only goal is to get healthy so that I can train at the level needed to be competitive,” Cragg said in an emailed message from her agent. “That being said, the reason I am still in this sport is because of the Olympic Trials and Olympics. It is what excites me more than anything, so it is something I would still love to do.”

With Cragg absent and Flanagan retired, Linden is the only woman in next week’s field with Olympic marathon experience.

Other favorites include Olympic 10,000m runner Molly Huddle, world championships 10,000m runner Emily Sisson and Jordan Hasay, the second-fastest U.S. female marathoner in history.

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Galen Rupp, after tumult, finds familiarity before Olympic marathon trials

Galen Rupp
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As Galen Rupp bids for a fourth Olympics, and perhaps become the first man or woman to win the Olympic marathon trials twice outright, he found some rare familiarity these days on the roads Feb. 8.

“Feeling like my old self again,” Rupp said Wednesday of winning a low-key half marathon in Mesa, Ariz., his first completed race in 16 months and since parting from now-banned, career-long coach Alberto Salazar. “It’s obviously been a long year and a half.”

Rupp clocked 61 minutes, 19 seconds on a downhill course. It’s faster than any half marathon by an American recorded by World Athletics since the start of 2019. Granted the downhill, but Rupp also said he was instructed by new coach Mike Smith to make it a controlled effort.

“He didn’t want me to run all-out, didn’t want me to really push and put myself in a big hole,” Rupp said, noting he was still in heavy training. “You don’t want to break that [training] up and put yourself in a deficit by having a massive effort.”

Mesa answered questions about Rupp’s readiness for the Olympic trials in Atlanta on Feb. 29 (NBC, 12-3 p.m. ET). Even to the two-time Olympic medalist himself. Rupp said he started the half marathon with a little bit of doubt — given recent left ankle and calf injuries — but felt early on that everything would be fine.

“It really put my mind at ease,” he said. “I’m going to be good for the marathon.”

His last two marathons did not go well.

At the 2018 Chicago Marathon, Rupp dropped from the leaders around mile 19 and finished fifth in a title defense. An Achilles injury flared up near the end. He underwent surgery later that month for two tears. Doctors said the ankle had been “a ticking time bomb.”

“They said I was really lucky to have as good of health as I had and manage it as I did,” Rupp said.

He went a full year before racing again, at the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 13, 12 days after Salazar’s ban was announced. Even that was a rushed comeback, Rupp said after dropping out around mile 23 with a calf injury.

“I’m not going to say it was a wake-up call,” Rupp said, “but I think I was a little bit stubborn before Chicago.”

Rupp said he ran through pain in training to get to the start line four months ago. He had trouble walking for several days after the abbreviated race and focused on physical therapy for about two months. He resumed normal, pain-free training in December.

By early January, Runner’s World reported that Oregon-based Rupp found a new Flagstaff-based coach in Smith, who leads a Northern Arizona University program that won the last three NCAA men’s cross-country titles.

“The biggest thing to me was Mike’s philosophy in coaching was very similar to the program that I was under for so many years,” said Rupp, who was for more than a decade part of the Nike Oregon Project, which was shut down last fall after Salazar’s ban for doping violations (which he appealed). Rupp wasn’t implicated by USADA and has a clean drug-testing record. “What I love most about it was Mike’s honesty and how forthright he was about everything. You could tell he wasn’t just saying what I wanted to hear or say, ‘We’re just going to do whatever you’ve been doing and try and replicate that.’ You’ve got to keep evolving and trying new things.”

Smith declined an interview request through NAU until after trials. He agreed to coach Rupp after about a month of communication and hard questions, according to Runner’s World.

“Because of its timing and the headlines I was reading like everyone else at the time, this was not a road I wanted to go down,” Smith said, according to the report. “To be honest, it was just easiest to turn it down. I’m actually — as crazy as this sounds — really proud I did not.

“What I found out by getting to know Galen was that there was much more going on than the picture portrayed of him, and I wish the world knew that. I have never seen someone more all-in in my life.”

Rupp, asked his toughest moment of the last two years, said he moves forward.

“Throughout any hardships and setbacks, I felt a lot of gratitude that I had as good of a run as I did with my health and everything going well for as long as I did,” he said. “It can be easy to get angry and get down, like why me, but I do believe that things always work out. There’s a reason behind all this stuff.”

Which brings Rupp to Atlanta next week for the first time in his life, aside from airport layovers. The race is unlike any other he has contested. The course is unusually hilly. The format — Americans only, top three make the Olympic team — makes for different tactics than the World Marathon Majors that Rupp is used to.

In 2016, Rupp entered as a favorite but without any marathon experience. He won convincingly, pulling away from now-retired Meb Keflezighi by 68 seconds.

The field is deeper this year. Seven Americans broke 2:11 in 2019. Only one did in 2015. But Rupp, at his best, is in his own class.

His personal best 2:06:07, from his last healthy marathon in 2018, is 1:49 faster than the second-fastest in the trials field in this Olympic cycle (Leonard Korir). The next-fastest, Scott Fauble, is more than three minutes behind by personal bests.

“I can confidently go in and say that I’ve put in the work for this, just like I know that I put in the work in 2016,” Rupp said. “Of course, you want to go in and have good races, feeling confident and being on a roll like I was several years ago. But I think that’s why that race in Mesa was so important to show, more to myself, that hey, you’re ready to go. You can still run well. You haven’t lost everything. Surgery didn’t wipe you out.”

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