Dalilah Muhammad, Sydney McLaughlin take 400m hurdles rivalry to world champs final

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Dalilah Muhammad, the Olympic champion and new world-record holder in the 400m hurdles, keeps an eye on her younger countrywoman, Sydney McLaughlin, who makes her global championships final debut on Friday.

“I’ve started kind of from the bottom, and I’ve really worked my way up,” Muhammad said before the world championships in Doha, “and I think Sydney’s kind of been at the top of her game from the very beginning of her career. I can definitely say that’s our stories. Our paths have definitely been different.”

They will intersect at the biggest stage yet on Friday (2:30 p.m. ET, Olympic Channel) in the most anticipated final of the last weekend of the 10-day worlds.

Muhammad and McLaughlin combine for seven of the world’s eight fastest times this year.

Muhammad, 29, broke a 15-year-old world record by winning the USATF Outdoor Championships in 52.20 seconds on July 28. But Muhammad hasn’t broken 53.5 in any of her other races this year, while McLaughlin has done it three times.

McLaughlin, 20 and the world junior record holder, also beat Muhammad in their two other head-to-heads this season on the Diamond League circuit.

Muhammad said shortly after lowering the world record that she didn’t think it would last long at 52.20 (which she ran two weeks after suffering a mild concussion in a training fall). What’s not clear is whether Muhammad will go even faster, or if McLaughlin is capable of it.

“The field is so deep,” Muhammad said, “and I don’t think I’m even at my best with 52.20.”

Muhammad’s world record, and her career, were testaments to perseverance. She ran unsponsored after being eliminated in the 2012 Olympic trials first round and finishing her USC career. Her parents helped support her — mom Nadirah, a child protection specialist in New York City and dad Askia, a Muslim Chaplain for the New York City Department of Correction and an adjunct professor of Islamic Studies at the New York Theological Seminary.

Then in 2013, Muhammad earned the U.S. title, a world silver medal and a Nike contract. After a quad injury and coaching change, she again rebounded, this time to become an Olympic champion in Rio.

“The gold was so far from my mind; that definitely wasn’t the goal going into 2016,” she said. “I just wanted to make it as a 400m hurdler.”

There’s never been doubt about McLaughlin. In 2016, she became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to compete at an Olympics in 44 years, eliminated in the semifinals at age 17.

She turned pro after her freshman season at Kentucky, signing with Beverly Hills-based WME talent agency, a sign that she wanted to become a star that crosses over beyond track. She’s been impressive enough on the oval.

In 2016, McLaughlin broke 55 seconds for the first time. In 2017, she cracked 54. Last year, she went down to 52.75. She’s still looking for a personal best this season. She may need one on Friday, after posting the fastest times in the first round and the semifinals.

“This season was really great, the way that it progressed,” McLaughlin said. “It wasn’t too up and down. It was really steady. I think it worked, perfect timing for the finals.”

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Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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