Beatrice Chepkoech

Karsten Warholm wins world 400m hurdles title; Rai Benjamin nearly scratches

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It was going to take a superhuman effort to break the oldest world record in men’s track. Karsten Warholm was ready to go the distance, so much so that he felt his heart stopping during the marquee event at the world championships in Doha on Monday night.

Warholm, a fiery Norwegian, repeated as world champion in the 400m hurdles, an event that just a few years ago was an also-ran on the program. He clocked 47.42 seconds, the fastest time at worlds in 14 years, but disappointingly slow for a race where the second-, third- and fourth-fastest men in history chased a 27-year-old world record of 46.78.

“Actually, I felt my heart was going to stop,” Warholm said on the BBC after celebrating by wearing a viking helmet, as he did in 2017. “I had pain in my chest, like, I’m going to die, but it’s going to be worth it. Here I am, world champion, and I’m not dead, either.”

TRACK WORLDS: Results | TV Schedule

The 400m hurdles final was given the same showcase treatment awarded the men’s and women’s 100m finals the previous two nights. Partly, perhaps mostly, because of the presence of host-nation star Abderrahman Samba, splashed on newspaper front pages.

But it was deserved beyond that. In the last 16 months, Warholm, Samba and American Rai Benjamin combined to clock five of the nine fastest times in history, pushing Edwin Moses from the second-fastest man ever to No. 5. Only Kevin Young ran faster, at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

When all three men reached Monday’s final, the showdown was on. Young, after years largely away from the sport’s headlines, conducted several interviews this season on the prospect of ceding the world record. But what few knew was that two of the three stars, Benjamin and Samba, didn’t even know if they’d be able to race this week.

Both revealed as much in interviews, Benjamin after taking silver in 47.66 and Samba after rallying for bronze in 48.03. Before worlds, Samba had not cleared hurdles in competition since May 18 due to an unspecified injury.

“Two days ago I wasn’t sure whether to compete or not,” he said, according to the IAAF, “so to make the podium is amazing.”

Benjamin’s problem: he fell while clearing hurdles in training a few days before flying to Doha, he told Lewis Johnson on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA immediately after the final. He underwent an X-Ray and an MRI and was found to have a heel bone bruise. He spent a few days on crutches. Two nights before the first round, his coach, 1992 Olympic 400m champion Quincy Watts, told him that he looked terrible and was considering pulling him from the meet.

“I just broke down,” said Benjamin, who represented Antigua and Barbuda before being cleared to sprint for the U.S., his birth nation, a year ago. “I took it round by round, sucked it up. I’m just so grateful I came out with a silver medal. … Wish it was gold, but the circumstances weren’t in my favor.”

The 400m hurdles was once an also-ran in the sport. It always led off Diamond League programs, more than an hour before the premier sprints. The winning time in Rio was the slowest for an Olympic final since 1984. Warholm’s winning time two years ago (in the rain) was the slowest in world championships history.

Now its momentum should carry into 2020, assuming Benjamin and Samba get back to full strength. Samba is the oldest of Monday’s medalists, having turned 24 years old on Sept. 5. Warholm, as much emotion as he emits before and after races, said he wasn’t too sure about his prospects going into the final. Then there’s Benjamin, who started the 400m hurdles renaissance by clocking 47.02 at the 2018 NCAA Championships. He believes it’s not finished yet.

“If I stay healthy,” he said, “It’s going to be scary.”

Worlds continue Tuesday, headlined by Noah Lyles chasing legends in the 200m final.

The U.S. picked up five total silver or bronze medals on Monday, including Vashti Cunningham‘s first Olympic or world outdoor medal in the high jump. The daughter of retired NFL All-Pro quarterback Randall Cunningham took bronze, equaling her personal-best clearance of 2.00 meters. Russian Mariya Lasitskene three-peated as world champion by clearing 2.04.

World-record holder Beatrice Chepkoech denied American Emma Coburn a repeat world title in the 3000m steeplechase, running away from the field in 8:57.84. Coburn earned her third straight global championship medal, this time silver in a personal-best 9:02.35.

Muktar Edris was the surprise 5000m champion, even though he was the defending champ. Edris, fifth with a lap to go, passed a gassed Norwegian 19-year-old Jakob Ingebrigtsen and led an Ethiopian one-two with Selemon Barega in 12:58.85. Edris, who upset Mo Farah in for the 2017 World title, had finished 11th and 18th in his two Diamond League races this season.

Another shock came in the women’s 800m. American Ajee Wilson was the clear favorite in the absence of all three Rio Olympic medalists, including Caster Semenya, who are impacted by the IAAF’s new testosterone rule. Wilson led for the first 700 meters but dropped to third in the final stretch. Ugandan Halimah Nakaayi broke through for the win in a national record 1:58.04, holding off charging American Raevyn Rogers by .14. Nakaayi, who failed to get out of the semifinals at the 2016 Olympics and 2017 Worlds, came to Doha ranked 22nd in the world this year.

