Hellen Obiri

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’s fastest mom leads London Diamond League fields; stream schedule

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Jamaican sprinters headline this weekend’s Diamond League meet in London, while most American stars rest up for next week’s USATF Outdoor Championships.

Olympic champions Shelly-Ann Fraser-PryceElaine Thompson and Yohan Blake dot the two-day meet at the 2012 Olympic Stadium. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage each morning at 8:15 and 8:50 ET.

Fraser-Pryce and Thompson, who combined to win the last three Olympic 100m and share the fastest time in the world this year of 10.73 seconds, are in separate events in London.

Fraser-Pryce goes in the 100m against the fastest women from Europe and Africa. Thompson faces a less daunting field in the 200m; she’s the only entrant who has run sub-22.3. They could both double up in the 100m and 200m at the world championships in Doha in two months.

As for Blake, he races after being called out by former training partner Usain Bolt for leaving their shared coach of several years, Glen Mills. Blake is the second-fastest man in history but hasn’t been within two tenths of his personal-best 9.69 in nearly seven years.

Here are the London entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

Saturday
8:15 a.m. — Men’s Long Jump
9:04 — Women’s 400m
9:09 — Women’s Pole Vault
9:13 — Men’s 5000m
9:20 — Women’s Javelin
9:40 — Men’s Triple Jump
9:55 — Men’s 800m
10:06 — Women’s 200m
10:17 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
10:29 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
10:39 — Women’s 1500m
10:50 — Men’s 100m

Sunday
8:50 a.m. — Men’s Discus
9:04 — Men’s 400m
9:20 — Men’s High Jump
9:35 — Women’s 800m
9:40 — Women’s Long Jump
9:45 — Men’s Mile
9:56 — Women’s 5000m
10:19 — Men’s 200m
10:29 — Women’s 400m Hurdles
10:39 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
10:50 — Women’s 100m

Here are five events to watch:

Men’s 800m — Saturday, 9:55 a.m. ET
Perhaps the greatest race in history came on this track at the 2012 London Games — the men’s 800m final won by David Rudisha in a world record. Botswana’s Nijel Amos took silver that day at age 18 to become the fourth-fastest man ever. Amos has not earned a global championship medal since, but last Friday he clocked his fastest 800m since that evening in London. Here, he faces the next-fastest man in the world this year, Kenyan Ferguson Rotich, and the fastest man of 2017 and 2018, Kenyan Emmanuel Korir.

Men’s 100m — Saturday, 10:50 a.m. ET
Blake hasn’t raced a Diamond League this season and last won on this stage in 2017. Here, he gets an opportunity with the world’s fastest men — all Americans — sitting out. Andre De Grasse, who like Blake has been slowed by leg injuries, is the other marquee name, but he hasn’t broken 10 seconds in 13 tries since taking bronze in Rio, according to Tilastopaja.org.

Men’s Discus — Sunday, 8:50 a.m. ET
Perhaps the deepest field of the meet with the Olympic and world gold and silver medalists and the top three in the world this year. The favorite has to be Swede Daniel Ståhl, who takes up nine of the first 11 spots on the 2019 top list. Ståhl broke the Swedish record three weeks ago with the world’s top throw in 11 years.

Women’s 5000m — Sunday, 9:56 a.m. ET
Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan follows up her world record in the mile (4:12.33) from the last Diamond League stop in Monaco. Hassan was primarily a 1500m runner through the Rio Olympics (where she was fifth) but since added 5000m work. She faces the ultimate test here in world champion Hellen Obiri, the only woman who has been faster over the last two years.

Women’s 100m — Sunday, 10:50 a.m. ET
Fraser-Pryce owns fond memories at this track, though she missed the 2017 World Championships in London due to childbirth. She won her second Olympic 100m in London in 2012 and scored her first post-baby Diamond League win here last summer. Fraser-Pryce has a chance to become the third woman to break 10.75 three times in one year, joining Florence Griffith-Joyner (1988) and Marion Jones (1998). She could get the necessary push from Ivorian Marie-Josee Ta Lou and Brit Dina Asher-Smith, the fastest in the world in 2018.

