Jenny Simpson

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

Andre De Grasse storms to first Diamond League win in two years

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If Andre De Grasse is to make another Olympic podium push, this summer would be a good time to start surging. The triple Rio Olympic medalist earned his first Diamond League win in two years in Rabat on Sunday.

De Grasse, who suffered season-ending right hamstring injuries the last two summers, won a 200m over world champion Ramil Guliyev of Turkey in 20.19 seconds. It marked De Grasse’s fastest 200m since this meet in 2017, his last individual race before the first of the hamstring problems.

“I am very grateful with the victory but not happy with the time,” De Grasse said, according to meet organizers. “I want to achieve sub-20 seconds.”

De Grasse, the Olympic 100m bronze medalist and 200m silver medalist, must get faster before this fall’s world championships in Doha.

The world’s swiftest 200m men this year are comfortably sub-20 performers — Americans Michael Norman (19.70, though not expected to race the 200m at worlds) and Noah Lyles (19.72) and Nigerian Divine Oduduru (19.73). None of them were in Rabat. De Grasse’s personal best is 19.80 from Rio.

“It is a long process,” De Grasse said. “I am not fully healthy, I still have a lot of work to do to be really back in shape. I want to be back where I was two years ago.”

Full Rabat results are here. The Diamond League next stops in Stanford, Calif., for the Prefontaine Classic, live on NBC on June 30 from 4-6 p.m. ET.

In other Rabat events, world champion Phyllis Francis took fourth in the 400m won by world silver medalist Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain in 50.13 seconds. Naser ranks second in the world this year behind Bahamian Olympic champ Shaunae Miller-Uibo (absent from Rabat), the only woman to beat Naser since the 2017 Worlds.

Francis was fourth in 50.76, ranking her second among Americans this year. Francis has a bye into worlds as a defending champion.

Nigerian veteran Blessing Okagbare took the 100m in 11.05, upsetting world silver and bronze medalists Marie-Josee Ta Lou (second, 11.09) and Dafne Schippers (fifth, 11.32). The race lacked world championships favorites Elaine Thompson and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica, Dina Asher-Smith of Great Britain and American Sha’Carri Richardson, all of whom have easily broken 11 this season.

In the 110m hurdles, Olympic champion Omar McLeod led from the start before hitting the last hurdle and stumbling into 2015 World champion Sergey Shubenkov. Shubenkov fell across the finish line but still won in 13.12, while McLeod was fifth in 13.48. The early world championships favorite appears to be American Grant Holloway, who won the NCAA title in 12.98 and turned pro.

Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba ran the fastest women’s 1500m since August 2016, a 3:55.47 to hold off Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan by .46. Dibaba, who holds the world record of 3:50.07, is undefeated at 1500m since finishing 12th at the 2017 Worlds. Olympic bronze medalist Jenny Simpson was seventh in Rabat in 3:59.83, breaking four minutes for the second time in three seasons.

Botswana’s Nijel Amos edged past Kenyan Emmanuel Korir by .03 in a matchup of the two best 800m runners the two previous seasons. Amos clocked 1:45.57, well off the fastest time in the world this year held by American Donavan Brazier, who was absent from Rabat but beat Amos in Rome two weeks ago. Olympic bronze medalist Clayton Murphy was third in Rabat.

Olympic and world pole vault silver medalist Sandi Morris cleared 4.82 meters for her first Diamond League win since August. The field did not include 2012 Olympic champ Jenn Suhr, who has the world’s best clearance this year of 4.91.

Croatian discus thrower Sandra Perkovic, long one of the most dominant athletes in the sport, lost for the second straight Diamond League meet as she returns from injury.

The double Olympic and double world champion took third with a 64.77-meter effort, trailing Cubans Yaime Perez (68.28) and Denia Caballero (65.94). Perkovic has now lost three straight times dating to last season after going seven straight seasons without back-to-back defeats, according to Tilastopaja.org.

MORE: Why Caster Semenya did not race Rabat

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