Emma Coburn wins Olympic Trials, extending record reign amid absence of distance stars

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Steeplechaser Emma Coburn extended the longest reign in U.S. track and field at an Olympic Trials otherwise marked by the fading of the old guard, especially in women’s distance running.

Coburn, who earned a medal of every color among the 2016 Olympics, 2017 Worlds and 2019 Worlds, won the 3000m steeple in 9:09.41 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, on Thursday night. She qualified for a third Olympics by winning a seventh consecutive U.S. title, the best active streak in the sport, and is joined by Courtney Frerichs and Val Constien.

“It’s 10 years of having a target on your back,” said Coburn, who won her first national title in 2011, “but it’s a challenge that I like to rise up to.”

Coburn’s mom, Annie, was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer in December 2019 that spread to her liver and lungs. Annie is doing well now, has completed 22 rounds of chemotherapy, with more to come, and is in Eugene this week.

“To share this with her and have her be well, it’s more special than winning today and going to Tokyo,” Coburn told Lewis Johnson on NBC, adding later, “She has surpassed all of her doctor’s expectations. She’s a little miracle. She’s a little Energizer Bunny. You wouldn’t know she’s sick. You wouldn’t know that, internally, her body is going through major crisis.”

Frerichs took second to Coburn on Thursday, just as she did at the 2017 Worlds in a historic U.S. one-two. Constien chopped 7.19 seconds off her personal best for third after Leah Falland tripped and fell after clearing a barrier with just under two laps left. In Tokyo, they take on powerful Kenya, led by world record holder Beatrice Chepkoech.

In Rio, Coburn won the U.S.’ first Olympic steeple medal since 1984 (a bronze).

The U.S.’ top finishers from Rio in other women’s distance events failed to qualify for Tokyo — Jenny Simpson was 10th in the 1500m on Monday, Shelby Houlihan missed Trials due to a doping ban that she disputes and Molly Huddle didn’t enter Trials after hip and hamstring pain. None of the marathoners from 2016 made it back, either. The 800m final is still to come.

Olympic Trials continue Friday with men’s finals in the steeple and discus, plus semifinals in the women’s 200m and 800m and men’s 400m hurdles and 1500m.

TRACK AND FIELD TRIALS: Results | TV Schedule

In Thursday’s other final, Jessica Ramsey won the women’s shot put with a personal-best 20.12-meter throw. She now ranks second in the world in this Olympic cycle, trailing two-time world champion Gong Lijao of China.

“I was counted out,” said Ramsey, who was 19th at the 2016 Olympic Trials and 12th at the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships. “I always tell myself I’m No. 1 in everything that I do, and I am a 20-meter thrower.”

Ramsey, who added nearly three feet to her career best, is joined on the Olympic team by 2016 Olympian Raven Saunders and Adelaide Aquilla.

Rio gold medalist Michelle Carter watched the competition from the stands after a June 3 surgery to remove a benign right ankle tumor.

In qualifying action, the most accomplished athlete to fail to advance was 2013 World silver medalist Brenda Martinez in the 800m. Raevyn Rogers and Ajeé Wilson, the 2019 World silver and bronze medalists, and 19-year-old phenom Athing Mu won heats to reach Friday’s semis.

Sean Burrell, who two weeks ago broke the 37-year-old world U20 record in the 400m hurdles, crashed over the eighth hurdle. Burrell was seeded second after winning the NCAA title in that record time at Hayward Field. World silver medalist Rai Benjamin won his heat to make Friday’s semis. Olympic gold medalist Kerron Clement, in scantly racing the last two years, did not meet the qualifying time to enter Trials.

Allyson Felix, who already made the team in the 400m, qualified 10th fastest into Friday’s 200m semis. Felix said her legs were “a little rusty.” Gabby Thomas, who made the 4x100m relay pool, ran the world’s top time since the start of 2020 — a personal-best 21.98.

The 18-year-old Hobbs Kessler won his 1500m heat to reach Friday’s semis, joining Rio Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz.

Kessler, who broke Alan Webb‘s high school 1500m record last month and turned professional this week, could become the second-youngest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner ever after Jim Ryun in 1964.

Rio silver medalist Paul Chelimo won his heat to make Sunday’s 5000m final. Also advancing: Woody Kincaid and Grant Fisher, who went one-two in the 10,000m last Friday.

Tianna Bartoletta and Brittney Reese, the last two Olympic long jump champions, made Saturday’s final.

The 2012 Olympic champion Jenn Suhr and 2016 Olympic silver medalist Sandi Morris were among the 12 qualifiers into Saturday’s pole vault final.

The world’s top three women’s hammer throwers — DeAnna Price, Brooke Andersen and Gwendolyn Berry — were among 12 qualifiers into Saturday’s final.

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Germany opens bobsled worlds with double gold; Kaillie Humphries gets silver

Laura Nolte Bobsled
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Germans Laura Nolte and Johannes Lochner dethroned the reigning Olympic and world champions to open the world bobsled championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, this weekend.

Nolte, the Olympic two-woman champion driver, won the four-run monobob by four tenths of a second over American Kaillie Humphries, who won the first world title in the event in 2021 and the first Olympic title in the event in 2022. Another German, Lisa Buckwitz, took bronze.

In the two-man, Lochner became the first driver to beat countryman Francesco Friedrich in an Olympic or world championships event since 2016, ending Friedrich’s record 12-event streak at global championships between two-man and four-man.

Friedrich, defeated by 49 hundredths, saw his streak of seven consecutive world two-man titles also snapped.

Lochner, 32, won his first outright global title after seven Olympic or world silvers, plus a shared four-man gold with Friedrich in 2017.

