Grant Holloway adds 110m hurdles title to generational worlds for U.S. male sprinters

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U.S. men’s sprinting, cast into the shadows by Usain Bolt the previous decade, is back on the throne.

Grant Holloway, 21, became the third American sprinter age 23 or younger to win a world title this week, taking the 110m hurdles in Doha in 13.10 seconds on Wednesday. He came through after the U.S. failed to earn a 110m hurdles medal at the Olympics for the first time in 2016 and at worlds for the first time in 2017.

Holloway’s championship followed 23-year-old Christian Coleman winning the 100m on Sunday and 22-year-old Noah Lyles taking the 200m on Tuesday. Rai Benjamin, 22, grabbed silver in the 400m hurdles. Fred Kerley, 24, is the new favorite in Friday’s 400m final after Michael Norman, 21 and fastest in the world this year, bowed out in Wednesday’s semifinals with an injury.

All this after the U.S. earned two of 10 available men’s individual sprint gold medals between the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and four out of 15 when including the 2008 Beijing Games. Bolt earned six individual golds by himself among those three Games.

But Bolt is retired. The Jamaican pipeline is dry. A new U.S. generation arrived with perfect timing.

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Take Holloway, who spurned SEC football offers to run track at Florida.

“I sat down with parents and asked if I wanted to be NFL or Olympian and my heart was to be an Olympian,” he said, according to Athletics Weekly. “American football is very unforgiving on the body. Do you want to walk at 30? Or be in a wheelchair at 35?”

He went on to capture NCAA 110m hurdles titles as a freshman, sophomore and junior, breaking Renaldo Nehemiah‘s 40-year-old collegiate record this past season. He then turned pro. While most NCAA athletes fail to extend their form into the world championships, especially hard with worlds so late this season, Holloway managed to peak twice.

Holloway ran the world’s fastest time this year at NCAAs, a 12.98 on June 7. His best time in his three meets between NCAAs and worlds was 13.16. He was runner-up at USATF Outdoors and sixth in his Diamond League debut.

“Everybody counted me out coming into this meet because I’ve been off my game for two months now,” Holloway, the Virginia son of a retired Naval officer and school teacher, told Lewis Johnson on NBCSN. “I just sucked. I just ran like s—.”

But in Doha, Holloway was back in form. Before the final, his coach in Gainesville, Mike Holloway, told him, “See you in 12 seconds.”

It wasn’t quite that fast, but Holloway beat a strong field that included the reigning Olympic and world champion Omar McLeod of Jamaica, who stumbled to last place after hitting a hurdle. Jamaican male sprinters are likely to leave an Olympics or worlds without a gold medal for the first time since 2007.

McLeod, going into the last hurdle, fell into the lane of Orlando Ortega, getting disqualified and likely costing the Spaniard a medal (but not the gold). Instead, Russian Sergey Shubenkov took silver (13.15) and Frenchman Pascal Martinod-Lagarde the bronze (13.18). McLeod was off kilter. He felt a hamstring tweak in warm-up, then it grabbed after the first hurdle.

“[Ortega] was upset,” McLeod said. “I was very upset, too. I didn’t want to cause any commotion or whatever, but I’m very, very sorry.”

In other finals Wednesday, Brit Dina Asher-Smith dominated an otherwise weak 200m final, clocking a national record 21.89 seconds. American Brittany Brown took silver in a personal best 22.22, one year after failing to make the NCAA Championships final. This world final included none of the reigning Olympic or world medalists.

Worlds continue Thursday with the women’s 400m final, featuring massive favorite Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas, and the conclusion of the heptathlon and decathlon.

Also Wednesday, Olympic champion and world-record holder Dalilah Muhammad was second-fastest in the 400m hurdles semifinals to fellow American Sydney McLaughlin, the 20-year-old phenom who turned pro after one college season. That final is Friday.

In the decathlon, world-record holder Kevin Mayer of France is in third place after day one, trailing Canadian Damian Warner by 30 points.

