Noah Lyles, wiping away tears of the past, makes first world championships

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DES MOINES — The scenes most associated with Noah Lyles are of his pre-race introductions (Sunday’s was an ode to Conor McGregor) and post-victory dances (Sunday’s was a mimic of Kevin Durant).

But after Lyles won the U.S. 200m title here, comfortably in 19.78 seconds into a headwind, his thoughts soon turned to a recovery room in Sacramento and a scene from two years ago.

Lyles was supposed to make his big splash on the global stage in 2017.

He came to those USATF Outdoor Championships favored to make the world championships team in the 200m, having run 19.90 seconds in his Diamond League debut six weeks earlier.

But he tore a right hamstring in that 19.90 breakthrough. Lyles stayed in Germany for three weeks for treatment. Lyles flew to California, ran the first round at nationals and won his heat, but he felt pain behind the knee. Later that night, with his coach and agent, Lyles heated, iced and massaged the knee. The next morning, the day of the 200m semifinals and final, he warmed up, and it still wasn’t feeling well.

“We, my agent, my mom, my coach, got together and asked, if we run right now, will it benefit us?” Lyles said two years ago. “We all said no. We would most likely get more injured than what we were dealing with, and it would probably create a season-ending injury.”

Lyles pulled the plug on trying to make his first senior global championship team. He was a year out of high school. With no worlds in 2018, he knew he would have to wait two years for another chance.

Later that night, Lyles watched the 2017 U.S. 200m final from a recovery room at the venue, thinking, “I could have done that. You’re just like, dang, I could have done it, but I’m not in a position to do it.”

“I was in tears that I was unable to run,” he diaried. “But back in the hotel where my mother, brother and uncle were to support me, I made a decision that night to refocus. We agreed it wasn’t meant to be. There is a better plan out there, and I have many more years ahead of me.”

Lyles went undefeated the rest of the season, and through 2018, in the 200m. On July 5, he clocked 19.50 seconds to become the fourth-fastest man in history behind Usain BoltYohan Blake and Michael Johnson.

Lyles “is the only American I’ve seen that I believe can surpass 19.32,” Johnson tweeted Sunday afternoon, noting his American record time from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics (which was a world record until Bolt lowered it another .13.). “However he’s probably more appropriately focusing on 19.19!!!”

Maybe that’s to come. But first Lyles crossed the Drake Stadium finish line. He got a pat on the back from runner-up and U.S. 100m champion Christian Coleman.

“I was really surprised on that,” Lyles said of Coleman. Their rivalry was an early season storyline after Lyles edged Coleman in a May 100m, and it came out that the two were more competitors than friends.

“The last time I tried to dab him up, he didn’t want to dab me up,” Lyles said. But on Sunday, Coleman made the first move post-race. “He said congratulations,” Lyles said. “I said, thanks man. You did the double. That’s a hard double to do. Congratulations to you.”

Then Lyles danced, as usual. He knelt and prayed. He turned to the crowd, including his mom, Keisha Caine Bishop, and started shouting. The words were inaudible from the broadcast feed.

“I told my mom, in 2017 we pulled out of the 200m for a reason,” Lyles said. “And today, God told me that reason is now.”

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

Gabriel Jesus
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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

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.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

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

MORE: Noah Lyles details training near woods, dog walkers

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Jenny Thompson’s new team is on the front line fighting coronavirus

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Two weeks ago, Jenny Thompson, the 12-time Olympic swimming medalist turned anesthesiologist, told close friends about the worrisome situation at her hospital in Charleston, S.C.

Thompson and her perioperative team of 40 or 50 were stressed that they would not have the most effective personal protective equipment (PPE) for when the coronavirus pandemic peaks there, projected to be later this month.

The messages caused fellow former Stanford swimmers and Olympic teammates Gabrielle Rose and Lea Maurer to act.

“She almost never asks for any sort of help or support,” Maurer said. “She’s Herculean in her ability to take on life and all its challenges.”

Rose and Maurer started a GoFundMe titled “Go Jenny Go” on March 22 for help to purchase PPE for the hospital. At the time, critical care doctors were “scrambling to piece together purchases on their own in anticipation of their high risk patients,” Maurer wrote.

Thompson said the PPE situation is better now. The GoFundMe was suspended Wednesday. Future support is directed to help those in New York City. Thompson specifically noted a GoFundMe for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

More than $9,000 was raised in less than two weeks. Also, the hospital started receiving more PPE on its own. Thompson’s team now feels prepared for what’s to come.

“People were responding and donating from all chapters of my life,” Thompson said by phone Thursday. “People I didn’t even know. Family from USA Swimming and international swimming. It’s really touched me to know that so many people care and are able to donate, help share the message.”

Thompson woke at 4 a.m. several days this week with thoughts of her peers in New York City. Healthcare workers there have cited a lack of PPE in putting their own lives at risk while they fight to save others. Some have contracted the virus.

“We’ve been fortunate [in South Carolina]. I feel lucky,” Thompson said. “We’ll definitely be in a place where we’re taking care of a lot of Covid patients, but we’re not there yet.

“I’ve heard people say, people in healthcare knew what they were signing up for. I never signed up to get sick and potentially die from this job. I always assumed that I would have the protection or the supplies needed to help me do my job, and that’s been a real struggle nationwide.”

Thompson went to medical school in New York at Columbia University starting in 2001.

“I’d been there maybe a couple weeks at Columbia, when 9/11 happened,” she said. “I remember feeling very helpless as a first-year medical student. I wanted to help so badly, but there really wasn’t much I could do. All my classmates felt the same way. I’ve always had that as part of the making of me as a doctor, having to go through crisis, but I never imagined a pandemic. I guess some people prepare for this sort of thing their whole life, but I didn’t.”

The term “front lines” has been applied to healthcare workers around the globe. Thompson said it’s apt at her hospital.

“We definitely have Covid here, but we have not had a major outbreak like some other cities,” she said. “We consider every patient who we give general anesthesia and intubate to be a potential risk. As anesthesia providers and people who intubate the airway, we are on the front line. We are at a much higher risk of getting sick without the right PPE.”

Thompson’s team feels more ready for the peak with every passing day. They’re simulating, donning and doffing and scheduling to work longer shifts starting next week. The preparation extends home, where she has a husband and three children.

“I have, like, four different pairs of shoes,” Thompson said. “I spray my socks with fabric disinfectant. I take them off in the car, and then I put on flip-flops. Then when I get home, I shower and put my clothes in the wash immediately. It’s a strange place to be, but just consider everything I touch to be contaminated in an effort to protect myself.”

Both Rose and Maurer still see in Thompson that swimmer who awed them in college. As Thompson trained to become the most decorated female U.S. Olympian in history, she studied at Stanford and then Columbia to become a doctor.

“I knew I wanted to take care of critically ill patients,” she said.

As a swimmer, Thompson was known as the ultimate teammate. Eight Olympic gold medals in relays, often an anchor. Always there. Dependable.

“She knows that she’s going to make a difference,” Maurer said. “She knows that she’s going to achieve that goal. She knows that she’s going to help to make people better. And so she does it.”

Thompson believes the next few weeks will be unlike anything she’s ever faced.

“Everybody was sort of freaking out in the beginning and feeling very stressed, and I think that at some level has not gone away,” she said. “That’s going to stay with us, but we have a we-can-do-this-together fighting mentality that we are leaning on each other for. It’s really no different than being a part of any kind of team.”