Noah Lyles, denying nature’s call, wins Diamond League 200m title

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Noah Lyles and Michael Norman are cemented as favorites for the world championships in three weeks after winning Diamond League Finals titles in Brussels on Friday.

Lyles, whose only 200m loss since the 2016 Olympic trials was to Norman in June, won in 19.74 seconds (as it began raining) and said he slowed before the finish line to prevent wetting himself, according to the BBC.

“No lie I was clenching my butt the whole time,” Lyles tweeted, adding, “What a chaotic race. Nearly everything that could happen, happened. … Two pins to fix my race number were not fixed well and lost while I was sitting down, and, to be honest, I had to go to the toilet. My stomach was growling although I went to the restroom before.”

He became the first man to break 19.8 five times in one year. Usain Bolt did it four times in one year. Lyles won the Diamond League 100m title last week and plans to race the shorter sprint at Olympic trials, but not at worlds in Doha.

Norman, who is focusing on the 400m and will not race the 200m at worlds or the Olympic trials, won in 44.26 seconds on Friday.

It was well off his 2019 world-leading time of 43.45 but a nice bounce back after he almost pulled out of the USATF Outdoor Championships in July with an unspecified strain. Norman was beaten by Fred Kerley at nationals, but topped Kerley by two tenths on Friday. The U.S. has the six fastest men in the world this year and could sweep the medals in Doha.

Full Brussels results are here.

The track and field season continues next week with The Match, a Ryder Cup-style meet featuring Olympic champions Allyson FelixMichelle Carter and Brittney Reese suiting up for Team USA. The two-day meet airs live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold on Monday and Tuesday from 12-3 p.m. ET.

Also Friday, Brit Dina Asher-Smith notched her first career 100m win over 2008 and 2012 Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, according to Tilastopaja.org. Asher-Smith, 23, clocked 10.88 seconds and remains fourth-fastest in the world this year. Jamaicans Elaine Thompson (absent from Brussels) and Fraser-Pryce top the rankings with 10.73 clockings from June.

Jamaican Danielle Williams scored her second straight win over world-record holder Keni Harrison in the 100m hurdles. Williams, who owns the fastest time in the world this year of 12.32 seconds, prevailed in 12.46. Harrison, who has the world record of 12.20, was a distant second in 12.73.

Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan comfortably won a star-studded 5000m in 14:26.26, beating world champion Hellen Obiri of Kenya for the first time. It’s unknown which event(s) that Hassan, who broke the mile world record in July, will enter at worlds.

Ajeé Wilson consolidated favorite status for worlds by taking the 800m in 2:00.25. Again, the field did not include any of the Rio Olympic medalists who are barred from the event under the IAAF’s new testosterone cap.

Double Olympic champion Christian Taylor reasserted his claim as the world’s top triple jumper, soaring 17.85 meters for the Diamond League title. Four different men had won the four Diamond League meets going into the finals. American Will Claye still owns the top triple jump in the world this year of 18.14, but he was second to Taylor in Brussels.

Rio gold medalist Katerina Stefanidi of Greece cleared 4.83 meters to beat a pole vault field that included Americans Sandi Morris (Olympic and world silver medalist) and Jenn Suhr (2012 Olympic champion). Suhr still owns the world’s top clearance this year (4.91).

German Malaika Mihambo beat 2012 Olympic champion Reese in the long jump, leaping 7.03 meters. Mihambo owns the best jump in the world this year at 7.16 and is favored to break the U.S. streak of seven straight Olympic or world titles.

On Thursday, New Zealand’s world champion Tom Walsh relegated Olympic gold medalist Ryan Crouser to third in the shot put. Walsh threw 22.30 meters, more than a foot shy of Crouser’s best throw in the world this year from April. Crouser bettered Walsh in their two other head-to-heads this season.

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2021 Burton U.S. Open snowboarding event canceled

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The Burton U.S. Open, snowboarding’s most storied event, canceled its 2021 competition due to uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

“The truth is, we just can’t be sure it will be safe from a public health standpoint for us to host the event in 2021,” a statement read.

The U.S. Open, held since 1982, is usually around the first weekend in March, making it the season-ending event for many riders. Halfpipe champions include Shaun WhiteChloe KimKelly Clark and Ross Powers, who also earned Olympic gold medals.

Other 2020-21 winter sports events affected by the coronavirus pandemic include figure skating’s Junior Grand Prix. The first two stops of that eight-event series, scheduled for late August and early September in Canada and Slovakia, have been canceled.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation, which is due to put on the February 2021 World Alpine Skiing Championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo, made a formal request on Monday to postpone the event until March 2022, one month after the next Winter Olympics in Beijing. The International Ski Federation (FIS) council will decide July 1.

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Kara Eaker eschews fear, back on balance beam to resume Olympic quest

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Kara Eaker hasn’t qualified for an Olympics yet, but she is already part of a historic club of U.S. gymnasts. The list goes, most recently, Eaker, Simone BilesKyla RossAly RaismanNastia LiukinShawn JohnsonShannon Miller and Dominique Dawes.

