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Sydney McLaughlin takes on Olympic, world champions; Oslo preview, TV schedule

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For as much as Sydney McLaughlin has accomplished already, there is still much to prove.

The 19-year-old phenom races her most competitive 400m hurdles in two years at a Diamond League meet in Oslo on Thursday (1 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold, and 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

“It’s going to be a good experience to see what it’s like to race with high-level competition,” McLaughlin said by phone from Norway, where she will make her Diamond League 400m hurdles debut. “It’s going to become a normal thing. The first one is exciting and a little nerve-racking to get the experience and see what it’s like.”

She takes on 2016 Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad, 2017 World champion Kori Carter and 2015 World silver medalist Shamier Little in an appetizer for next month’s USATF Outdoor Championships, where the top three finishers qualify for the fall world championships (aside from the already qualified Carter).

In 2016, McLaughlin became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to compete at an Olympics in 44 years, reaching the semifinals in Rio. Last year, as a freshman at Kentucky, she lowered personal bests in the 200m, 400m and 400m hurdles, all by more than a second, and ran the world’s fastest 400m hurdles of 2018 by .57.

After winning the 2018 NCAA Championships, McLaughlin said that, although she still wanted to see a ton of improvement in her young career, “once it comes together, hopefully the world record will go.”

A year later, McLaughlin said she’s not looking at any time goals this season, her first since turning pro and moving to Southern California to train under 2004 Olympic 100m hurdles champion Joanna Hayes.

“I have my whole career to chase something like that,” McLaughlin said of the world record of 52.34, set by Russian Yuliya Pechonkina in 2003. McLaughlin has studied many races of Lashinda Demus, the American record holder at 52.47, “because she was so aggressive from beginning to end, and she made it look so effortless.”

“This year for me is kind of adjusting to everything, being a professional, being with a new coach, being in a new atmosphere,” she continued. “Everything is brand-new right now.”

McLaughlin will focus on making her first world championships team in one of the U.S.’ strongest events. In the last world championships year, she finished sixth at 2017 Nationals in the fastest 400m hurdles race in history.

Though she was also fourth-fastest in the U.S. in the flat 400m last year, McLaughlin said she hasn’t discussed going for a double this year or next (the 400m and 400m hurdles overlap at worlds this year and also to a lesser extent at the Olympics).

She has never beaten Muhammad, who with Little and Carter took the top three spots at nationals in 2017 to make that world team. This would be the most impressive win of McLaughlin’s life.

Here are the Oslo entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

1 — Women’s High Jump
1:15 — Women’s Shot Put
1:30 — Men’s Pole Vault
2:03 — Women’s 400m Hurdles
2:11 — Men’s 800m
2:16 — Women’s 800m
2:17 — Women’s Triple Jump
2:25 — Men’s 3000m
2:30 — Men’s Javelin
2:47 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
3 — Men’s 100m
3:10 — Women’s 3000m Steeplechase
3:32 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
3:41 — Women’s 200m
3:51 — Men’s Mile

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s 400m Hurdles — 2:03 p.m. ET
A pretty strong argument that Muhammad is the favorite. She’s broken 54 seconds in her last four races dating to last season, all wins, and owns the world’s fastest time this year (53.61) and this Olympic cycle (52.64). McLaughlin boasts a 52.75 from the May 2018 SEC Championships and opened with a 54.14 this season. This is the first international 400m hurdles of McLaughlin’s pro career. It will be the biggest harbinger for nationals next month in Des Moines.

Men’s 3000m — 2:25 p.m. ET
Muktar Edris, who upset Mo Farah to win the last world title at 5000m, takes on two of the three fastest 5000m men from last year, Yomif Kejelcha and Selemon Barega, in an Ethiopian clash. The U.S. sends Ben True, the first American man to win a Diamond League distance race (in 2015), and Drew Hunter, who in 2016 became the eighth U.S. high schooler to break four minutes in the mile. This meet is key for Edris, who hasn’t raced on the top international level yet this year and was 10 seconds behind in the epic Brussels 5000m with Kejelcha and Barega at last season’s Diamond League finals.

Men’s Javelin — 2:30 p.m. ET
Strongest field of the meet? The top four men so far this year. The top five from last year. And the Nos. 2 and 3 all time in Germans Johannes Vetter and Thomas Röhler, the reigning world and Olympic champions. Yet again, they will try to crack into the top four throws of all time, all held by retired Czech legend Jan Zelezny. The magic number is 94.64 meters. Vetter, competing for the first time since August, has thrown 94.44; Röhler 93.90.

Men’s 100m — 3 p.m. ET
Christian Coleman is a strong favorite here in the absence of new rival Noah Lyles. The top threats are countryman Mike Rodgers and Brits Reece Prescod and CJ Ujah, but Rodgers and Prescod didn’t make Coleman sweat in Shanghai on May 18, and Ujah’s lone 100m this season was a 10.13. Expect Coleman to eye 9.85, which would give him the 2019 world lead outright.

Women’s 3000m Steeplechase — 3:10 p.m. ET
World champion Emma Coburn faces world-record holder Beatrice Chepkoech for the first time this season. Coburn eyes her first win in a race with Chepkoech or fellow Kenyans Celliphine Chespol or Hyvin Kiyeng outside of the 2017 Worlds. And her second Diamond League victory to pair with a stunner in Shanghai in 2014, when the favored East Africans let her go, reportedly thinking she was a pacer.

MORE: Russia’s top track and field athlete slams ‘never-ending disgrace’

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World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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Olympic marathon and race walk move from Tokyo to Sapporo draws some pushback

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In the wake of a dropout-plagued set of world championship endurance races in Qatar, moving the 2020 Olympic marathons and race walks from Tokyo to the cooler venue of Sapporo is a quick fix for one problem, pending the potential for untimely heat waves.

But the move has drawn some opposition for a variety of reasons.

First, many organizers and politicians appear to have been caught by surprise. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, was “taken aback” and Sapporo’s mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, learned about the move from the media, Kyodo News reported. Koike even sarcastically suggested that the races could move all the way northward to islands disputed by Russia and Japan.

South African sports scientist Ross Tucker suggested that running in heat and humidity poses an interesting challenge for athletes, some of whom may be able to catch up with faster runners by preparing for the conditions.

British marathoner Mara Yamauchi made a similar point, saying the move was unfair to those who already were preparing for the heat, humidity and other conditions.

Belgian marathoner Koen Naert said he will make the best of the change but complained that some of his preparation and every runner’s logistical planning would no longer apply.

The angriest athlete may be Canadian walker Evan Dunfee, who placed fourth in the 2016 Olympic 50km race and nearly claimed bronze as a Canadian appeal was upheld but then rejected. He says runners and walkers can beat the conditions if they prepare, which many athletes did not do for the world championships in Qatar.

“So why do we cater to the ill prepared?” Dunfee asked on Twitter.

The move also takes athletes out of the main Olympic city and takes away the traditional, tough less frequent in modern years, finish in the Olympic stadium.

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