Mother’s Day: Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Allyson Felix win historic golds at world champs

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Two years ago, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce went into labor while watching the women’s 100m final at the world championships. On Sunday, at the next edition of the biennial worlds, she became the first mom to win an Olympic or world 100m title in 24 years and the oldest woman (mother or not) to do it at age 32.

Fraser-Pryce and Allyson Felix made it an unforgettable night for athlete moms, each earning record-breaking gold medals in Doha.

Fraser-Pryce, a 32-year-old Jamaican with Superman ice cream-colored hair, became the oldest woman to win an Olympic or world 100m title, two years after having her first child, Zyon.

“The females keep showing up,” Fraser-Pryce said on the BBC while holding Zyon across her chest. “Hoping that I can give inspiration to all the women who are thinking about starting a family or currently starting a family and wondering if they can come back.”

Fraser-Pryce, up to six combined Olympic and world 100m titles, became the first mom to win the sport’s marquee sprint at an Olympics or worlds since Gwen Torrence in 1995. She clocked 10.71 seconds, fastest time in the world this year, beating Brit Dina Asher-Smith by .12. Ivorian Marie-Josee Ta Lou took bronze.

Rio gold medalist Elaine Thompson was fourth, losing a 100m final to her countrywoman for the first time.

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It was in Rio that Fraser-Pryce took bronze in the 100m with an injured toe, after golds in 2008 and 2012. There was reason to doubt if she could remain a podium finisher going into her 30s. And that was before pregnancy meant she would take 20 months before her next meet in 2018.

“When I found out I was pregnant, I was sitting on my bed for like two hours, and I didn’t go to practice in the morning because I didn’t know what to do,” Fraser-Pryce said. “I made a vow that I was coming back.”

On Aug. 6, 2017, Fraser-Pryce watched the world women’s 100m final on TV. “I remember sitting there, and I went into labor because I was watching the race,” she said. “So I had my son the next day, like in the evening during the medal [ceremony]. So that was my gold medal.”

Zyon came via C-section on Aug. 7, 2017. Fraser-Pryce went three or four months before lifting a weight. Once she returned to the track, she skipped practices here or there due to pain.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything else,” she said. “Because it has definitely made me tougher, and stronger and more committed.”

In her first meet back in 2018, Fraser-Pryce clocked 11.52 seconds, eight tenths off her best. She raced eight times before breaking 11 again, all while breastfeeding for the first 15 months.

This year, she’s run in the 10.7s a total of four times, becoming the fastest mom in history. Her coach told her earlier that she’s still not all the way back.

“Zyon has been my strength, my family, my husband, they have been my strength,” she said. “When everybody else doubted, they never did.”

The U.S. failed to put a woman in the top four at a worlds for the first time in history. National champion Teahna Daniels was seventh.

Defending champion Tori Bowie withdrew before the semifinals after struggling coming back from injury and dealing with a coaching change. Fellow Rio Olympian English Gardner pulled up with a leg injury in her semifinal, her latest poor luck with health. It’s very possible the U.S. could also miss the medals in the 200m and 400m, too, unprecedented for the world’s greatest track nation.

At least there is Felix.

At 33, she broke her tie with Usain Bolt for the most world titles, grabbing her 12th overall and first as a mom as part of the first mixed-gender 4x400m relay. More on that here.

Felix said she has spoken a lot with Fraser-Pryce.

“I got goosebumps watching her run,” she said. “She’s had a hard road, too, and really keeps encouraging me. Her first year wasn’t the best, but the second year, I mean, she’s better than ever. … She’s leading the way.”

In other events, American Christian Taylor earned his fourth world title in the triple jump, adding to his two Olympic golds.

Taylor fouled his first two jumps, registered a clean one on his third to stay alive and then posted the two best marks of 17.86 and 17.92 meters. Taylor relegated countryman Will Claye to silver and a lower podium spot for a sixth time. Claye owns seven total Olympic or world silver or bronze medals, but no golds.

Russian pole vaulter Anzehlika Sidorova cleared 4.95 meters on her third attempt to relegate American Sandi Morris to her third straight silver medal at a global outdoor championship. Sidorova will hear the IAAF anthem at her medal ceremony since Russia is still banned from sending teams to international track and field meets for its doping problems.

In semifinals, American contenders Donavan Brazier and Clayton Murphy advanced to Tuesday’s final. That final will lack two-time Olympic champion and world-record holder David Rudisha (out the last two years, partly due to injury), the defending world champion Pierre-Ambroise Bosse of France and the fastest man this year, Botswana’s Nijel Amos (Achilles).

Brazier, third-fastest in the world this year, won his semifinal in 1:44.87. Murphy, the Rio Olympic bronze medalist, advanced as a time qualifier after placing third in his semifinal in 1:44.48.

The 200m favorite Noah Lyles cruised in his world championships debut, easing up to take second in his first-round heat in 20.26 seconds and advancing to Monday’s semifinals. He ran in silver hair as an homage to Dragon Ball Z character Goku, whose hair turns silver at his final stage, Ultra Instinct.

Lyles owns the world’s fastest time this year — 19.50 seconds — which is .23 faster than anybody else in the field has clocked in 2019.

NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report from Doha.

MORE: No Christian Coleman-Noah Lyles showdown at track worlds

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Bryan brothers to retire at 2020 U.S. Open, don’t plan on Olympics

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Bob and Mike Bryan said they will retire after the 2020 U.S. Open, ending a tennis career that’s included a men’s record 16 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

They also don’t plan to play at the Tokyo Olympics, their manager later said in an email.

The twins are 41 years old, having spent more than half their lives as professionals.

“A part of us, feels like, is dying,” Bob Bryan said on Tennis Channel. “But we’re really clear about this decision. It’s going to be great to have a finish line.”

Mike said that in 2020 they will play all the events they “really love,” including all four Grand Slams and American tournaments. The Olympics weren’t mentioned.

Rather, they will see how they’re feeling midway through the year, they said on the Tennis.com podcast.

The Bryans earned doubles gold at the 2012 London Games but withdrew from the Rio Olympics six days before the Opening Ceremony. They cited making their family’s health a “top priority” and later said Zika virus concerns were “a very small part of” the decision.

The Bryans own 118 titles overall but nearly ended their partnership after Bob underwent hip surgery a year ago. He rejoined Mike this season, reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals and winning two ATP doubles titles.

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

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