Faith Kipyegon

Joe Kovacs roars with world shot put title by one centimeter

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Before his final throw, U.S. shot putter Joe Kovacs found his coach in the crowd at the world championships Doha. That coach also happened to be his wife, Ashley, who in the last year helped convince Kovacs not to retire.

She reminded him of the goal going into the competition — set a personal best and get onto the podium. Kovacs went back to the circle, lifted the 16-pound ball and prepared to heave.

“I took a big breath,” he said. “But when I put that ball in the neck, I felt everything line up.”

Kovacs recorded that personal best. He moved from fourth place to first. He had launched the joint-fourth-best throw in history — 22.91 meters, or 75 feet, 2 inches — and the farthest in 29 years.

Kovacs, the 2015 World champion who earned silver at the Rio Olympics and 2017 World Championships, beat the reigning Olympic champion Ryan Crouser and reigning world champion Tom Walsh of New Zealand each by one centimeter. All threw farther than the previous world championships record in what was the greatest shot put competition in history.

TRACK WORLDS: Results | TV Schedule

Kovacs, taught the shot put by his mom in a Pennsylvania school parking lot, re-emerged as the world’s best after a rough couple of years. In 2018, he was fifth at the USATF Outdoor Championships. He lost his Nike sponsorship. He wasn’t getting invited to Diamond League meets.

“I was hearing everybody kept trying to tell me that I should be done,” the 30-year-old said. “And I honestly thought maybe I should kind of hang it up.”

He spoke to his wife, a former thrower at Kentucky who has two master’s degrees and now coaches Kovacs and others at Ohio State. They wed last November.

“We said, you know, our goal is through Tokyo,” he said. “Let’s put it all together and let’s go full speed ahead.”

This season, Kovacs was sixth, third, fourth and fifth in Diamond Leagues before placing second at nationals. He was relieved simply to make the world championships team. Crouser, who on April 20 launched the world’s best throw since 1990, and Walsh were still a class above. It was still that way going into the final round on Saturday night. Then Kovacs launched the throw of his life and let out roar after roar before the distance was recorded.

“I’m just proud that I was able to stay in my own head and not watch Ryan and Tom throw so far and get tight,” he said.

In other events Saturday, the U.S. men ended a 12-year gold-medal drought in the 4x100m with an American record. The U.S. women earned bronze. More on the relays here.

Sifan Hassan, who fled from Ethiopia for the Netherlands at age 16 as a refugee, became the first runner to sweep the 10,000m and 1500m at a world championships.

Hassan led after each lap and ran away to win in 3:51.95, the sixth-fastest 1500m ever. She did it days after her coach, Alberto Salazar, was banned four years in a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency case.

An emotional Hassan was vehement that she’s a clean athlete and believes in Salazar. Hassan noted that she was atop the world rankings in the 1500m as far back as 2014, two years before she joined Salazar’s Nike Oregon Project. She also said she knew Salazar was under investigation when she joined the group, but she never saw proof of wrongdoing.

“It was a very hard week for me. I was just so angry. I couldn’t talk to anyone. I just ran all out,” she said on the BBC. “I’ve been so good athlete since 2014. Now people just start talking all (expletive).”

Hassan relegated reigning Olympic and world champion and new mom Faith Kipyegon to silver in a Kenyan record and Gudaf Tsegay to bronze in a time that made her the second-fastest Ethiopian in history.

American Shelby Houlihan took a bittersweet fourth in 3:54.99, smashing Shannon Rowbury‘s American record by 1.3 seconds.

“I wanted a medal. I wanted to win,” Houlihan told Lewis Johnson on Olympic Channel. “But, if I can get an American record, you can kind of walk away happy with that.”

Jenny Simpson, the 2011 World champion and Olympic bronze medalist, was eighth in 3:58.42, her fastest time in three years.

Hellen Obiri repeated as world champion in the 5000m, where Hassan would have been the favorite had she entered. Obiri clocked 14:26.72, leading a Kenyan one-two with Margaret Kipkemboi.

Three Olympic champions were eliminated in qualifying for Sunday finals — Americans Brianna McNeal (100m hurdles) and Brittney Reese (by one centimeter in the long jump) and German Thomas Röhler (javelin).

Both U.S. 4x400m teams won heats to advance to Sunday finals.

NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report from Doha.

MORE: Brianna McNeal DQed from 100m hurdles in first round

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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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Christian Coleman beats Justin Gatlin for the first time; Pre Classic recap

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Christian Coleman used to look up to Justin Gatlin, a fellow former University of Tennessee athlete. But now it’s Coleman who is firmly atop U.S. and world sprinting, consolidating fastest man status by beating the world champion Gatlin for the first time at the Pre Classic on Sunday.

