Emma Coburn leads shocking U.S. steeplechase one-two (video)

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The U.S. distance running boom in one image:

Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs clearing the final barrier and dashing to the 3000m steeplechase finish line at the world championships. Behind them, four gassed Kenyan-born runners unable to keep pace.

Coburn and Frerichs went one-two in one of the biggest shocks at a surprise-filled worlds in London. It’s the first time Americans earned gold and silver in an individual Olympics or worlds race longer than 400 meters since the 1912 Stockholm Games.

“Am I dreaming? Am I dreaming?” Frerichs repeated to Coburn.

Coburn, a bronze medalist in Rio as part of a dazzling U.S. team distance effort, emerged Friday from the greatest field in the event’s history to become the first American woman to take steeple gold at the Olympics or worlds.

“I thought, on a perfect day, I can sneak on the podium and get third,” said Coburn, who switched coaches to her fiancé after grabbing one of seven U.S. distance medals in Rio (most since 1912). “As we all know, I came in ranked sixth on time  [in the world this year], ranked fifth of people in the final.”

Coburn clocked 9:02.58, taking five seconds off her American record. Frerichs, 11th in Rio, also went under the existing American record in 9:03.77. Frerichs chopped 15 seconds off her previous best time.

“I didn’t even expect a medal to be a possibility,” she said.

Coburn and Frerichs embraced and dropped to the track together as the Kenyan-born women trickled in. A truly shocking image.

“I don’t think it’s family friendly what I said to Courtney,” Coburn said. “Holy guacamole is the PG version.”

As recently as four years ago, the U.S. put nobody into the 15-woman worlds final, while Kenyans and Ethiopians grabbed the first six places. In 2014, the East Africans let Coburn run away with a Diamond League victory in Shanghai, reportedly thinking she was a pacemaker.

By Rio, the U.S. had medal contenders in both steeplechases and at every distance. Americans came home with medals in the 800m (first since 1992), 1500m (first gold since 1908), 3000m steeplechase (first since 1984), 5000m (first since 1964) and marathon.

Steeplechase is the most recent surge.

Evan Jager took silver in Rio, in addition to Coburn’s bronze. Before Jager, the U.S. went 15 years without a top-10 in the men’s steeple at worlds and the Olympics.

The women’s steeple only recently joined the Olympic and worlds program (2008 and 2005). Before Coburn, the U.S. had a best finish of fifth in an Olympic or world women’s steeple.

“We’ve been through the ringer, and it just takes a few years before you really get out there feeling like it’s your race,” Coburn said. “I can’t totally explain why Team USA is crushing, but I think consistency has a lot to do with it.”

Kenyan Hyvin Jepkemoi took bronze Friday after getting silver in Rio, continuing that nation’s steeple medal streak, but her countrywomen struggled. The last time a Kenyan man or woman failed to make an Olympic or world steeple podium was 1987.

“I did all I could to win that race,” Jepkemoi said, according to the IAAF, “but they were stronger.”

Olympic champion and world-record holder Ruth Jebet of Bahrain (formerly Kenya) faded badly on the final lap. She gave up the lead at the bell and ended up 11 seconds behind Coburn in fifth.

Kenyan 18-year-old Celliphine Chespol, who in May ran the second-fastest time ever despite stopping to fix her shoe, faded behind the top five on the penultimate lap. She ended up sixth.

Another Kenyan, Rio fourth-place finisher Beatrice Chepkoech, momentarily forgot the first water jump and had to retrace her steps. She recovered for fourth place but could not match the final sprints of Coburn and Frerichs.

In other events, Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers repeated as world 200m champion in 22.05 seconds. She edged Marie-Josee Ta Lou by .03. The Bahamas’ Shaunae Miller-Uibo took bronze. The field lacked Olympic and world 100m champions Elaine Thompson and Tori Bowie, who skipped the event.

