Nafi Thiam

Salwa Eid Naser wins world 400m title with third-fastest time ever, bold strategy

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Salwa Eid Naser had enough of chasing the towering Shaunae Miller-Uibo in the 400m. The Bahrain sprinter tried something different in, of all races, the world championships final.

“Normally, I chase,” she said. “Today, I wanted to be chased.”

The strategy switch for the biggest race of her life worked. The time: 48.14 seconds, the third-fastest lap in history and the fastest in 34 years.

Naser, a 21-year-old who broke out two years ago with world silver, stunned the favorite and Olympic champion Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas. Miller-Uibo, who petitioned the IAAF to change the 2020 Olympic schedule to accommodate a 200m-400m double, lost for the first time in more than two years at any distance.

Miller-Uibo took silver in a North American record 48.37 seconds. Less than an hour later, Miller-Uibo’s husband, Estonian Maicel Uibo, took silver in the decathlon after going into the 1500m finale surprisingly in the lead.

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In the women’s 400m, Miller-Uibo was followed by three women who lowered personal bests — bronze medalist Shericka Jackson of Jamaica and Americans Wadeline Jonathas and Phyllis Francis, the defending world champion.

The only women who have run faster than Naser, who was born Ebelechukwu Agbapuonwu in Nigeria to a Nigerian mother who sprinted and a Bahraini father, were dubious — East German Marita Koch (47.60) and Czechoslovakia’s Jarmila Kratochvilova (47.99).

But Miller-Uibo was the woman whom Naser chased the last two years — ranking second to her in 2018 and again this season going into Doha.

In fact, Naser’s only two losses since the 2017 Worlds were when she was runner-up to Miller-Uibo, once in 2017 and once in 2018. Naser lowered her national record in both of those defeats, but each time she came off the turn nearly even with the six-inches-taller Miller-Uibo, who powered past her in the final straightaway.

Naser was determined not to be caught in the same position as those two races or as in the 2017 World final, when she was fourth off the turn and passed a stumbling Miller-Uibo and Allyson Felix to grab silver.

This time, Naser made up the stagger on Jonathas in about 100 meters. Then she took aim at Miller-Uibo two lanes to her outside. She gapped her by the time they came around the 300-meter curve and lowered her national record by .94 of a second. Miller-Uibo had to do the chasing, and she ran out of track while still PRing by six tenths.

“Of course it was a surprise,” to beat Miller-Uibo, Naser said. “I already said thank you to [Miller-Uibo] because without her I don’t think I would have gone this fast.”

Miller-Uibo had no comment when asked if she considered Naser the legitimate world-record holder.

“I let her get away from me a little too much, but I got a huge PR so I have to be happy with that,” Miller-Uibo said. “She ran a crazy race.”

In other finals, Brit Katarina Johnson-Thompson dethroned reigning Olympic and world champion Nafi Thiam in the heptathlon. Johnson-Thompson, a former teen prodigy who failed to earn a medal at five previous Olympics and outdoor worlds, broke Jessica Ennis-Hill‘s British record with 6,981 points. Thiam took silver with 6,677.

German 21-year-old Niklas Kaul became the youngest world decathlon champion, moving from 11th after the first day to win with the second-highest day-two total in history (4,527 points). The only man with a better day-two total ever was French world-record holder Kevin Mayer, who withdrew Thursday during the pole vault with a hamstring injury.

The only Olympic decathlon champion who was younger was Bob Mathias, who earned his first of back-to-back titles in 1948 at age 17.

China’s Gong Lijiao repeated as world champion in the shot put, throwing 19.55 meters. Gong was the only woman in the world to throw 20 meters in 2017, 2018 and again this year. U.S. Oympic champion Michelle Carter was ninth.

Worlds continue Friday, highlighted by an American showdown in the women’s 400m hurdles, where a world record could fall.

In Thursday semifinals, favorites Faith Kipyegon of Kenya, Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands and Americans Shelby Houlihan and Jenny Simpson advanced to Saturday’s 1500m final.

