Nia Ali

Donavan Brazier, after another U.S. 800m record, looks to David Rudisha

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NEW YORK — Donavan Brazier lowered the U.S. indoor 800m record again at the Millrose Games, but he’s hoping later this year to achieve a career first: line up in a race with David Rudisha.

Brazier, who won the world outdoor title in 2019 to stamp himself as Tokyo Olympic favorite, clocked 1:44.22 at the Armory in New York City on Saturday. He previously lowered a 26-year-old American record at last year’s Millrose Games, when he ran 1:44.41.

“When I saw the clock going 1:42, 1:43, I was like, oh, I have a chance,” Brazier said Saturday. “To get it by point-two seconds, there’s really not much room for error there.”

Brazier wasn’t the only American record-breaker Saturday. Ajee Wilson lowered her national 800m record from 1:58.60 to 1:58.29. Elle Purrier took down Mary Slaney‘s 37-year-old U.S. indoor mile record, clocking 4:16.85, the world’s second-fastest time in history.

Full Millrose Games results are here.

The indoor season wraps up with the USA Track and Field Indoor Championships in Albuquerque next weekend, airing on NBC Sports. The world indoor championships, traditionally in early March, were postponed due to the coronavirus in host nation China.

Indoor success is fantastic, but in an Olympic year the focus is outdoors. Last Oct. 1, Brazier broke a 34-year-old American outdoor record to become the first U.S. man or woman to win a world 800m title.

It came in the absence of Rudisha, the 2012 and 2016 Olympic champion and world-record holder who hasn’t competed since 2017, partly due to injury. Rudisha’s 2012 Olympic title, when he set the outdoor world record of 1:40.91, is considered by many the greatest race in the sport’s history as he carried the rest of the field to the fastest times in history for each placement.

Brazier, who was 15 in 2012, said he couldn’t remember watching that final live. But he said he’s watched it dozens of times on replay, more than any other race.

“It’s a work of art,” Brazier said. “He was probably in sub-1:40 shape.”

Brazier can’t fathom running as fast as Rudisha, whose world record is 1.43 seconds faster than Brazier’s American record. But he’s carried a simple mindset since being eliminated in the first round of the 2016 Olympic trials, when he was ranked third in the world for the season as a college freshman.

“If I can work as hard as I was the year before, I’ll just naturally get faster,” said Brazier, who last year ran the fastest indoor 600m in history, in addition to breaking the U.S. indoor and outdoor 800m records.

The success puts pressure on Brazier to become the first American to win an Olympic 800m title since Dave Wottle did so wearing a hat in Munich in 1972.

“I think the target’s on my back just because I won 2019, but it’s definitely not as big of a target as [Rudisha] had on his back post-2012,” Brazier said. “I’m not thinking that I’m like this David Rudisha takeover because I’m not really damn near close to his times, but I think, for now, I’ve got that small target on my back. I guess I’m just trying to make it as big as possible.”

Rudisha, if he returns to racing this year, looks questionable to defend his Olympic gold medals in Tokyo. Five of the nine fastest men in the world last year were Kenyans, and only three can go to the Games.

“He’s a hell of a racer,” Brazier said. “I don’t know how fast he’s going to be if he comes back.”

In other events Saturday, nine-time Olympic medalist Allyson Felix took sixth in a 60m won by American Javianne Oliver in 7.13. Felix’s time — 7.32 seconds in an off-event for her — was .03 faster than she ran last Saturday.

Felix is bidding to race the 200m and 400m at June’s Olympic trials, where her better chance is in the 400m, where at least six women will make the Olympic team due to the 4x400m relays.

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Nia Ali, mother of two, wins 100m hurdles; U.S. ties record for most track worlds golds

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Nia Ali made it yet another mom to earn gold at the world track and field championships in Doha. The U.S. finished the meet with three titles on the final day, including both 4x400m relays, for 14 overall to tie its record for most golds at a single worlds.

Pretty strong going into an Olympic year.

The U.S. previously earned 14 golds in 2005 and 2007, but had fewer total medals at those meets than in Doha, where they took home 29. However, there was no mixed-gender 4x400m (which the U.S. won in Doha) back then.

Ali, who earned Rio Olympic silver a year after having son Titus, earned her first world title a year after having daughter Yuri. She took a victory lap with both kids after lowering her personal best in the semifinals (12.44) and final (12.34).

Ali led a U.S. one-two with Keni Harrison, who missed the Rio Olympic team then broke the world record before those Games (12.20). Harrison earned her first major outdoor championships medal.

Ali then took a victory lap with both kids. Yuri also took a victory lap with her dad, Canadian Andre De Grasse, after he took 100m bronze last week.

“Just because you’re a mom doesn’t mean that you can’t get out here and continue to be an athlete as well, a top, world-class athlete,” Ali, who joined Allyson Felix and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce as moms to win sprint titles in Doha, said after the first round on Saturday. “I know [Yuri] is going to look up to me and look at this and it’s definitely going to keep her motivated and show what strength really looks like to be able to go through this and train hard and be on top.”

It was the culmination of a busy season for Ali, who briefly left her summer training base in Germany to attend a parent-teacher conference at 4-year-old Titus’ school in Jacksonville, Fla.

TRACK WORLDS: Results

In the relays, Felix extended her record of most career world titles (13) when the U.S. women won the 4x400m. Felix was not part of the final quartet, but she earned a medal as a preliminary heat runner. Felix had the fastest split of all the runners in the prelims, according to Jon Mulkeen of the IAAF.

The U.S. women — Phyllis FrancisSydney McLaughlinDalilah Muhammad and Wadeline Jonathas — prevailed by 2.97 seconds over Poland in 3:18.92, the world’s fastest since the 2012 Olympics.

The U.S. men’s 4x400m — Fred Kerley, Michael Cherry, WIl London III and Rai Benjamin — had a closer call, topping Jamaica by 1.21 seconds in 2:56.69, the fastest since the 2008 Olympics.

In other finals, Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot led wire to wire to win the 1500m by a hefty 2.12 seconds over Algerian Taoufik Makhloufi in 3:29.26. U.S. Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz was eighth, two years after getting eliminated in the first round at worlds.

Cheruiyot, 23, has lost just three times at 1500m or the mile in 17 meets over the last two years.

Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei won the first world championships 10,000m since Mo Farah left the track for the roads. Cheptegei, who took silver behind Farah at 2017 Worlds, clocked 26:48.36, the world’s fastest time in five years. The top American was 2008 Olympic Opening Ceremony flag bearer Lopez Lomong in seventh.

German Malaika Mihambo won a long jump final that included neither reigning Olympic champion Tianna Bartoletta (failed to make U.S. team) nor defending world champion Brittney Reese (missed the final by one centimeter). Mihambo, who came in as the world No. 1 this year, recorded the world’s best jump of this Olympic cycle, 7.30 meters, to win by more than a foot.

American Tori Bowie, the 2017 World 100m champion who went nearly five years between long jump competitions, took fourth.

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Unlikely hurdles ‘Dream Team’ heads to Rio after more Trials heartbreak

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EUGENE, Ore. — Before the most competitive race of the Olympic Trials, Brianna Rollins envisioned she would be joined in the top three by Kristi Castlin and Nia Ali. Nobody else predicted it, except for maybe Castlin and Ali.

The vision played out in the 100m hurdles final at Hayward Field. Rollins, Castlin and Ali made the Olympic team and shared a group hug after emerging from the deepest pool of talent from one nation in any track and field event.

Though all are Olympic rookies, and Castlin and Ali have little outdoor international acclaim, they are instantly favorites for gold, silver and bronze in Rio, for two reasons.

  • Five Americans combined to clock the 15 fastest 100m hurdles times in the world last year, the kind of grip over one track and field event that no other nation can boast. Though Castlin and Ali were not among that handful, they did beat four of those women in Friday’s final, which ended up being one of the fastest 100m hurdles races of all time.
  • The reigning Olympic and world champions Sally Pearson of Australia and Danielle Williams of Jamaica won’t be in Rio. Pearson tore a hamstring tendon. Williams crashed out of the Jamaican Trials.

