Sydney McLaughlin breaks world record in 400m hurdles at Olympic Trials

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Sydney McLaughlin crushed the 400m hurdles world record to win the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials and supplant now former record holder Dalilah Muhammad as the gold-medal favorite.

On the final night of Trials, world champion Noah Lyles won the 200m, while 17-year-old Erriyon Knighton was third. Knighton, who turned pro in January, is set to become the youngest U.S. male track and field Olympian since miler Jim Ryun in 1964.

Athing Mu, 19, ran the second-fastest women’s 800m in U.S. history. Rio gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz qualified in the 1500m, but 2016 Olympic long jump champ Jeff Henderson failed to qualify.

McLaughlin clocked 51.90 seconds, bettering Rio gold medalist Muhammad’s previous record of 52.16 from the 2019 World Championships. McLaughlin finished second at those worlds in 52.23, making her the second-fastest woman in history at the time.

“I will cherish this for the rest of my life,” said McLaughlin, who was eliminated in the semifinals in Rio (with a cold) at age 17 as the youngest American to compete in track and field at an Olympics since 1972.

McLaughlin covered her mouth and crouched after crossing the finish line and seeing the time inside Hayward Field. Muhammad, who ran in an adjacent lane, was the first athlete to shake her hand and hug her.

“There’s no animosity or hard feelings,” McLaughlin said. “We have to have each other to have these world records.”

ON HER TURF: Step by step to McLaughlin’s world record

In February, McLaughlin announced she changed coaches from 2004 Olympic 100m hurdles champion Joanna Hayes to Bobby Kersee. Kersee, the husband of Jackie Joyner-Kersee, has coached his wife, plus Florence Griffith Joyner and, since 2005, Allyson Felix.

McLaughlin prepared differently this season, doing five 100m hurdles races before her first 400m hurdles three weeks before Trials.

“It’s truly just faith and trusting the process,” McLaughlin told Lewis Johnson on NBCSN. “I’m really happy I chose to go with [Kersee].”

Muhammad, who dealt with a COVID infection and a hamstring injury this year, finished second in 52.42 to make the team on Sunday. As of two years ago, it would have tied the second-fastest time in history. Now it’s the joint sixth-fastest time ever and Muhammad’s third best.

Muhammad, who was so set back this spring that she considered making Trials her first meet of the season, said she saw McLaughlin’s world record coming.

“Makes it exciting for fans, but nerve-racking for me,” she said. “I think there’s more in store for me, and Tokyo will be good for me.”

Anna Cockrell, who won the NCAA 100m hurdles and 400m hurdles titles earlier this month, was third in 53.70.

TRACK AND FIELD TRIALS: Results | U.S. Olympic Roster

The evening session was pushed back several hours due to extreme heat (temperatures approaching 110 degrees and nearly 150 degrees on the track).

Heptathlete Tayliah Brooks was one of two athletes wheeled off the track in a chair in the afternoon, according to the NBC broadcast. Brooks was taken via ambulance to a hospital and deemed OK. She was in fourth place after five events and did not start the sixth event, the javelin, which was completed in the afternoon before the evening session was delayed.

Brooks returned to Hayward Field but was not medically cleared to compete after a medical personnel discussion, according to the broadcast. USA Track and Field announced that she withdrew.

Annie Kunz won the heptathlon with 6,703 points, improving her personal best by 550 points to easily get the Olympic standard. She’s joined on the team by Rio Olympian Kendell Williams and Erica Bougard. Kunz is ranked first in the world this year, and her total would have taken silver at 2019 Worlds.

Lyles took the 200m, one week after not making the team in the 100m. He clocked 19.74 seconds (fastest in the world this year), prevailing by .04 over Kenny Bednarek. Knighton, who broke Usain Bolt‘s U18 record last month and Bolt’s U20 world record on Saturday, lowered his personal best again to 19.84.

No U.S. man or woman made the team in both the 100m and the 200m, marking the first time none will double at an Olympics since 1928, according to Olympedia.org.

Mu won the 800m in the second-fastest time in American history, 1:56.07. Only Ajee’ Wilson has gone faster (1:55.61). Wilson took third, just behind Raevyn Rogers, to make the team. Rogers and Wilson took silver and bronze at the 2019 Worlds.

Mu, who turned pro after her freshman season at Texas A&M, ran the fastest time in the world since the start of 2019, among athletes who will be in Tokyo, to assume Olympic favorite status.

Two-time Olympic champion Caster Semenya of South Africa has gone faster, but she will not race the 800m in Tokyo (and perhaps not any event) due to a new rule requiring her and other runners to reduce her testosterone to compete in the event. Semenya refuses to do so and moved up to the 5000m, where she doesn’t have to reduce testosterone, but hasn’t run an Olympic qualifying time.

Centrowitz made his third Olympics by placing second in the 1500m. Centrowitz was run down by rising Oregon junior Cole Hocker in the final straight. Hocker does not have the Olympic standard, but could get in via world ranking later this week. Another collegian, Notre Dame’s Yared Nuguse, took third.

Henderson failed to make the long jump team, placing sixth. Instead, JuVaughn Harrison is set to become the first U.S. man to compete in the high jump and long jump at the same Olympics since Jim Thorpe in 1912, according to Olympedia. Harrison won both events Sunday and is ranked second in the world in both.

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IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

Thomas Bach
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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

Alyssa Thomas
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If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with more established players — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

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