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MORE: Olympic champions, world-record holder to miss USATF Outdoor Champs

Michael Norman leads young phenoms starring in Stockholm

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Michael Norman is 21 years old. Dina Asher-Smith and Timothy Cheruiyot are each 23. All are running like Olympic gold-medal favorites and showed why at a Diamond League stop in chilly Stockholm on Thursday.

Norman, who turned pro after his sophomore season at USC last year, took the 400m in 44.53 seconds, winning by six tenths over fellow Trojan Rai Benjamin. Norman was actually disappointed with the time, given he clocked 43.45, the sixth-fastest ever, on April 20.

“Today was challenging, both mentally and physically, and there’s a lot of things I need to work on,” Norman said, according to meet organizers. “Need to work on the second part of the race still, and I’ll readjust and reevaluate as I go.”

The Diamond League moves to Rome next Thursday, when Norman is scheduled to race Noah Lyles at 200m.

Lyles and Norman went fourth and fifth in the 200m at the 2016 Olympic Trials, when they were coming off senior seasons in high school. But the 200m is Lyles’ primary event, while Norman has become the Olympic 400m favorite with world-record holder Wayde van Niekerk out injured most of the last two years. Lyles and Norman likely will not go head to head at the world championships in Doha in four months.

STOCKHOLM: Full Results

In other events Thursday, the Brit Asher-Smith crushed a loaded 200m in 22.18 seconds, the world’s fastest of 2019. Olympic champ Elaine Thompson of Jamaica was second (22.66), followed by Dutch world champion Dafne Schippers (22.78). U.S. champion Jenna Prandini was fifth (23.09).

“I didn’t expect to run that kind of time as it is quite cold out and late at night,” Asher-Smith said.

She consolidated favorite status for worlds. The world’s other best half-lapper, Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas, is expected to stick to the 400m in Doha given the two events overlap.

The Kenyan Cheruiyot won a deep 1500m in 3:35.79. Norwegian 18-year-old Jakob Ingebrigtsen, the youngest sub-four-minute miler ever, took third in 3:37.30 in the same time to the hundredth as runner-up Ayanleh Souleiman. Cheruiyot has been battling countryman Elijah Manangoi for 1500m supremacy the last two years, but Manangoi ended up 10th in Stockholm.

Cuban phenom Juan Miguel Echevarria took second in the long jump at 8.12 meters, one year after nearly jumping out of the pit in Stockholm. Echevarria, a 20-year-old who has battled a foot injury, leaped a wind-aided 8.83 meters a year ago and a wind-aided 8.92 in March. The latter made Echevarria the No. 2 jumper in history in all conditions, trailing only world-record holder Mike Powell.

Olympic champion Jeff Henderson was third and world champion Luvo Manyonga fourth.

Ajeé Wilson took the women’s 800m in 2:00.87, the slowest winning time in a Diamond League points race since 2012. That’s more notable given it’s the first top-level 800m since the IAAF’s testosterone cap that is keeping all three Olympic medalists out — Caster Semenya, Francine Niyonsaba and Margaret Wambui.

World-record holder Kendra Harrison won the 100m hurdles in 12.52, edging countrywoman Sharika Nelvis by .17. Harrison is tuning up for what could be a worlds showdown with the last two Olympic champions, Brianna McNeal and Sally Pearson.

World champion Hellen Obiri of Kenya got clipped and fell with one kilometer to go in the 5000m. She finished 12th and limped off, snapping a year-long win streak in the event.

Olympic and world champion Sandra Perkovic was a shocking fifth in the discus, the Croat’s first time off a podium since returning from a six-month doping ban in 2011, according to Tilastopaja.org.

World champ Sam Kendricks won the pole vault with a 5.72-meter clearance. The field lacked his biggest rivals, Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie and Swede Mondo Duplantis.

MORE: Matthew Boling, high school track phenom, chooses summer meets

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