Brit Katarina Johnson-Thompson leads Olympic and world champion Nafi Thiam by 96 points after the first day of the heptathlon. Thiam also ranked second after day one in Rio and at the 2017 Worlds, coming back to win each title.

MORE: Usain Bolt’s Instagram story appears to jab at Noah Lyles

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Lin Dan, badminton legend, retires: ‘It is very difficult to say goodbye’

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Lin Dan, arguably the greatest badminton player in history, announced retirement Saturday, citing “pain and injuries” in bowing out a year before the postponed Tokyo Olympics.

“I have been with the national team from 2000 to 2020, and it is very difficult to say goodbye,” 36-year-old Lin wrote to his four million Weibo fans, according to Badminton World Federation (BWF) translation. “Pain and injuries no longer allow me to fight with my teammates. I have gratitude, a heavy heart and unwillingness.”

Lin, nicknamed “Super Dan,” won Olympic singles titles in 2008 and 2012, plus five individual world titles. It’s the greatest resume for any badminton player from China, which owns twice as many medals as any other nation in the sport that debuted at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

He competed at the last four Olympics, won the sport’s Super Grand Slam (nine major titles) and had his own wax figure at Madame Tussauds in Shanghai.

Lin’s outbursts on and off the court led to some calling him the John McEnroe of badminton, but he is revered. In 2015, he was the second athlete on Forbes China‘s most popular celebrities list behind tennis player Li Na.

Lin’s pursuit of a fifth Olympics in Tokyo was looking out of reach. He dropped to No. 26 in the Olympic qualifying rankings, trailing four countrymen, including No. 5 Chen Long (Rio Olympic champion) and No. 11 Shi Yuqi (2018 World silver medalist). A nation can qualify a maximum of two individual players per gender for the Games.

“From where came his mastery? In short, his prowess was essentially due to the completeness of his game – in skill, physical ability and mental strength,” the BWF wrote in a press release. “Such was his craft that even well into his 30s, normally considered an advanced age for men’s singles, he could outplay younger and fitter opponents.”

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

MORE: Who is China’s greatest Olympian?

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MyKayla Skinner’s motivation for Tokyo: her Rio Olympic experience

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MyKayla Skinner remembers the little room at the SAP Center in San Jose. She remembers the wait, somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes.

After the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics Trials, the competitors (14 total performed) assembled while a selection committee convened in another space.

The committee finalized the five-woman Olympic team (plus three alternates), marched into the athletes’ room and delivered the verdict.

“They say the first four names, and then there’s that one spot left,” Skinner recalled. “I’m like, is it going to be me? You’re so tense just waiting there. All of us holding each other’s hands in the room. We’re all sitting there. It’s just, like, frozen dead silent. Then they say that fifth spot.”

Skinner doesn’t remember who was the fifth name. Just that it wasn’t her.

“I just broke down crying,” she said in a recent interview. “All that hard work I put in still wasn’t good enough. Even though it was. It’s just who they needed for the team.”

Skinner placed fourth in the all-around at those Olympic Trials, the highest finisher who was not named to the Olympic team. She was one of three alternates. If the Olympic team was chosen by all-around standings, a selection committee would not be necessary. Instead, gymnasts are puzzle pieces, chosen as who best fits the Olympic format: three gymnasts per apparatus in the team final and up to two per nation per individual final.

Skinner’s mind raced while she waited for the committee’s decision. She eventually settled on a gut feeling, that she would not make the team.

“I thought that it should be enough, but at the same I didn’t think that it would be,” said Lisa Spini, Skinner’s coach at Desert Lights Gymnastics in Chandler, Arizona. “I thought the team was already decided before the Olympic Trials.”

Spini said it was her toughest night as a gymnastics coach.

“Being an alternate is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in gymnastics,” said Skinner, who traveled to Brazil and, with fellow alternates Ashton Locklear and Ragan Smith, trained separately from the Olympic team. “The whole time I was in Rio, I probably cried every single night

“The Olympics should be something so special, but I feel like it was definitely miserable at times. It was really hard to enjoy being an alternate. With this comeback, that has pushed me so hard just because I was so close.”