Kipyegon, the reigning Olympic and world champion, is coming back from pregnancy. Hassan, who broke the mile world record in July, is attempting an unprecedented 10,000m-1500m double gold.

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

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Grant Holloway adds 110m hurdles title to generational worlds for U.S. male sprinters

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U.S. men’s sprinting, cast into the shadows by Usain Bolt the previous decade, is back on the throne.

Grant Holloway, 21, became the third American sprinter age 23 or younger to win a world title this week, taking the 110m hurdles in Doha in 13.10 seconds on Wednesday. He came through after the U.S. failed to earn a 110m hurdles medal at the Olympics for the first time in 2016 and at worlds for the first time in 2017.

Holloway’s championship followed 23-year-old Christian Coleman winning the 100m on Sunday and 22-year-old Noah Lyles taking the 200m on Tuesday. Rai Benjamin, 22, grabbed silver in the 400m hurdles. Fred Kerley, 24, is the new favorite in Friday’s 400m final after Michael Norman, 21 and fastest in the world this year, bowed out in Wednesday’s semifinals with an injury.

All this after the U.S. earned two of 10 available men’s individual sprint gold medals between the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and four out of 15 when including the 2008 Beijing Games. Bolt earned six individual golds by himself among those three Games.

But Bolt is retired. The Jamaican pipeline is dry. A new U.S. generation arrived with perfect timing.

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Take Holloway, who spurned SEC football offers to run track at Florida.

“I sat down with parents and asked if I wanted to be NFL or Olympian and my heart was to be an Olympian,” he said, according to Athletics Weekly. “American football is very unforgiving on the body. Do you want to walk at 30? Or be in a wheelchair at 35?”

He went on to capture NCAA 110m hurdles titles as a freshman, sophomore and junior, breaking Renaldo Nehemiah‘s 40-year-old collegiate record this past season. He then turned pro. While most NCAA athletes fail to extend their form into the world championships, especially hard with worlds so late this season, Holloway managed to peak twice.

Holloway ran the world’s fastest time this year at NCAAs, a 12.98 on June 7. His best time in his three meets between NCAAs and worlds was 13.16. He was runner-up at USATF Outdoors and sixth in his Diamond League debut.

“Everybody counted me out coming into this meet because I’ve been off my game for two months now,” Holloway, the Virginia son of a retired Naval officer and school teacher, told Lewis Johnson on NBCSN. “I just sucked. I just ran like s—.”

But in Doha, Holloway was back in form. Before the final, his coach in Gainesville, Mike Holloway, told him, “See you in 12 seconds.”

It wasn’t quite that fast, but Holloway beat a strong field that included the reigning Olympic and world champion Omar McLeod of Jamaica, who stumbled to last place after hitting a hurdle. Jamaican male sprinters are likely to leave an Olympics or worlds without a gold medal for the first time since 2007.

McLeod, going into the last hurdle, fell into the lane of Orlando Ortega, getting disqualified and likely costing the Spaniard a medal (but not the gold). Instead, Russian Sergey Shubenkov took silver (13.15) and Frenchman Pascal Martinod-Lagarde the bronze (13.18). McLeod was off kilter following one of his hamstrings grabbed after the first hurdle after he felt it in warm-up.

“[Ortega] was upset,” McLeod said. “I was very upset, too. I didn’t want to cause any commotion or whatever, but I’m very, very sorry.”

In other finals Wednesday, Brit Dina Asher-Smith dominated an otherwise weak 200m final, clocking a national record 21.89 seconds. American Brittany Brown took silver in a personal best 22.22, one year after failing to make the NCAA Championships final. This world final included none of the reigning Olympic or world medalists.

Worlds continue Thursday with the women’s 400m final, featuring massive favorite Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas, and the conclusion of the heptathlon and decathlon.