In non-final action Monday, U.S. 110m hurdles champion Daniel Roberts was disqualified for clipping a hurdle in an adjacent lane in his first-round win. The semifinals, featuring Olympic champion Omar McLeod of Jamaica and Americans Grant Holloway and Devon Allen, and final are Wednesday.

Brit Dina Asher-Smith led the qualifiers into Tuesday’s 200m semifinals, one day after earning 100m silver. She is one of the few stars left in the event. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Dafne Schippers, who combined for the last three world titles, withdrew before the heats. The world’s fastest woman this year, Bahamian Shaunae Miller-Uibo, did not enter the 200m because it conflicts with her primary event, the 400m.

Miller-Uibo won her 400m first-round heat on Monday in 51.30 seconds. She is a massive favorite, having not lost an individual race at any distance in two years. All four Americans also advanced to Tuesday’s semifinals, including defending world champion Phyllis Francis.

MORE: Top 400m runner forced to 200m at worlds due to testosterone rule

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World track and field championships: 5 women’s events to watch

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Five women’s events to watch at the world track and field championships that begin Friday in Doha, airing live daily on NBC Sports (TV/stream schedule here) …

100m (Final: Sunday)
2016 Olympics: Elaine Thompson
(10.71), Tori Bowie (10.83), Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (10.86)
2017 Worlds: Tori Bowie (10.85), Marie-Josee Ta Lou (10.86), Dafne Schippers (10.96)
2019 Rankings: Elaine Thompson (10.73), Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (10.73), Sha’Carri Richardson (10.75)

Appears to be a Jamaican battle between Thompson and Fraser-Pryce, who combined to win the last three Olympic titles. With Richardson failing to make the U.S. team, no other woman in the field has broken 10.88 this year.

Thompson was shockingly fifth at the last worlds but hasn’t missed a podium in any other 100m in the last three years. She’s on a five-meet win streak. Fraser-Pryce, a 32-year-old mom, would be the oldest Olympic or world champion in the history of this event. The U.S. is in danger of failing to earn a world medal in this event for the first time since 2001, when Marion Jones was DQed for doping.

Pole Vault (Final: Sunday)
2016 Olympics: Katerina Stefanidi
(4.85), Sandi Morris (4.85), Eliza McCartney (4.80)
2017 Worlds: Katerina Stefanidi (4.91), Sandi Morris (4.75), Robeilys Peinado/Yarisley Silva (4.65)
2019 Rankings: Jenn Suhr (4.91), Anzhelika Sidorova (4.86), Eliza McCartney/Sandi Morris (4.85)

Suhr, 37, could become the oldest world champion in the event, seven years after becoming the oldest Olympic champion. But her world-leading clearance for the year was back in March, and she was seventh at the Diamond League Final three weeks ago.

The Greek Stefanidi and Russian Sidorova have the momentum, trading wins in four of the last five Diamond Leagues this summer. Morris must bounce back from a rough August and September, capped by placing eighth in the Diamond League Final.

3000m Steeplechase (Final: Monday)
2016 Olympics: Ruth Jebet
(8:59.75), Hyvin Kiyeng (9:07.12), Emma Coburn (9:07.63)
2017 Worlds: Emma Coburn
(9:02.58), Courtney Frerichs (9:03.77), Hyvin Kiyeng (9:04.03)
2019 Rankings: Beatrice Chepkoech (8:55.58), Norah Jeruto (9:03.71), Hyvin Kiyeng (9:03.83)

Coburn and Frerichs pulled off a shocking U.S. one-two back in 2017, taking a combined 20 seconds off their personal bests to defeat the stongest field in the event’s history. They’re still underdogs this year.

Since that night in London, neither Coburn nor Frerichs has won a steeplechase outside of nationals. Kenya’s four entries include three of the six fastest women in history, led by Chepkoech, whose world record (8:44.32) is 16.53 seconds faster than Frerichs’ American record. Two years ago, Chepkoech momentarily forgot the first water jump and had to retrace her steps and ultimately placed fourth.

400m Hurdles (Final: Friday, Oct. 4)
2016 Olympics: Dalilah Muhammad
(53.13), Sara Petersen (53.55), Ashley Spencer (53.72)
2017 Worlds: Kori Carter (53.07), Dalilah Muhammad (53.50), Ristananna Tracey (53.74)
2019 Rankings: Dalilah Muhammad (52.20), Sydney McLaughlin (52.85), Ashley Spencer (53.11)

The only female track event where an American tops the world rankings: Olympic champion Muhammad, who broke a 15-year-old world record at the USATF Outdoor Championships.

The U.S. actually boasts the four fastest in the world this year, including 20-year-old phenom McLaughlin, who has beaten Muhammad twice in their three head-to-heads this season. McLaughlin, who in Rio became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to compete at an Olympics in 44 years, is looking to make her first Olympic or world final.