Those are the women who qualified for back-to-back balance beam finals at the sport’s highest level: Olympics or world championships. For Eaker (pronounced like acre), they came in her first two years as a senior gymnast in 2018 and 2019 (Biles and Johnson are the only other U.S. women to do that in the last 25 years.)

This was supposed to be Eaker’s Olympic year, but the coronavirus pandemic postponed the Games to 2021, after her Missouri high school graduation. It also kept her out of the gym for nearly two months until the GAGE Center reopened last week in Blue Springs, near Kansas City.

It was the longest Eaker had been off a regulation beam (and out of the gym) since she could remember. She began competing at age 5.

Eaker’s mom, Katherine, said her daughter never feared the four-inch-wide beam, but Eaker said the thought of returning last week “was definitely kind of scary at first.” That is, until one of her coaches eased her back with basics and work on a floor beam, one that’s not raised as high as the four feet you see in competition.

“By the time we were ready, and she was comfortable putting us back up there, it wasn’t scary,” Eaker said. “It felt normal.”

Eaker, adopted from a Chinese orphanage around age 1 in 2003 (her parents’ travel then delayed by SARS), excels on the senior elite stage with a level of normalcy.

Which is not entirely normal in this sport. She lives with her family, 10 minutes from her world-class gym. She still attends regular high school. She’s committed to continue gymnastics at the University of Utah after the Tokyo Olympics.

“I started out in dance, actually,” said Eaker, whose hobbies include robotics and calligraphy. “A little, little girl with the stuffed animal, twirling around in the dance room. And then we had our little recital and I just wasn’t … I couldn’t do the standing in front of an audience kind of thing.”

Her mom believes it was around Christmas. Eaker was 3 or 4.

“She just froze like a deer in the headlights, and all the other girls froze, too, because they were used to following her,” Katherine said. “Then she tried gymnastics. We had to drag her out [of the gym]. From then on, it was always, she’s first one in, last one out. Still is.”

The family, including Eaker’s father, Mark, retired Navy and a flight engineer, and younger sister, Sara, moved three times within Missouri in part to get Kara closer to GAGE to pursue what would eventually become an Olympic dream.

Gymnastics meets were appointment TV before Eaker entered kindergarten. She watched the Beijing Olympics, or perhaps an even earlier meet, while dancing around the living room in a leotard. Sometimes she mimicked the gold medalists by doing back bends. She continued to watch Beijing highlights, with Liukin and Johnson, on replay on YouTube.

Back at the gym, Eaker developed with the help of her coaches, plus future University of Nebraska gymnast Catelyn Orel, her “gym mom” under the GAGE program to pair older and younger athletes. Orel was a state champion on beam. Eaker proved a natural, too.

“A lot of the girls would get up there and have trouble balancing, but she just always seemed to do it just like she was on the floor,” her mom said. “She’s never really had a fear. Some girls get up there and are nervous. She just never seemed to be that way.”

In 2018, Eaker was 15, old enough to start competing on the senior level with the likes of Biles. Exactly 10 years after she would have watched Johnson win the Beijing Olympic beam title, Eaker finished second on beam at nationals behind Biles. She was invited to the world championships team selection camp, where she had the top beam score and placed sixth in the all-around. Six gymnasts would be chosen by a committee to travel to the world championships.

Eaker didn’t expect to make the team. In a large meeting with coaches and staff, the roster was announced. Eaker made it as the youngest member.

“It was a goal, but there were so many other girls and it was my first year as a senior,” she said. “I was very happy and surprised to make that team.”

Eaker again won beam at the 2019 World Championships selection camp. If Eaker endured adversity those first two years, it came at worlds.

In 2018, she fell on her mount in the beam final. The rest of her routine was medal-worthy gymnastics. She waited an eternal three minutes for her score, which placed her sixth. Eaker’s routine from the team final earlier that week would have earned silver.

In 2019, Eaker again qualified for the eight-woman beam final. The U.S. federation submitted an inquiry on her qualifying score, contesting a lower start value given to her. That backfired. Judges lowered Eaker’s score even more upon review, which took her out of the final. However, another gymnast who had qualified later withdrew due to injury. Eaker was back in the final, where she placed fourth.

She was asked afterward what she would take away from the meet.

“Just the experience of it all,” she said, composed. “How it makes me feel. How to use that [in the future].”

In 2021, Eaker will have to prove to a selection committee that she can be reliable on all four apparatuses. The Olympic team event size is four — with three gymnasts going per apparatus in the Olympic final — down from five in 2016, putting a greater emphasis on the all-around. Eaker could also be a candidate for one separate spot in individual events only.

“I definitely want to be seen as a great beam worker, but I also need to be a great all-arounder because they’re going to be looking at not just your one event,” said Eaker, who was third in the all-around at the 2019 Worlds selection camp. “You have to be able to benefit the team with your other events, even if they aren’t as strong as your [best] one.”

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