Summer track plans take shape for Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, Athing Mu

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The plan is for Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, the Olympic and world champion and world record holder in the 400m hurdles, to race the flat 400m at July’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, then either the flat 400m or 400m hurdles at August’s world championships.

McLaughlin-Levrone’s coach, Bob Kersee, said Thursday that McLaughlin-Levrone will race one individual event at worlds in Budapest as the schedule is not conducive to attempt a 400m-400m hurdles double (400m hurdles heats start 2 hours and 20 minutes before the 400m semifinals).

The plan is to decide between the two individual events after USATF Outdoors, assuming McLaughlin-Levrone qualifies in the 400m by finishing in the top three there.

McLaughlin-Levrone has a bye into the 400m hurdles at worlds as defending champion, meaning she does not have to race the event at USATF Outdoors in Eugene, Oregon, the qualifying meet for worlds in Budapest.

Many athletes with byes race complementary events at USATF Outdoors, which makes the plan for McLaughlin-Levrone to run the flat 400m unsurprising, especially given her comments last year that she wanted to add it to her repertoire without giving up the 400m hurdles.

McLaughlin-Levrone has never raced the flat 400m at a top-level championship meet, but her 400m split in the women’s 4x400m relay at last July’s worlds was the world’s second-fastest in the last 33 years.

Kersee also confirmed an Orange County Register report that McLaughlin-Levrone could race both the mixed-gender 4x400m and the women’s 4x400m at worlds, in addition to her individual event. Kersee also said that another one of his pupils, Olympic and world 800m champion Athing Mu, could do both relays, according to the report.

If that ends up happening, McLaughlin-Levrone and Mu could bid to become the first track and field athlete to win three gold medals at a single worlds since Usain Bolt, who did so in 2009, 2013 and 2015, and the first woman to do so since Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in 2013. The last Americans to do so were Allyson Felix and Tyson Gay in 2007.

McLaughlin-Levrone was due to run the flat 400m at the Los Angeles Grand Prix on May 27, but her agent announced Tuesday that she withdrew due to a coach’s decision. Kersee said McLaughlin-Levrone recently irritated a hamstring, according to the OC Register.

Turning to Mu, Kersee said that the plan is for her to race the 1500m at USATF Outdoors since she has a bye into the 800m at worlds, according to the OC Register.

Mu, 20, said in February that, at some point, she would like to try a 400m-800m double at an Olympics or worlds.

“As long as the schedule permits, and as long as we can manage to get training in that will help with both of those events,” she said then. “Since the last time that has happened was like years and years and years ago (In 1976, Cuban Alberto Juantorena won the Olympic men’s 400m and 800m, running seven times in seven days), I think it’d be cool to kind of bring it back and, I don’t know, change the sport.”

That might not be possible in 2024, when the Olympic schedule has the 800m semifinals, 400m first round and 800m final spread out over a 26-hour stretch.

However, Kersee said that a 2024 Olympic 800m-1500m double is possible for Mu, according to the OC Register.

Those two events originally overlapped on the Olympic schedule, but an updated schedule in January broke them up so that the 1500m first round is the morning after the 800m final.

The Olympic schedule is as accommodating as ever for a possible women’s 400m-400m hurdles double in 2024, though neither Kersee nor McLaughlin-Levrone has addressed it publicly.

For the first time in Olympic history, none of the rounds of those races take place on the same day at the Games. But doing both through the finals would still be a challenge: racing six consecutive days at the Olympics (and a seventh day at the end if adding the 4x400m relay).

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that the current 2024 Olympic schedule had the women’s 800m and 1500m overlapping.

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At the French Open, a Ukrainian mom makes her comeback

Elina Svitolina French Open

Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, once the world’s third-ranked tennis player, is into the French Open third round in her first major tournament since childbirth.

Svitolina, 28, swept 2022 French Open semifinalist Martina Trevisan of Italy, then beat Australian qualifier Storm Hunter 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 to reach the last 32 at Roland Garros. She next plays 56th-ranked Russian Anna Blinkova, who took out the top French player, fifth seed Caroline Garcia, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 on her ninth match point.

Svitolina’s husband, French player Gael Monfils, finished his first-round five-set win after midnight on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. She watched that match on a computer before going to sleep ahead of her 11 a.m. start Wednesday.

“This morning, he told me, ‘I’m coming to your match, so make it worth it,'” she joked on Tennis Channel. “I was like, OK, no pressure.