Brittney Reese won her fourth long jump world title with a 7.02-meter leap. Reese, who bagged every global title from 2009 through 2013, tore a hip labrum in late 2013. She failed to make the 2015 Worlds final. She considered retiring, “plenty of times.” But Reese came back to win the 2016 World Indoor title and a silver medal in Rio.

On Friday, Reese prevailed by two centimeters over Darya Klishina, the only Russian track and field athlete allowed into Rio, who competed in London as an authorized neutral athlete as her nation is still banned due to its poor anti-doping record.

On the back of her bib, Reese had written “RIP Paw Paw” in remembrance of her grandfather who died last month.

“My grandfather is the reason why I’m in track,” she told Lewis Johnson on Olympic Channel. “I put his name on my bib to have him close to my heart.”

Rio gold medalist Tianna Bartoletta snuck in for bronze by one centimeter with her last jump. Serbian Ivana Španović appeared to leap greater than seven meters on her final attempt, which could have gotten her gold, but was given a 6.91-meter mark. It appeared the bib on her back came unhitched and grazed the sand ahead of the rest of her body.

World-record holder Keni Harrison nearly missed the 100m hurdles final, hitting the first hurdle with her lead leg in her semi. She was the last qualifier into Saturday’s eight-woman final by one hundredth of a second.

Harrison, from a family of 11 children, is undefeated since shockingly missing the Rio team by placing sixth at the Olympic Trials.

Rio gold medalist Brianna Rollins is not at worlds, suspended after missing three drug tests in the last year.

All of the favorites advanced to Sunday’s women’s 800m final. That field is led by Caster Semenya, who earned 1500m bronze on Monday and hasn’t lost an 800m in nearly two years.

Kenyan Asbel Kiprop, eyeing his fourth straight world title, led the men to advance into Sunday’s 1500m final. Rio gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz was last in his first-round heat Thursday.

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Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

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NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

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Rafael Nadal advances at Australian Open; American back on Slam stage

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal joined Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open third round, sweeping Argentine Federico Delbonis 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-1 on Thursday.

Nadal, whose lone Australian Open title came in 2009, gets countryman Pablo Carreno Busta in Saturday’s third round. He could face No. 23 Nick Kyrgios of Australia in round four, but neither Federer nor Djokovic until the final.

No. 4 Daniil Medvedeva and No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Simona Halep were also winners Thursday. Friday’s third-round action is headlined by defending champion Naomi Osaka facing 15-year-old U.S. phenom Coco Gauff.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

The only top-20 seed to lose so far Thursday was No. 20 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic. American CiCi Bellis bounced her 6-4, 6-4.

This was a big deal for Bellis: Two full years and four right arm operations have come and gone since she was last healthy enough to participate in a Grand Slam tournament.

Bellis was something of a teen prodigy. In her very first tour-level match, at age 15 at the 2014 U.S. Open, she stunned 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, an Australian Open runner-up, to become the youngest American to win a match at Flushing Meadows in 28 years.

She reached No. 35 in the rankings at 17, when she won WTA Newcomer of the Year honors.

Then came the series of health problems, including for torn tendons in her wrist, to shorten a bone in her arm and for bone spurs in her elbow. All the time away from the tour has her at No. 600 in the rankings currently, but she was able to get into the draw in Australia via the protected ranking rule.

In other action, U.S. Open runner-up Medvedev  found himself seated in the nosebleed section at Margaret Court Arena, even though he was playing his second-round match there.

That’s because the No. 4-seeded Russian found himself dealing with something he said happens to him a couple of times each year: a nosebleed.

Medvedev blotted his nose with a towel and then was treated by a trainer while his 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 over Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez was delayed for more than five minutes late in the second set.

“Can happen to me sometimes. Doesn’t usually happen during the match, so I had to stop (playing). Usually takes like four minutes — three, four minutes. … But it’s nothing,” Medvedev said.

MORE: Another top U.S. tennis player cools on Olympics

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