Coleman clocked 9.81 seconds with a trace of headwind, lowering his fastest time in the world this year from 9.85. Gatlin, 37, was strong to take second in 9.87, his first sub-10 since becoming the oldest world champ in 2017, his fastest time since winning the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials and the fastest ever for somebody that old.

“I ask that same question every day I wake up and my muscles hurt,” Gatlin said of defying age. “I get out of bed and am like, how am I doing this? I have a goal set, and I want to go ’til 2020. I want to take my son to the Olympics, at that’ll be the end of my show.”

Coleman is the only man in the world to break 9.85 seconds in 2017, 2018 or 2019, doing so all three years in this Olympic cycle. Quite a rise for a man who was sixth at the Rio Olympic trials.

“Obviously we’re friends,” Coleman said of Gatlin in an interview with Lewis Johnson on NBC. “I’m just happy I’m able to compete against somebody like him.”

The Pre Classic relocated to Stanford, Calif., from its usual home in Eugene, Ore., while Hayward Field undergoes reconstruction ahead of the 2020 Olympic Trials.

Full Pre Classic results are here. The Diamond Leagues moves to Lausanne, Switzerland, for its next meet Friday, featuring Noah Lyles in the 200m. Athletes are preparing for the USATF Outdoor Championships in three weeks, when the top three per event are in line to make the team for the September/October world championships in Doha.

In other events Sunday, Caster Semenya won her 31st straight 800m dating to 2015, clocking 1:55.70 to prevail by a hefty 2.66 seconds over American record holder Ajeé Wilson.

The two-time Olympic champion from South Africa was allowed to race by the Swiss Supreme Court, which ordered her temporarily eligible while she appeals a Court of Arbitration for Sport decision upholding the IAAF’s rule capping testosterone in female events between the 400m and mile.

Semenya was asked whether she thought about going for the 35-year-old world record of 1:53.28 or whether she considered the fact it could be her last 800m given the court’s looming decision. “Not really,” was her response to both questions.

“Flying into the U.S., it’s not easy to run here,” Semenya said. “Other people’s perceptions is not my problem. My problem is to have my shit together.”

Wilson, the world bronze medalist, was glad to see Semenya cleared to race.

“Absolutely I think she should be allowed to run,” she said. “I think everybody should be allowed to participate. The parameters surrounding that, I’m not sure about, but I definitely think she should be able to do what she wants.”

What’s next for Semenya is uncertain. She plans to take four weeks off before resuming her circuit, and will await the final ruling from the Swiss court.

Michael Norman extended an undefeated 400m streak dating to the start of 2018, clocking 44.62 against a field that lacked Olympic champions Wayde van NiekerkKirani James and LaShawn Merritt. Norman, who on April 20 clocked 43.45, said he was coming down with a bit of a cold.

Ivorian Marie-Josee Ta Lou upset two-time Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and NCAA champion Sha’Carri Richardson to win the 100m in 11.02. Fraser-Pryce ran 10.73 nine days earlier to become the fastest mom in history, while Richardson clocked 10.75 three weeks ago for a world junior record.

Nigerian Blessing Okagbare upset the Olympic, world, European and U.S. champions in the 200m in 22.05. Rio gold medalist Elaine Thompson, who was second, remains fastest in the world this year in 22.00.

Rai Benjamin recorded the ninth-fastest 400m hurdles ever, 47.16. Benjamin, who switched representation from Antigua and Barbuda to the U.S. last year, knocked absent Qatari rival Abderrahman Samba (47.27) off the top of the 2019 world rankings.

Kenyan Beatrice Chepkoech ran the fifth-fastest 3000m steeplechase in history. She crossed in 8:55.58, which was 11.26 seconds off her world record from 2018. World champion Emma Coburn showed she’s again a medal contender, beating the other three fastest Kenyans in history for second place in 9:04.90 despite falling in a race for the third time this year.

Vashti Cunningham, the Olympian daughter of retired All Pro quarterback Randall Cunningham, became the eighth U.S. woman to clear two meters in the high jump. But she fell to 0-8 in her career against Russian Mariya Lasitskene, who cleared 2.04.

Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon sprinted past Laura Muir to win the 1500m in her first race since Sept. 1, 2017, following childbirth. Kipyegon clocked 3:59.04, edging Muir by .43 and U.S. champion Shelby Houlihan by .61.

Louisiana-born Swede Mondo Duplantis won in his second pole vault competition since turning pro after his freshman year at LSU. Duplantis cleared 5.93 meters to hand world champion Sam Kendricks his first loss in four Diamond League meets this season.

Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan ran the sixth-fastest women’s 3000m in history in 8:18.49. The time was bettered only by three dubious Chinese athletes between two days in Beijing in September 1993 in the non-Olympic event.

Olympic champ Ryan Crouser was upset in the shot put by Brazilian Darlan Romani who launched 22.61 meters for the best throw in Diamond League history.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

MORE: Eliud Kipchoge’s sub-two marathon bid moved out of London

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