Joe Kovacs revisits epic shot put title, months after career intervention

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Eight months before Joe Kovacs became a world champion again, he was at the center of a career intervention in a kitchen.

It was February 2019. Kovacs, the 2015 World champion and 2016 Olympic silver medalist in the shot put, had dipped down into a college-level meet and lost to an athlete that he coached.

Kovacs threw 19.52 meters, nearly 10 feet shy of his personal best. He failed to break 20 meters at a meet for the first time in four and a half years.

In the kitchen that evening, the two most important women in his life (and his career) voiced openings for him to consider retirement, according to Spikes. They were his mom, Joanna, a youth throwing champion herself who taught her son the shot put in a high school parking lot. And his wife of four months, Ashley, an All-American thrower at Kentucky who had become his latest coach.

“If you want to quit you can, I’m going to support you either way,” Ashley said, according to Kovacs’ essay in Spikes. “But, I don’t really understand why you think you can’t throw far anymore. Either way, this half-in, half-out stuff has to go. I’m tired of looking at it.”

Kovacs, a 5-foot-11, 300-pound licensed pilot, picked himself up. He made the world championships team by placing second at nationals. Still, he went to Doha last autumn ranked sixth in the world for the year.

In the world championships final, New Zealand’s Tom Walsh opened with a 22.90-meter throw, six inches farther than any man in the field had ever recorded. As Kovacs went into the sixth and last round, he was in fourth place but confident.

Kovacs had a pep talk with his coach. “No safe throws. She doesn’t want to see anything that’s not far,” he recounted to NBC Sports’ Leigh Diffey recently. “She doesn’t care if it’s a foul. She wants to see a far throw happen.”

Kovacs committed. He spun one and a half times around the ring and let loose like never before. He roared. Not uncommon for him. The mark: 22.91 meters — one centimeter better than Walsh, a personal best by more than a foot and the world’s best throw in 29 years.

“I left with a PR, which about probably eight months before that, I never thought I would,” he said. “[I thought in February] maybe give up competing. Never even PR ever again.”

Kovacs then found his coach. “I love you,” he told Ashley. “We did it.”

“I had a lot of knowledge about the shot put. I won a world championship and an Olympic medal before this, but I really thought about being done the year before,” he told Diffey. “I made a transition. I moved [from California] to Ohio. I made some changes in my technique that didn’t work out that well, so she really got me back on track when I started to work with her. I didn’t move to her for her to be my coach, but I moved to her because I wanted to marry her and I loved her. But it evolved because she’s a great college coach. She’s had a lot of national championships, and she was watching me every day kind of go downhill.”

Because of what happened in 2019, Kovacs believes he benefits from the Olympic postponement to 2021 compared to other athletes.

“Mentally, I’m probably doing better than most athletes because I’ve been around and I’ve been at a low in my career and I’ve come back from it,” he said. “So I’m not afraid to kind of rebuild things and take some time off.”

MORE: Usain Bolt becomes a father, Jamaican Prime Minister announces

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Asher Hong leads U.S. men’s gymnastics world team selection camp after first day

Asher Hong
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Asher Hong, 18, posted the highest all-around score on the first of two days of competition at the U.S. men’s gymnastics selection camp to determine the last three spots on the team for the world championships that start in three weeks.

Hong, bidding to become the youngest U.S. man to compete at worlds since Danell Leyva in 2009, totaled 84.6 points in Colorado Springs. He edged Colt Walker by one tenth. Tokyo Olympians Shane Wiskus (84.15) and Yul Moldauer (83.95) were next. Full apparatus-by-apparatus scores are here.

Brody Malone, who repeated as U.S. all-around champion at August’s national championships, and runner-up Donnell Whittenburg already clinched spots on the five-man team for worlds in Liverpool, Great Britain. They did not compete Monday, though their results from the first day of nationals are shown in the official scores.

The three remaining team spots will not necessarily go to the top three all-arounders at this week’s camp, which is supposed to be weighed equally with results from August’s nationals. Hong was third at nationals, but if excluding difficulty bonus points from that meet that will not be considered by the committee, would have finished behind Walker and Moldauer in August.

A selection committee is expected to announce the team soon after the second and final day of selection camp competition on Wednesday evening. The committee will look at overall scoring potential for the world team final, where three men go per apparatus, and medal potential in individual events.

Stephen Nedoroscik, who last year became the first American to win a world title on the pommel horse, is trying to make the team solely on that apparatus. He wasn’t at his best at nationals and struggled again on Monday, hurting his chances of displacing an all-arounder for one of the last three spots.

The U.S. has reason to emphasize the team event over individual medals at this year’s worlds. It will clinch an Olympic berth by finishing in the top three, and its medal hopes are boosted by the absence of the Russians who won the Olympic team title. All gymnasts from Belarus and Russia are banned indefinitely from international competition due to the war in Ukraine.

In recent years, the U.S. has been among the nations in the second tier behind China, Japan and Russia, including in Tokyo, where the Americans were fifth.

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Ironman Kona World Championships return for first time in three years, live on Peacock

Ironman Kona World Championship
Ironman
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The Ironman Kona World Championships return after a three-year hiatus with a new format, live on Peacock on Thursday and Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.

The Ironman, held annually in Hawaii since 1978, and in Kailua-Kona since 1981, was not held in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The world championships made a one-time-only stop in St. George, Utah, on May 7 to make up for the 2021 cancellation. The winners were Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, the Tokyo Olympic triathlon champion, and Swiss Daniela Ryf, who bagged her fifth Ironman world title.

Both are entered in Kailua-Kona, where the races are now split between two days — Thursday for the women and Saturday for the men.

An Ironman includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon — totaling 140.6 miles of racing. It takes top triathletes eight hours to complete. Very arguably, it crowns the world’s fittest man and woman.

WATCH LIVE: Ironman Kona, Thursday, 12 p.m. ET — STREAM LINK

Ryf, 35 and a 2008 and 2012 Olympian, can tie retired countrywoman Natascha Badmann for second place on the women’s list at six Ironman world titles. Only Zimbabwean-turned-American Paula Newby-Fraser has more with eight.

The field also includes German Anne Haug, the 2019 Kona champ and only woman other than Ryf to win since 2015. Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay, the Kona runner-up in 2017, 2018 and 2019, returns after missing the St. George event due to a stress fracture in her hip.

Blummenfelt, 28 and in his Kona debut, will try to become the youngest male champion in Kona since German Normann Stadler in 2005. His top challengers include countryman Gustav Iden, the two-time reigning Half Ironman world champion, and German Patrick Lange, the 2017 and 2018 Ironman Kona winner.

Also racing Saturday is Dallas Clark, a retired All-Pro NFL tight end with the Indianapolis Colts, and Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 champion who completed the 2011 Kona Ironman in 12 hours, 52 minutes, 40 seconds.

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