Emma Coburn

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.”

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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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U.S. athletes fend off early world championship challenges in Doha

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Reigning champions Justin Gatlin, Emma Coburn and Christian Taylor advanced with ease through the early rounds of their title defenses Friday on the first day of track and field’s world championships in Doha, Qatar.

Gatlin comfortably won his heat to advance in 10.06 seconds. The fastest time in the heats belonged to Christian Coleman, who tore through the track to finish in 9.98 seconds despite shutting things down in the last 10 meters. U.S. veteran Mike Rodgers also advanced.

PREVIEW: Coleman, Gatlin and Blake set for 100m showdown

Coburn also advanced with ease, cruising along with a three-runner lead pack in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and wasting little effort down the stretch. Courtney Frerichs, a stunning second to Coburn in 2017, qualified by finishing second in her heat to top-ranked Beatrice Chepkoech of Kenya.

Taylor didn’t hit the automatic qualifying mark in the triple jump but was secure enough in his first-round effort of 16.99 meters to pass on his final jump. Will Claye, who has dueled with friendly rival Taylor many times in recent years, struggled with his first two jumps and qualified with a third effort of 16.97m despite taking off well behind the board. Donald Scott matched Taylor at 16.99m to qualify, also pulling through with a clutch performance in the final round, but fourth American Omar Craddock barely missed out on a tiebreaker.

The most unusual qualification effort belonged to Olympic silver medalist and 2017 bronze medalist Paul Chelimo who showed off a devastating finishing kick in the final few steps of his heat in the men’s 5,000 meters — even with one shoe missing. Hassan Mead also advanced.

Rai Benjamin stayed on track for a likely showdown with Norway’s Karsten Warholm in the men’s 400m hurdles. TJ Holmes also qualified for the next round.

The biggest surprises for U.S. athletes in Friday’s session were the early exits of hammer thrower Brooke Andersen and 800m runner Hanna Green. Andersen only managed a throw of 68.46m, far off her season best of 76.75m that ranks second in the world this year. Green, who is fifth on the season’s best list with a time of 1:58.19, faded to last place in a tightly packed slow heat.

Also in the women’s 800m, Ajee Wilson and Raevyn Rogers cruised to win their heats, and U.S. teammate Ce’Aira Brown advanced from a fast heat. Green and British hopeful Lynsey Sharp were among the surprise non-qualifiers. Reigning champion Caster Semenya is not in Doha because she has refused treatment to lower her testosterone level.

READ: Semenya will not go to Doha to collect belated 2011 medal

In the hammer throw, DeAnna Price needed only one throw to meet the automatic qualifying mark, and Gwen Berry also advanced.

Olympic long jump champion Jeff Henderson needed a strong third jump to qualify and sailed to an 8.12m mark, second only to Cuban star Juan Michael Echevarria. U.S. jumper Steffin McCarter sailed 8.04m to qualify as well.

Other U.S. field event favorites all advanced.

The pole vault trio of Sandi Morris, Katie Nageotte and Jenn Suhr all cleared the automatic qualifying height of 4.60m, though Suhr required a second attempt. They’ll have plenty of company, with 17 athletes clearing the bar.

Vashti Cunningham cleared the automatic qualifying height of 1.94m in the high jump, while teammate Tynita Butts advanced with a personal-best 1.92m. Inika McPherson did not advance.

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

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World track and field championships to open with field stars, hot marathon

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The last track and field world championships under the IAAF name — the world federation has approved a name change to World Athletics — will start Friday in Doha, Qatar at 4:30 p.m. local time (9:30 a.m. Eastern time) with the qualification round of the long jump.

Through the course of the day, top field event starts will be in action, trying to qualify for the finals in their events. Up first is Olympic long jump champion Jeff Henderson, who has had a curious season — his jump of 8.38 meters from April is fourth in the world this year, but he hasn’t been close to that since.

Women’s pole vaulter Jenn Suhr, the 2012 gold medalist, has had a similar season, clearing 4.91 meters in March but struggling the rest of the year. She’s one of three U.S. medal contenders along with Sandi Morris and Katie Nageotte.

One of the best friendly rivalries in sports will resume in men’s triple jump qualification, with Will Claye and Christian Taylor drawn into different groups.

READ: Claye, Taylor have epic duel in Paris

Gwen Berry, a hammer thrower who raised a fist on the Pan Am Games podium to draw attention to social issues this summer, is part of a trio of Americans occupying the top three places on the world performance list this year. DeAnna Price is first on the list, followed by Brooke Andersen. They’ll all be in action trying to avoid stumbling in the qualifying round.

READ: Imboden, Berry protest at Pan Am Games

Other top U.S. athletes going through qualifying rounds Friday include Ajee Wilson in the women’s 800m, Vashti Cunningham in the women’s high jump, Emma Coburn in the women’s steeplechase and Rai Benjamin in the men’s 400m hurdles.

NBCSN will have live coverage of the day’s action from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern, and NBC Sports Gold will stream live coverage of every event over the 10-day meet.

A few hours later (11:59 p.m. local time, 4:59 p.m. ET), the women’s marathon will take place — probably.

The weather in Doha has been a serious concern, and the current forecast calls for 90-degree temperature along with a steamy humidity reading in the mid-70s. Postponement is an option.

Kenya’s Ruth Chepngetich is the favorite after winning the Dubai Marathon in January with the third-fastest time ever — 2:17:08.

The Olympic Channel will carry the race live. NBC Sports Gold will have extended coverage starting at 4:30 p.m. ET.

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