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NCAA Track and Field Championships produce world leaders

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The U.S., already boasting its greatest bevy of young sprint talent in more than a decade, should anticipate another pair of new names on the international scene this summer.

LSU’s Sha’Carri Richardson and Florida’s Grant Holloway posted record-breaking performances at the NCAA Track and Field Championships in Austin over the weekend.

Richardson, a 19-year-old freshman, won Saturday’s 100m in 10.75 seconds, making her the ninth-fastest woman in history. About 45 minutes later, Richardson broke Allyson Felix‘s 14-year-old world junior record in the 200m, finishing second in 22.17.

Richardson, MileSplit’s No. 1 high school female sprint recruit last year, took a half-second off her 100m personal best since May 24. She’s now the fastest woman in the world this year and the second-fastest for this Olympic cycle, trailing only Jamaican Olympic champion Elaine Thompson.

In the 200m, Richardson ranks second in the world this year behind the woman who beat her at NCAAs — USC junior Anglerne Annelus.

Richardson didn’t commit to racing at next month’s USATF Outdoor Championships in a Saturday night media session. But should she compete in Des Moines, she would be favored to make the world championships team in the 100m, if not both the 100m and the 200m.

Come next summer, Richardson will still be younger than any previous U.S. Olympic 100m sprinter since 1976.

The emergence of not only Richardson, but also 2018 NCAA 100m champion Aleia Hobbs (also of LSU) puts 2017 World champion Tori Bowie on notice. Bowie has a bye into this year’s world championships as defending champion, which is all the more key as she returns from a torn quad.

Holloway, the son of a retired Naval officer and school teacher, came to NCAAs already sharing the fastest 110m hurdles time in the world this year with Kentucky rival Daniel Roberts. But Holloway, who swept the 60m and 110m NCAA titles in 2017 and 2018, had his best night ever on Friday.

In a 150-minute span, Holloway was part of a collegiate-record-breaking 4x100m, broke Renaldo Nehemiah‘s 40-year-old NCAA record in the 110m hurdles (12.98) and posted the only sub-44 split in the 4x400m (43.75).

“Grant has become kind of the face of the sport,” distant cousin and Florida coach Mike Holloway told media afterward, adding that it was time for his pupil to turn pro.

Holloway became the first American to break 13 seconds in the hurdles in nearly four years, ending the once-dominant hurdles nation’s longest drought since 1995. Remember, the U.S. failed to earn a 110m hurdles medal in 2016 for the first time in Olympic history (boycotted 1980 Games aside).

Holloway also became the third man worldwide to break 13 in this Olympic cycle. The others are Rio gold medalist Omar McLeod of Jamaica and 2015 World champion Sergey Shubenkov of Russia.

Holloway and Roberts (who tied Nehemiah’s old record) will make it all the more challenging for 2012 Olympic champion and world-record holder Aries Merritt to make another Olympic or world team.

Merritt, 33, missed the Rio Games by .01 at trials, 10 months after a kidney transplant. Merritt was the fastest American in 2017 but dropped to seventh last year and has raced just once since last July 22 due to knee surgery.

One other sprinter dazzled at NCAAs: Nigerian Divine Oduduru clocked 9.86 in the 100m and 19.73 in the 200m in a 45-minute span. Only Justin Gatlin has run faster 100m and 200m times on the same day.

Oduduru, the youngest of 10 children from a rural village, tied two of those young U.S. sprint stars, Noah Lyles and Christian Coleman, for the fastest 100m in the world this year. His 200m ranks behind only American Michael Norman and Lyles (who are both college age but turned pro).

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Punahou, Barack Obama’s school, produced Olympic talent in 4 sports

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Some high schools have a swimming tradition. Others produce great ice hockey or water polo players. The Punahou School in Honolulu, private and K-12, is best known for a student who also played basketball — its most famous graduate, Barack Obama.

Also this: Dating to Obama’s tenure in 1976, at least one Punahou student went on to make the last 11 U.S. Summer Olympic teams.

And with the addition of skateboarding and surfing to the Olympic program, there are former Punahou students among the best in the country in four different Olympic sports, plus another Paralympic sport.

“One of my favorite things about going to Punahou was that I felt like I was surrounded by a lot of excellence,” said Carissa Moore, the reigning world champion in surfing and a Punahou grad. “A lot of my friends are some of the smartest girls, women. … The whole school, everyone is doing something.”

Moore, 27, qualified for the U.S. Olympic team with her fourth world title last year. Heimana Reynolds is the reigning world champ in park skateboarding.

Brothers Taylor and Trevor Crabb are on different beach volleyball teams ranked among the top three in the country. Erik Shoji is a veteran libero and Micah Ma’a a promising setter and outside hitter for the U.S. indoor volleyball team.

Shelby Baron is a Rio Paralympic wheelchair tennis player who is now ranked third in the country.

It’s possible that they could all qualify for the Tokyo Games, which have been postponed to summer 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Punahou, whose name means “the New Spring,” referencing renewal and a spring at the center of the campus, bills itself as the largest single-campus independent school in the U.S. and reportedly the oldest west of the Mississippi.

It was founded in 1841 with a first class of 15 students who were children of congregational missionaries. Now, it has more than 3,700. Annual tuition is $26,000, though there are financial aid options.

“This used to be an elite school, you know. Mostly rich. Predominantly Caucasian,” said Eric Kusunoki, who was Obama’s homeroom teacher for four years as part of his four decades working at Punahou. “But then when I stepped foot here, I said, wow, you know, it’s so diverse. Hawaii’s golden people, you know.