Also Wednesday, Olympic champion and world-record holder Dalilah Muhammad was second-fastest in the 400m hurdles semifinals to fellow American Sydney McLaughlin, the 20-year-old phenom who turned pro after one college season. That final is Friday.

In the decathlon, world-record holder Kevin Mayer of France is in third place after day one, trailing Canadian Damian Warner by 30 points.

Brit Katarina Johnson-Thompson leads Olympic and world champion Nafi Thiam by 96 points after the first day of the heptathlon. Thiam also ranked second after day one in Rio and at the 2017 Worlds, coming back to win each title.

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Danielle Williams cemented as world No. 1 hurdler in Birmingham

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The 100m hurdles has been one of the U.S.’ deepest events the last several years, but Jamaican Danielle Williams looks like the favorite at the world championships in early October.

Williams, who owns the world’s fastest time this year, easily beat world-record holder Kendra Harrison and Olympic champion Brianna McNeal at a Diamond League meet in Birmingham, Great Britain, on Sunday.

Williams crossed in 12.46 seconds despite hitting her knee on one hurdle, but still two tenths clear of Harrison, whose world record is 12.20. It marked Harrison’s first loss in nine meets this year and the first time a non-American has ever beaten her at a Diamond League stop.

It looked like Williams wouldn’t make it to worlds in Doha when she false started out of the Jamaican Championships. But the final was soon after strangely canceled, and Jamaican media reported last week that Williams, the 2015 World champion who failed to make the Rio Olympics, is eligible to be chosen next month by the federation.

The U.S. had at least the two fastest women in the world each of the previous six years. Then Williams re-emerged with a Jamaican record 12.32 on July 20.

The meet airs Monday on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA at 4 p.m. ET and NBCSN at 7 p.m. ET. The Diamond League moves to Paris on Saturday.

In other events Sunday, Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo overtook Brit Dina Asher-Smith and Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in the 200m in 22.24. Miller-Uibo extended her unbeaten streak to two years across all distances.

It appears Miller-Uibo will not be racing the 200m at worlds, given it overlaps with the 400m. She ranks third in the world this year at the shorter distance, trailing Jamaican Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, who clocked 22.00 on June 23 but was not in Sunday’s field. Miller-Uibo has ranked No. 1 at 400m four straight years.

Yohan Blake won the 100m in 10.07 seconds, holding off Brit Adam Gemili, who had the same time with a 2 meter/second tailwind. Blake, the second-fastest man in history with a personal best of 9.69, hasn’t been the same since suffering a series of leg injuries starting in 2013.

Sunday’s field lacked the world championships favorites — Americans Christian Coleman and Justin Gatlin, who clocked 9.81 and 9.87 on June 30.

Surprise U.S. champion Teahna Daniels placed third in her Diamond League 100m debut, clocking 11.24 seconds. The field lacked world championships favorites Thompson and Fraser-Pryce, who each ran 10.73 at the Jamaican Championships on June 21.

American record holder Ajeé Wilson won an 800m that lacked all three Rio Olympic medalists, who are barred from racing the event due to the IAAF’s new testosterone cap in middle distances. Wilson’s time, 2:00.76, was far off her 2019 world-leading time of 1:57.72 among eligible women.

Olympic and world heptathlon champion Nafi Thiam broke the Belgian long jump record twice, winning with a 6.86-meter leap. That ranks ninth in the world this year. The field lacked the last two Olympic champions, Americans Tianna Bartoletta and Brittney Reese.

A meeting of the last two Olympic pole vault champs went to Rio gold medalist Katerina Stefanidi of Greece, who cleared 4.75 meters in swirling wind. London 2012 champ Jenn Suhr was third but remains No. 1 in the world this year with a 4.91-meter clearance from March 30.

Croatian Sandra Perkovic, the 2012 and 2016 Olympic discus champion, lost her third straight Diamond League meet to start the season as she returns from injury. Perkovic, who placed third behind winner Cuban Yaimé Pérez, had not lost in back-to-back meets since returning from a six-month doping ban in 2011, according to Tilastopaja.org.

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