Teahna Daniels, U.S. 100m champ, sprints with dangling memory of her dad

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Teahna Daniels marked her surprise U.S. 100m title by embracing her mother, both in tears, and telling her, “I did it.” Daniels’ father was not there for the biggest moment of her young track career.

“I really just give this race to him,” Daniels said after winning in 11.20 seconds into a headwind on July 26 in Des Moines. Daniels, who was fourth at the NCAA Championships on June 8 and eliminated in the heats in her previous USATF Outdoor Championships appearance, clinched a spot for late September’s world championships in Doha.

Daniels sprinted with a gold necklace dangling. The word “Queen” was on one side. The date Jan. 26, 2018 on the other, marking Wellice Daniels‘ sudden death of a brain seizure. He was 62.

“I know he’s always at the finish line,” Daniels told the Longhorn Network earlier this year, “and I’m running to him.”

Daniels got her start as a racer at age 8. Linda Latson marveled at her daughter, in flip-flops, beating the neighborhood boys.

“I told her, go put on some tennis shoes. I have to see this again,” Latson said. “She was just like smokin’ those boys. I was like, OK, I’m going to put you on the track team.”

Daniels swept the 100m and 200m at her Florida state high school meet her last two seasons. She matriculated at Texas, leading her father to get a Longhorns tattoo above the Florida Gator on his arm.

Come the middle of Daniels’ junior year, she mentioned to her mom that the car they had purchased in high school in Orlando, without heat, wasn’t cutting it. Winter temperatures in Austin can dip into the low 40s.

Latson bought her a new Honda Civic and told Wellice in January 2018. They divorced when Daniels was 4 but stayed in contact. Wellice and a friend offered to drive the car to their daughter, 1,100 miles in mid-January, since he was planning to visit anyway to watch her at an indoor meet.

Wellice spent a weekend with his daughter, who ended up not competing due to the flu, her mom said. He was due to fly home on Sunday, Jan. 21, but learned that his ticket was no good because he failed to show for his departing flight from Florida. Wellice called Latson to tell her that he rescheduled his return trip for Monday.

“That was our final conversation,” Latson said. “He was able to spend an extra day with her.”

Five days later, Daniels was on an elevator when she received a call from her mom, who was in a panic. One of her sisters got on the line and told her that Wellice died. She dropped and started yelling, repeatedly, “My dad!”

“All I remember is my body going numb, and I just fell to the floor, and I just started to cry,” Daniels said earlier this year. “All I want to do is really like call him. I wanted to call him and say it’s not true.”

Daniels returned to competition two weeks later. She repeated as Big 12 100m champion that May, saying afterward that it was emotional for personal reasons. Months after his death, Daniels still questioned whether she should still run. She could always turn to a voicemail she saved from her father.

Daniels’ senior season, her first under new Texas coach Edrick Floréal, was about transformation. She replaced fried foods, sweets and ice cream with fruits and vegetables. Daniels lost 19 pounds since December and said in Des Moines that she wasn’t yet at her goal weight.

Before nationals, Daniels read that she was picked to finish third. But she had been motivated since NCAAs, where she entered as one of four women in the world to break 11 seconds for the year and still clocked a strong 11.00 for fourth place.

The three women who beat her at NCAAs finished fifth, eighth and 10th at USATF Outdoors and won’t be joining her in the individual 100m at worlds. College runners often struggle to extend their peak from NCAA Championships to USATF nationals the following month.

“The goal was always October,” Daniels said, referencing the later-than-usual world championships.

Daniels beamed in the mixed zone after her win in Des Moines. She said she would celebrate by indulging at Zombie Burger. Then she tugged at her necklace.

“That day really changed my life,” she said. “It pushed me to be the person I am now.”

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WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships rhythm dance, women’s free skate

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Can Bradie Tennell hold off 14-year-old Alysa Liu? The U.S. Figure Skating Championships crowns its female medalists on Friday, live on NBC Sports.

Action starts with the rhythm dance at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:25 on Gold, with NBC TV coverage starting at 8.

LIVE STREAM: Rhythm dance — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s free skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Tennell topped Thursday’s short program with a clean slate of jumps, plus the highest artistic score.

She bettered Liu in the short program last year, too, but fell in the free skate to take silver. Liu, meanwhile, landed two triple Axels to win by 3.92 points and become the youngest U.S. champion in history.

Another skater to watch is Gracie Gold, the two-time U.S. champion competing at nationals for the first time in three years. Gold, lauded for her return from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety, struggled with jumps in the short and is in 13th place of 18 skaters.

In the rhythm dance, past U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are expected to begin a duel that should come down to Saturday’s free dance.

Key Skate Times
5:32 p.m. — Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
5:38 — Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
5:44 — Madison Chock/Evan Bates
8:07 — Gracie Gold
10:03 — Karen Chen
10:11 — Amber Glenn
10:27 — Bradie Tennell
10:35 — Mariah Bell
10:43 — Alysa Liu

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, who defected, eyes Tokyo Games as German or refugee

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LÜNEN, Germany (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.

Kimia Alizadeh is trying to rebuild her life and career after she announced this month she had left Iran, citing sexism on the part of officials there.

“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” Alizadeh said at a meeting with journalists at a taekwondo club.

“I am sure that I will be judged by many, but I am just 21 years old and can attend world tournaments and future Olympics. However, I will spare no effort to get the best result at this time as well.”

She added she doesn’t expect ever to compete in Iran again.

Alizadeh was just 18 when she won bronze in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, catapulting her to instant fame at home. Despite Iran’s long history of victories in men’s wrestling and weightlifting, no Iranian woman had ever won a medal before.

However, Alizadeh was frustrated with life in Iran despite her Olympic success. In an Instagram post this month announcing she had left Iran, she accused Iranian officials of sexism and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Alizadeh hasn’t given up hope of being able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. However, getting there would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether she tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.

Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.

“If the German government assists me and I can go through this process as fast as possible, I might be able to make it to the Olympics, too,” she said.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, the former world judo champion Saeed Mollaei moved to Germany after walking off the Iranian team at the world championships in Japan. He said Iranian officials had tried to force him to withdraw so as not to compete against an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

Alizadeh said she just wants “a peaceful life,” and she’s not looking back.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she said. “I think it is not even clear enough now and. in the years to come, I will understand what a good decision I made.”

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MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics