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Kirani James returns from Graves’ disease, inspired by Gail Devers

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A familiar sprinter popped up as the fastest qualifier into Wednesday’s 400m semifinals at the world championships: Grenada’s Kirani James.

James, who in 2012 became his small island nation’s first Olympic medalist (it was gold), has hardly been seen in competition since taking silver in Rio behind world-record-breaker Wayde van Niekerk.

That’s because he was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes an overactive thyroid. James learned of it after the April 2017 Drake Relays, when he finished sixth in his slowest final time in nine years. James said afterward that he wasn’t injured or fatigued, but he soon learned what was really wrong after a series of tests.

“What was the worst point? When I wasn’t feeling like me,” James said after Tuesday’s first-round heats in Doha, where he clocked 44.94, off his personal best of 43.74. “It’s a strange feeling because nobody knows your body better than yourself. When your body is telling you something, it’s like, OK, something’s wrong.”

Upon the diagnosis, James’ coach at the University of Alabama (where he ran collegiately) instantly thought of two-time Olympic 100m champion Gail Devers. Devers was diagnosed in the early 1990s. It was reportedly so dire that Devers, during radioactive iodine treatment, was reduced to crawling from room to room. Devers came back to make four more Olympic teams, including those 100m golds in 1992 and 1996.

“If she can get back, then we just have to follow a plan,” James said.

James did not mention any treatment other than medication he takes every morning and that he is at the end of a two-year cycle. The disease saps energy and causes weight loss. James then had to gain weight in treatment — he went from a race weight of 175 pounds up to 200 before dropping back down.

“Essentially what I had was a hyperactive thyroid. Only way you can [treat it] is kill off the thyroid,” he said. “It kind of goes from overproducing to zero, and then you have to take medication to balance it off. It takes a while for the medication to reach a certain level it’s supposed to. It’s kind of balancing off right now.”

James snuck into these world championships by posting a qualifying time in a small meet in Spain on Sept. 6, the very last day to become eligible. It was his first race since July 21, 2018 after he missed the 2017 Worlds with the disease.

James is seeded seventh at the world championships with a best time this season 1.02 seconds slower than world leader Michael Norman. But, for what it’s worth, he was faster than Norman and the other favorite, U.S. champion Fred Kerley, in Tuesday’s heats.

James is the lone Olympic 400m medalist entered at worlds. Other champions van Niekerk and LaShawn Merritt have also been sidelined for most of this Olympic cycle.

“Our event is so volatile where there is so much turnover of athletes,” James said, noting he was the only 2012 Olympic finalist to make the 2016 Olympic final. “It shows you how crazy our event is. My aim is to be consistent and not try to compare myself to a lot of the guys.”

James said he’s essentially cured but is on lifetime medication.

“I just have to try to be realistic and know that the next round is going to be even tougher,” he said, looking ahead to the semifinals and, potentially, the final.

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

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Sofia Goggia loses pole, wins race by .01

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ST. MORITZ, Switerland (AP) — An Italian 1-2 edging Mikaela Shiffrin into third place. This movie has been seen before in the women’s World Cup this season.

By the smallest margin, Italy’s Sofia Goggia won a super-G on Saturday and Mikaela Shiffrin was third, which helped extend her overall standings lead.

Goggia was just 0.01 second faster than her teammate Federica Brignone on a sunny, windswept mountain above the high-end resort of St. Moritz.

Shiffrin was only 0.13 behind Goggia for her sixth podium finish in eight World Cup races so far as she seeks a fourth straight overall title.

It was the second time in two weeks that Shiffrin stood looking up at two Italians. It also happened in a giant slalom at Killington, Vt., where Marta Bassino edged Brignone for victory.

“They are all great skiers and they have a really aggressive mindset,” Shiffrin said of her friendly rivalry with the Italy team. “It’s super cool to see.”

Brignone was sitting in the leader’s box when Goggia raced and applauded with hands above her head after seeing her teammate’s time.

“It’s an amazing thing for all the team to share the podium and share happiness,” said Brignone, though acknowledging it hurt to lose by so little.

“It’s one hundredth so it burns. A lot,” she said.

Goggia’s seventh World Cup win was her third in super-G. She also took silver at the biennial world championships in February when Shiffrin won by just 0.02.

Always one of the most flamboyant racers, Goggia seemed at the limit making some turns and lost a ski pole landing a jump near the end.

The 2018 Olympic downhill champion said she had to let the pole go after soaring “too long, too high” at the jump.

Goggia also held nothing back standing atop the podium, loudly and heartily singing her national anthem, known by its opening line of Fratelli d’Italia, with eyes closed.

In a tight race, 10 racers were within one second of the winner. Nicole Schmidhofer, the 2017 World champion on this course, was fourth and there was a three-way tie for sixth.

By placing 10th, Viktoria Rebensburg rose to lead the super-G standings after two races. The German racer is also second overall though her World Cup points total is less than half of Shiffrin’s 532 tally.

“For now, she [Shiffrin] is unbeatable for the overall,” said Brignone, who is third.

Shiffrin won this race last year, and also added victory in the parallel slalom to sweep the weekend series.

Shiffrin later said she will skip Sunday’s parallel event — just the third time she has skipped a tech race since she burst onto the World Cup scene in 2012 — to prepare for a giant slalom in Courchevel, France, on Tuesday and a downhill and combined in Val d’Isere next weekend.

“There are quite a few reasons for this but at the top of the list is that for several years I have been longing to race Val d’Isere but have never been able to because the @fisalpine schedule is always too tough (for those who race in all disciplines),” was posted on Shiffrin’s social media. “But one of my goals this season is to get on that track and to race a little more speed in general so I’m trying to manage energy and focus accordingly!”

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Brittany Bowe breaks record shared with Bonnie Blair, Heather Bergsma

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Brittany Bowe broke a record she shared with Bonnie Blair and Heather Bergsma by winning her seventh straight World Cup 1000m on Saturday in Nagano, Japan.

Bowe clocked 1:14.344, taking the track record from Olympic silver medalist Nao Kodaira and distancing Olympic bronze medalist Miho Takagi and Dutchwoman Sanneke de Neeling by .55.

Bowe, fourth and eighth in the event at her two Olympics, is averaging better than a half-second margin of victory during her streak dating to last season, a significant gap to the rest of the field. She lowered track records in six of her seven wins, plus broke the world record and added a world championships gold.

“I’ve got a lot of losses under my belt. With how sweet the wins are, the losses are just as tough,” Bowe told Dutch broadcaster NOS. “There are some races that I’m not pleased with, and I’d like to be on the top of that 1500m podium. So that one’s keeping me hungry.”

Bowe, a past world champion and former world-record holder at 1500m, last won at that distance in February.

Her latest 1000m victory broke a tie with Blair and Bergsma for the U.S. record for consecutive women’s World Cup 1000m victories, according to schaatsstatistieken.nl. Blair won all six of her World Cup 1000m starts in the 1993-94 Olympic season, while Bergsma took six straight in 2016-17.

Only German Anni Friesinger-Postma has more consecutive World Cup wins at the distance with eight in the 2007-08 season, according to the website. For the men, Shani Davis won 12 straight from 2008-10.

Bowe, a former Florida Atlantic point guard who missed all of 2016-17 with a concussion, is up to 26 career World Cup wins. That’s fifth on the U.S. all-time list behind Blair (69), Davis (58), Dan Jansen (46) and Bergsma (34), according to schaatsstatistieken.nl.

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