Swiss Michael Vogt drove to bronze, one hundredth behind Friedrich. Geoff Gadbois and Martin Christofferson filled the top American sled in 18th.

Americans Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton were the last non-Germans to win a world two-man title in 2012.

Bobsled worlds finish next weekend with the two-woman and four-man events.

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Novak Djokovic wins 10th Australian Open, ties Rafael Nadal for most men’s Slam titles

Novak Djokovic Australian Open
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic climbed into the Rod Laver Arena stands to celebrate his 10th Australian Open championship and record-tying 22nd Grand Slam title Sunday and, after jumping and pumping his fists with his team, he collapsed onto his back, crying.

When he returned to the playing surface, Djokovic sat on his sideline bench, buried his face in a white towel and sobbed some more.

This trip to Australia was far more successful than that of a year ago, when he was deported from the country because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19. And Djokovic accomplished all he could have possibly wanted in his return: He resumed his winning ways at Melbourne Park and made it back to the top of tennis, declaring: “This probably is the, I would say, biggest victory of my life.”

Only briefly challenged in the final, Djokovic was simply better at the most crucial moments and beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5). As a bonus, Djokovic will vault from No. 5 to No. 1 in the ATP rankings, a spot he already has held for more weeks than any other man.

“I want to say this has been one of the most challenging tournaments I’ve ever played in my life, considering the circumstances. Not playing last year; coming back this year,” Djokovic said, wearing a zip-up white jacket with a “22” on his chest. “And I want to thank all the people that made me feel welcome, made me feel comfortable, to be in Melbourne, to be in Australia.”

The 35-year-old from Serbia stretched his unbeaten streak in Melbourne to 28 matches, the longest run there in the Open era, which dates to 1968. He adds trophy No. 10 to the seven from Wimbledon, three from the U.S. Open — where he also was absent last year because of no coronavirus shots — and two from the French Open, to match rival Rafael Nadal for the most by a man.

Only two women — Margaret Court, with 24, and Serena Williams, with 23 — are ahead of him.

This was also the 93rd ATP tour-level title for Djokovic, breaking a tie with Nadal for the fourth-most.

“I would like to thank you for pushing our sport so far,” Tsitsipas told Djokovic.

Djokovic was participating in his 33rd major final, Tsitsipas in his second — and the 24-year-old from Greece also lost the other, at the 2021 French Open, to Djokovic.

On a cool evening under a cloud-filled sky, and with a soundtrack of chants from supporters of both men prompting repeated pleas for quiet from the chair umpire, Djokovic was superior throughout, especially so in the two tiebreakers.

He took a 4-1 lead in the first, then reeled off the last three points. He led 5-0 in the closing tiebreaker and, when it finished, he pointed to his temple before screaming, a prelude to all of the tears.

“Very emotional for us. Very emotional for him,” said Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic. “It’s a great achievement. It was a really tough three weeks for him. He managed to overcome everything.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Tsitsipas was willing to engage in the kind of leg-wearying, lung-searing back-and-forths upon which Djokovic has built his superlative career. How did that work out? Of points lasting at least five strokes, Djokovic won 43, Tsitsipas 30.

Then again, on those rare occasions that Tsitsipas did charge the net, Djokovic often conjured up a passing shot that was too tough to handle.

It’s not as though Tsitsipas played all that poorly, other than a rash of early miscues that seemed to be more a product of tension than anything.

It’s that Djokovic was too unyielding. Too accurate with his strokes, making merely 22 unforced errors, 20 fewer than his foe. Too speedy and flexible chasing shots (other than on one second-set point, when, running to his left, Djokovic took a tumble).

“I did everything possible,” said Tsitsipas, who also would have moved to No. 1 with a victory, replacing Carlos Alcaraz, who sat out the Australian Open with a leg injury.

Perhaps. Yet Djokovic pushes and pushes and pushes some more, until it’s the opponent who is something less than perfect on one swing, either missing or providing an opening to pounce.

That’s what happened when Tsitsipas held his first break point — which was also a set point — while ahead 5-4 in the second and Djokovic serving at 30-40. Might this be a fulcrum? Might Djokovic relent? Might Tsitsipas surge?

Uh, no.

A 15-stroke point concluded with Djokovic smacking a cross-court forehand winner that felt like a statement. Two misses by Tsitsipas followed: A backhand long, a forehand wide. Those felt like capitulation. Even when Tsitsipas actually did break in the third, Djokovic broke right back.

There has been more than forehands and backhands on Djokovic’s mind over the past two weeks.

There was the not-so-small matter of last year’s legal saga — he has alternately acknowledged the whole thing served as a form of motivation but also said the other day, “I’m over it” — and curiosity about the sort of reception he would get when allowed to enter Australia because pandemic restrictions were eased.

He heard a ton of loud support, but also dealt with some persistent heckling while competing, including applause after faults Sunday.

There was the sore left hamstring that has been heavily bandaged for every match — until the final, that is, when only a single piece of beige athletic tape was visible.

And then there was the complicated matter of his father, Srdjan, being filmed with a group of people with Russian flags — one with an image of Vladimir Putin — after Djokovic’s quarterfinal. The tournament banned spectators from carrying flags of Russia or Belarus, saying they would cause disruption because of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Djokovic and his father said it was a misunderstanding; Srdjan thought he was with Serbian fans.

Still, Srdjan Djokovic did not attend his son’s semifinal or the final.

No matter any of it, Djokovic excelled as he so often has.

“He is the greatest,” Tsitsipas said, “that has ever held a tennis racket.”

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