“I don’t know what he’s doing here now. He should be resting.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Svitolina made at least one major quarterfinal every year from 2017 through 2021, including the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2019. She married Monfils one week before the Tokyo Olympics, then won a singles bronze medal.

Svitolina played her last match before maternity leave on March 24, 2022, one month after Russia invaded her country. She gave birth to daughter Skai on Oct. 15.

Svitolina returned to competition in April. Last week, she won the tournament preceding the French Open, sweeping Blinkova to improve to 17-3 in her career in finals. She’s playing on a protected ranking of 27th after her year absence and, now, on a seven-match win streak.

“It was always in my head the plan to come back, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself, because obviously with the war going on, with the pregnancy, you never know how complicated it will go,” she said. “I’m as strong as I was before, maybe even stronger, because I feel that I can handle the work that I do off the court, and match by match I’m getting better. Also mentally, because mental can influence your physicality, as well.”

Svitolina said she’s motivated by goals to attain before she retires from the sport and to help Ukraine, such as donating her prize money from last week’s title in Strasbourg.

“These moments bring joy to people of Ukraine, to the kids as well, the kids who loved to play tennis before the war, and now maybe they don’t have the opportunity,” she said. “But these moments that can motivate them to look on the bright side and see these good moments and enjoy themselves as much as they can in this horrible situation.”

Svitolina was born in Odesa and has lived in Kharkiv, two cities that have been attacked by Russia.

“I talk a lot with my friends, with my family back in Ukraine, and it’s a horrible thing, but they are used to it now,” she said. “They are used to the alarms that are on. As soon as they hear something, they go to the bomb shelters. Sleepless nights. You know, it’s a terrible thing, but they tell me that now it’s a part of their life, which is very, very sad.”

Svitolina noted that she plays with a flag next to her name — unlike the Russians and Belarusians, who are allowed to play as neutral athletes.

“When I step on the court, I just try to think about the fighting spirit that all of us Ukrainians have and how Ukrainians are fighting for their values, for their freedom in Ukraine,” she said, “and me, I’m fighting here on my own front line.”

Svitolina said that she’s noticed “a lot of rubbish” concerning how tennis is reacting to the war.

“We have to focus on what the main point of what is going on,” she said. “Ukrainian people need help and need support. We are focusing on so many things like empty words, empty things that are not helping the situation, not helping anything.

“I want to invite everyone to focus on helping Ukrainians. That’s the main point of this, to help kids, to help women who lost their husbands because they are at the war, and they are fighting for Ukraine.

“You can donate. Couple of dollars might help and save lives. Or donate your time to something to help people.”

Also Wednesday, 108th-ranked Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis ousted three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 in four and a half hours. Wawrinka’s exit leaves Novak Djokovic as the lone man in the draw who has won the French Open and Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz as the lone men left who have won any major.

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Marcell Jacobs still sidelined, misses another race with Fred Kerley

Marcell Jacobs

Olympic 100m champion Marcell Jacobs of Italy will miss another scheduled clash with world 100m champion Fred Kerley, withdrawing from Friday’s Diamond League meet in Florence.

Jacobs, 28, has not recovered from the nerve pain that forced him out of last Sunday’s Diamond League meet in Rabat, Morocco, according to Italy’s track and field federation.

In his absence, Kerley’s top competition will be fellow American Trayvon Bromell, the world bronze medalist, and Kenyan Ferdinand Omanyala, the world’s fastest man this year at 9.84 seconds. Kerley beat both of them in Rabat.

The Florence Diamond League airs live on Peacock on Friday from 2-4 p.m. ET.

Jacobs has withdrawn from six scheduled head-to-heads with Kerley dating to May 2022 due to a series of health issues since that surprise gold in Tokyo.

Kerley, primarily a 400m sprinter until the Tokyo Olympic year, became the world’s fastest man in Jacobs’ absence. He ran a personal best 9.76 seconds, the world’s best time of 2022, at last June’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Then he led a U.S. sweep of the medals at July’s worlds.

Jacobs’ next scheduled race is a 100m at the Paris Diamond League on June 9. Kerley is not in that field, but world 200m champion Noah Lyles is.

The last time the reigning Olympic and world men’s 100m champions met in a 100m was the 2012 London Olympic final between Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. From 2013 to 2017, Bolt held both titles, then retired in 2017 while remaining reigning Olympic champion until Jacobs’ win in Tokyo, where Kerley took silver.

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