The world’s fastest time from a non-American this year — 12.62 seconds — would have tied for sixth in the U.S. Olympic Trials final.

“You can pretty much equate us to like a Dream Team,” Castlin said, not just of the trio at the press conference table but of everyone that qualified for the U.S. final (so strong that Dawn Harper-Nelson, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist and 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was eliminated in the semifinals). “It’s unfortunate that all eight ladies couldn’t go, but again, if we had three different people up here, they could still do a great job [in Rio].”

Rollins won in 12.34 seconds, her fastest time since breaking the American record with a 12.26 at the 2013 U.S. Championships, en route to a world title that year at age 22. She ceded that American record to Keni Harrison on May 28. Though Harrison, one of 11 children, nine adopted, entered the Trials as the favorite, Rollins was arguably her closest pursuer.

Harrison finished sixth in the final and will be one of the best athletes across all Olympic sports who won’t be competing in Rio.

“I don’t worry about my competitors,” Rollins said when a reporter brought up Harrison’s American record of 12.24. “I’m always motivated, no matter what time anyone runs.”

Rollins’ training partner Castlin ran 12.50 on Friday evening, shaving .06 off her personal best from 2012. She made her first global championship team, a day after turning 28 years old. Castlin ranked seventh in the U.S. last year and fifth this year before Trials.

“We saw all those [NBA] games Golden State won, and they got to the championship and couldn’t close it out,” said Castlin, who reportedly left Atlanta in April to join Rollins and coach Lawrence Johnson in California. “It’s just one race. I know a lot of the times, Brianna and I, a lot of races we went to, we didn’t have fresh legs. We were training really hard. Our coach was really preparing us for this moment.”

Then there’s Ali, who has twice won the world indoor 60m hurdles title but had never translated the success outdoors to the longer distance. She missed all of 2015 due to childbirth and ran 12.55, .07 off her personal best, in Friday’s final.

After crossing the finish, Rollins and Castlin hugged before each came to a stop on the wet track. A minute later, Ali joined in. They piggybacked off each other’s answers in a post-race press conference.

“I really would like to acknowledge how much of a great feat and responsibility it is to have a young child and to still be a role model and run on this level,” Castlin said of Ali. “I have so much admiration for that.”

Rollins, Castlin and Ali are all aware of what happened at the 2015 World Championships. Four Americans went to Beijing with a legitimate chance at sweeping places one through four. Rollins ended up the top finisher — in fourth place.

“We really have some big shoes to fill,” Castlin said. “This is our new opportunity to come back.”

The most difficult competition is behind them.

“We can actually breathe now,” Castlin said. “I think all three of us can agree and say we all can breathe a sigh of relief.”

U.S. Track and Field Trials: ResultsDaily Schedule | TV Schedule

The other biggest stories of Trials on Friday were of heartbreak. In addition to Harper-Nelson and Harrison in the 100m hurdles:

Women’s 400m Hurdles: In perhaps the upset of the meet, Shamier Little failed to make the eight-woman final. Though she had the sixth-fastest time overall in the two semifinals, she was fifth-fastest in her heat. Little came into this meet a career 14-0 in races at Hayward Field. She was the reigning world silver medalist and fastest woman in the world this year and turned professional on the eve of her first-round race. Her absence opens the door for 16-year-old Sydney McLaughlin, second-fastest in the semis, to become the youngest U.S. Olympic track and field competitor since 1976.

Men’s Steeplechase: Stanley Kebenei wasn’t the pre-race favorite, but he was in a three-man chase for two Olympic spots going over the final water jump. The Kenyan-born Kebenei splashed and then stumbled, losing all of his momentum and finishing in a distant 13th.

“That was a lifetime chance,” he said later. “I missed that.”

Men’s DiscusSam Mattis, the only American to throw 67 meters in this Olympic cycle and the seventh-ranked man in the world this year, finished ninth. Jared Schuurmans, the 2015 U.S. champion, was seventh. Neither go to Rio.

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