1500m (Final: Saturday, Oct. 5)
2016 Olympics: Faith Kipyegon
(4:08.92), Genzebe Dibaba (4:10.27), Jenny Simpson (4:10.53)
2017 Worlds: Faith Kipyegon (4:02.59), Jenny Simpson (4:02.76), Caster Semenya (4:02.90)
2019 Rankings: Sifan Hassan (3:55.30), Genzebe Dibaba (3:55.47), Laura Muir (3:56.73)

A testament to this event’s depth that it’s still one of the headliners despite lacking Dibaba (right foot injury), Semenya (IAAF’s testosterone cap) and, possibly, Hassan (could focus on the 10,000m and/or 5000m).

All that could open the door for an American — either Simpson, eight years on from her breakout world title, or Shelby Houlihan, the Olympic 5000m runner who last year was second-fastest in the world at 1500m. But Kipyegon returned from childbirth to beat Houlihan and Muir at the Pre Classic on June 30.

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TRACK AND FIELD WORLDS: TV Schedule | U.S. Roster

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Noah Lyles overtakes Justin Gatlin for Diamond League 100m title

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Noah Lyles beat Justin Gatlin for the first time, overtaking a struggling 37-year-old in the last 20 meters to win the Diamond League 100m title in Zurich on Thursday.

Lyles, who will not race the 100m at next month’s world championships to focus on the 200m, clocked 9.98 seconds into a .4 meter/second headwind. He remains the second-fastest man in the world this year (and this Olympic cycle) behind Christian Coleman.

“The race was not as fast as I wanted,” said Lyles, who has run 9.86 and went on to perform a song in a closing ceremony with Olympic silver medalist pole vaulter Sandi Morris on Thursday night. “Today was like a world championships final for me.”

Coleman, who has clocked 9.79, 9.81 and 9.82 the last three years, was not in Zurich as he as contests a charge of missing three drug tests that could lead to a suspension.

Gatlin led at about 70 meters before slowing to fourth place in 10.08. He came to Zurich as the world championships favorite with Coleman’s status in limbo, but now the likes of 2012 Olympic silver medalist Yohan Blake (third on Thursday) have to be considered.

The Diamond League season concludes with the second of two finals meets in Brussels on Sept. 6. Lyles is expected to race the 200m.

In other events Thursday, Norwegian Karsten Warholm ran the second-fastest 400m hurdles in history, clocking 46.92 seconds. Only Kevin Young‘s 27-year-old world record of 46.78 was faster. Warholm, the 2017 World champion, outdueled American Rai Benjamin, who ran 46.98 to move into a share of third place on the all-time list.

Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo ran the world’s fastest 200m in four years, winning in 21.74 seconds. The Bahamian is undefeated at all distances for two years but will not race the 200m at worlds because it overlaps with the 400m. The IAAF is reviewing Miller-Uibo’s request to change the 2020 Olympic schedule to better accommodate a 200m/400m double. More on that process here.

With Miller-Uibo absent from the worlds 200m, the favorites are Brit Dina Asher-Smith, who was runner-up in 22.08 on Thursday, and Olympic champion Elaine Thompson of Jamaica, who is ranked second this year at 22.00 and was third in 22.44 in Zurich.

Sydney McLaughlin ran away from world-record holder Dalilah Muhammad in the 400m hurdles. McLaughlin clocked 52.85 to win by 1.01 seconds, while Muhammad was third in 54.13, well her record-breaking 52.20 from the USATF Outdoor Championships last month. Muhammad and McLaughlin are the only women to break 53 seconds this year, making them the clear gold-silver favorites at worlds.

“I’m shocked and amazed,” McLaughlin said, adding that she must improve after hitting two hurdles. “I didn’t expect to come out here and win.”

Donavan Brazier surged past a gassed Nijel Amos to win the 800m in 1:42.70, one tenth off Johnny Gray‘s 34-year-old American record. Brazier, who notched his first Diamond League win in June, is now a gold-medal contender for worlds. No American has earned an Olympic or world title at 800m since Dave Wottle prevailed in a hat in Munich in 1972.

Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Naser won the 400m in 50.24 seconds against a field lacking Miller-Uibo. Naser hasn’t been beaten by anyone other than Miller-Uibo in two years.

World-record holder Beatrice Chepkoech won a 3000m steeplechase that included four of the six fastest women in history, plus reigning world champion Emma Coburn. Chepkoech, whose world record is 8:44.32, won in 9:01.71 to consolidate world championships favorite status. Coburn was 8.3 seconds slower in sixth and faces a difficult task to beat two of the four Kenyans at worlds next month to get back on the podium.

Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan followed up her mile world record from last month by winning the 1500m over a field including world-record holder Genzebe Dibaba. Hassan clocked 3:57.08, well off the world’s fastest time of 2019 that she owns (3:55.30). Hassan has range from 800m through the 10,000m, and it’s unknown what her world championships schedule will be.

American record holder Sam Kendricks won the pole vault over a field that included the world-record holder (Renaud Lavillenie of France) and Rio Olympic champion (Thiago Braz of Brazil). Kendricks, who leads the world this year with a 6.06-meter clearance, needed only to get past 5.93 for his second Diamond League title.

Cuban 21-year-old Juan Miguel Echevarria won the long jump with an 8.65-meter leap, farthest in the world this year.

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