“It’s [a] very cosmopolitan campus and very reflective of what Hawaii is like.”

The school has been compared to Stanford. Sports Illustrated ranked it the No. 1 high school athletic program in 2008, replete with an eight-page magazine spread, and again in 2009. The magazine deemed it a “76-acre citadel of academic and athletic excellence where Aristotle meets Duke Kahanamoku.”

Kahanamoku, the Olympic swimming champion and surfing pioneer, never attended Punahou.

But several famous athletes are among the alumni. Like Michelle Wie, Manti Te’o and Obama, who played one season of varsity basketball on the Buff n’ Blue’s 1979 state title team.

In fact, Obama wrote in his autobiography that the lure of Punahou helped keep him in the States with his grandparents rather than flying back to Indonesia with his mom.

Obama, needing a financial aid scholarship to attend, toured the campus with his grandfather before the fifth grade. “Gramps grabbed me by the arm. ‘Hell, Bar,’ he whispered, ‘this isn’t a school. This is heaven,’” Obama wrote.

“He wasn’t a big standout,” Kusunoki said of the student they called Barry. “But yet everybody knew him. He was well-liked, well-known, but he did it real subtly.”

Others followed Obama with athletic success. Reynolds was a skateboard prodigy, profiled by the local NBC affiliate as a 10-year-old before leaving Punahou after 10th grade. He switched to online classes to accommodate all his traveling for competition.

Skateboarding and surfing are not sanctioned high school sports in Hawaii. Moore still won a record 11 National Scholastic Surfing Association titles. In her spare time, she was such a convincing tour guide for prospective Punahou students that admissions officers called her “The Closer,” according to SI.

“I have heard this,” Moore said, smiling when told the nickname. “It wasn’t really ever a big thing for me, but yes, I would bring potential prospects that would come to the school and stuff and give them tours.

“It’s just a beautiful environment to learn. It’s a very comfortable, free environment. The best part of this community is they’re going to support you in chasing your dreams.”

Moore said she was classmates with Taylor Crabb, one half of the U.S.’ top-ranked men’s beach volleyball team. Taylor’s mom, Paula, a champion canoe racer, has been a Punahou P.E. teacher since Obama was there. Taylor and partner Jake Gibb have been competing against Taylor’s older brother, Trevor, and Tri Bourne for Olympic beach volleyball berths.

It’s possible both Crabb brothers, who grew up a five-minute walk from the Punahou campus, can make it to Tokyo.

“Whenever someone says, oh, I went to Punahou, the first thing someone says is, oh, it’s where Barack Obama went,” said Trevor, who won a state basketball title and goes back to campus about once a year to see the old gym.

Shoji’s father, Dave, was the University of Hawaii’s women’s volleyball coach for 42 years, capturing four national titles and retiring in 2017 as the winningest coach in NCAA history. Ma’a won four state titles in volleyball at Punahou and others in football and basketball. At 22 and fresh out of UCLA, he was the second-youngest U.S. player at the 2019 Volleyball Nations League.

Both Trevor Crabb and Moore said you wouldn’t know it by walking around campus that Obama once roamed the grounds. He contributed to just one of a reported 505 state championships in the school’s history, a record for any state.

“There’s nothing up there yet,” of the 44th U.S. President, Moore said, “but it’s definitely something the school is very proud of.”

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IOC, sport federations in talks about Tokyo Olympic age rules

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The International Olympic Committee and Olympic sport federations hope to finalize any adjustments to age rules for the Tokyo Games within the next two weeks.

Two sports’ rules stand out in particular.

Since the 2000 Sydney Games, an age minimum in artistic gymnastics requires female Olympians to turn 16 years old or older in the Olympic year (men must turn 18, though the age rule is less of a factor for top male gymnasts). As such, Tokyo Olympic eligibility rules state all female artistic gymnasts must be born Dec. 31, 2004, or earlier.

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) can choose to keep the Dec. 31, 2004, deadline. Or it could keep the 16 or older mandate by moving that date to Dec. 31, 2005 for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. The federation hasn’t announced its plan.

Its decision could impact U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team selection. At least one woman who turned 16 or younger in the Olympic year made the last 10 U.S. Olympic teams. That includes Kyla Ross, the 2011 U.S. junior all-around silver medalist who made the 2012 Olympic team. And Laurie Hernandez, the 2015 U.S. junior all-around champion who made the 2016 Olympic team.

The 2019 U.S. junior all-around champion, Kayla DiCello, turned 16 on Jan. 25. The 2019 U.S. junior all-around silver medalist, Konnor McClain, turns 16 on Feb. 1, 2021. Under the 2020 Olympic eligibility rules, McClain is 32 days too young for the Tokyo Games. If the birthdate deadline is moved one year forward, McClain would be eligible.

Another sport facing an age decision: men’s soccer. Olympic men’s soccer tournaments are limited to players who turn 23 or younger in the Olympic year with three over-age exceptions. Similar to the FIG, FIFA can keep its 2020 deadline of Jan. 1, 1997. Or it can keep its under-23 mandate and move the birthdate deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

“You can imagine there’s a logic to looking at that, having the same athletes or teams that achieved the qualification place to be the ones taking part next year, but aiming to confirm that with the respective federations,” IOC sports director Kit McConnell said Thursday.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, was born Sept. 18, 1998, and thus will be unaffected. Same goes for French superstar Kylian Mbappe, born Dec. 20, 1998.

Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus was born April 3, 1997, and would become an over-age exception if the birthdate rule is moved to Jan. 1, 1998.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

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