You may have read about Skinner back in the spring, after the Tokyo Olympics were postponed to 2021.

It’s a devastating delay for a female gymnast, whose peak often lasts for one Olympic cycle (sometimes even shorter). Skinner is an exception, excelling for the better part of a decade on different levels.

She made her first world championships team in 2014. After Rio, she matriculated at the University of Utah, where she was twice an NCAA all-around runner-up and hit an NCAA record 161 straight routines without a fall. In 2019, she decided to come back to international competition — for an Olympic run — with one year left of NCAA gymnastics.

She is 23, the oldest of the 16-woman U.S. national team. She is trying to become the oldest woman to make a U.S. Olympic gymnastics team since 2004. And the first with NCAA experience to do so since Alicia Sacramone in 2008.

“The reason why a lot of college gymnasts couldn’t come back and do it is they’ve been so injured over the years,” Spini said. “Their body wouldn’t hold up. She’s been really lucky that way.”

Skinner could have easily followed the path of so many other stars who signaled the end of an elite career by going to college, where training and routines are less demanding.

She questioned herself often after the Tokyo postponement whether it was worth it to return to elite training. The Olympic team event roster size has been cut from five to four. Simone Biles is an overwhelming favorite to earn one spot. In the face of those odds, Skinner can’t shake a memory from Rio.

“I just go back to the moment of when I was sitting in the stands,” watching the Final Five earn gold, Skinner said. “I was so close to making the team. This has been my dream ever since I went to Desert Lights when I was 12.”

Skinner’s comeback is already a success. Last year, on three months of elite training, she placed eighth at the U.S. Championships. She was convinced to accept an invitation to the world championships selection camp, where six women would make the traveling team (one later named an alternate).

Like in 2016, Skinner placed fourth in the all-around competition before the roster was chosen.

Again, the gymnasts gathered for the announcement. This time, Skinner made the cut as the sixth woman named. Biles, the other 20-something at the camp and a friend, jumped in excitement.

The team traveled to Germany in late September. After training, one woman had to be designated the alternate. High performance team coordinator Tom Forster took Skinner aside one day on the way to lunch. She knew what was coming and broke down in tears, flashing back to 2016.

“Simone was like, hey, let’s go to the bathroom. She helped talk me through it and helped me calm down and definitely made me a feel a lot better,” said Skinner, who supported Biles and the U.S. team that competed in Stuttgart. She then wed Jonas Harmer in November and decided what must be done to make the Olympic team.

“We’re going to try to add in some big skills, which will put her difficulty level, probably, second only to Simone,” Spini said.

Skinner is documenting her last year-plus in elite gymnastics on a YouTube channel with 29,000 subscribers. She has been fortunate during the coronavirus pandemic to train at her gym if no more than 10 people were present. Many other gymnasts — and athletes across Olympic sports — spent weeks or months out of their facilities.

“I definitely don’t think I would have been able to have that much time off,” she said. “That’s really hard with gymnastics because you feel like, you take two days off, and it’s like you had a year off.”

One day this spring, Skinner’s mom called, in tears, fearing for her life with an illness that turned out to be the coronavirus. Both of her parents, in their 60s, had it and briefly lost their senses of taste. Her mom had breathing problems, but they recovered.

One night last month, Skinner had a dream about next year’s Olympic Trials. The Final Five all came back to compete, and Skinner was again named an alternate. She woke up. Skinner doesn’t know how she would handle that kind of disappointment in real life, again.

“So it’s kind of scary,” she said. Then Skinner thinks back to Rio, and that burning she felt while watching the Final Five win gold medals.

“This is what I’m supposed to do. This is what I’m meant to do is elite gymnastics,” said Skinner, who was born via life-threatening, early-labor C-section, needing to be revived by doctors. “I think it’s cool that I can have this opportunity to go and push myself one last time so I can reach that end goal.”

MORE: Gymnast Grace McCallum won a coin flip to become world champion

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