Ryan Crouser

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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Pre Classic: Olympic champions on the comeback; TV, stream schedule

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The Prefontaine Classic relocated, temporarily, and it brought the best fields of the Diamond League season with it to Stanford, Calif.

That includes the world’s fastest man and woman this year (Christian Coleman and Elaine Thompson), the athlete who has made the most worldwide headlines this season (Caster Semenya) and a bevy of other reigning Olympic and world champions.

Notably, Olympic 10,000m champion Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia and Olympic 1500m champion Faith Kipyegon will compete for the first time since 2017. World 100m champions Justin Gatlin and Tori Bowie are in their first Diamond League meets in more than one year. It’s the first Diamond League in two years for 2008 Olympic 400m champ LaShawn Merritt. It’s also the first race of 2019 for Olympic 1500m champion Matthew Centrowitz.

NBC and NBC Sports Gold air live coverage Sunday from 4-6 p.m. ET.

The Pre Classic has been held annually since 1975 in Eugene, Ore. But Hayward Field’s reconstruction ahead of the 2020 Olympic Trials forced a move to Cobb Track and Angell Field at Stanford.

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

3:43 p.m. — Men’s Pole Vault
3:57 — Women’s Shot Put
4:03 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
4:08 — Women’s High Jump
4:11 — Women’s 3000m Steeplechase
4:27 — Women’s 100m
4:34 — Men’s 2 Mile
4:47 — Women’s 800m
4:56 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
5:01 — Men’s Shot Put
5:05 — Women’s 3000m
5:19 — Men’s 400m
5:25 — Women’s 200m
5:31 — Women’s 1500m
5:39 — Men’s 100m
5:51 — Men’s Mile

Here are 10 events to watch (stats courtesy Tilastopaja.org):

Men’s Pole Vault — 3:43 p.m.
The Big Three of the event meet for the first time this season: 2012 Olympic champion and world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France, 2017 World champion Sam Kendricks and 2018 and 2019 world leader Mondo Duplantis of Sweden, who just turned pro after his freshman year at LSU. Lavillenie has competed just once this season due to injury. Duplantis was beaten at NCAAs by Chris Nilsen (also in the Pre field). But Kendricks has been hot, winning the first three Diamond League pole vaults this season (though Lavillenie and Nilsen weren’t in any of those fields and Duplantis just one).

Women’s High Jump — 4:08 p.m.
U.S. champion Vashti Cunningham takes another crack at Russian Mariya Lasitskene, who has just two losses in the last three years. Cunningham is 0-7 versus Lasitskene but has this spring already bettered her top clearance of 2018. Lasitskene, though, appears in top form after taking three attempts at a world record 2.10 meters in Ostrava last week.

Women’s 3000m Steeplechase — 4:11 p.m.
Six of the eight fastest in history, headlined by world gold and silver medalists Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs. The only time either Coburn or Frerichs won a steeple that included any of the four fastest Kenyans in history was at those 2017 Worlds. Another chance Sunday.

Women’s 100m — 4:27 p.m.
NCAA champion Sha’Carri Richardson would have been the favorite here in her pro debut if not for what happened Friday. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, a two-time Olympic 100m champion, clocked her fastest time in six years (10.73 seconds) to become the fastest mom in history and No. 2 in the world this year behind Rio gold medalist Elaine Thompson. Also watch reigning world champ Tori Bowie, who is coming back from a quad tear and coaching change.

Women’s 800m — 4:47 p.m.
Caster Semenya races her trademark event for the first time since a Swiss Supreme Court ruled her eligible while it deliberates on her appeal against a Court of Arbitration for Sport decision to uphold an IAAF rule capping testosterone in women’s events from the 400m through the mile. The Swiss court ruling applies only to Semenya and not the other Rio Olympic medalists, Francine Niyonsaba and Margaret Wambui, who are also affected by the new rule. So Semenya’s closest threat at Pre is American record holder Ajeé Wilson, but Semenya has won 30 straight 800m races dating to 2015.

Men’s Shot Put — 5:01 p.m.
Olympic champion Ryan Crouser had a sterling record at Hayward Field, taking NCAA, Pre Classic and Olympic Trials titles. He’s pretty strong in California, too, recording his personal best (22.74 meters) in Long Beach in April. Nobody has been within a foot and a half of that this season, but the last two world champions (New Zealand’s Tom Walsh and American Joe Kovacs) will try to snap his undefeated 2019 on Sunday.

Men’s 400m — 5:19 p.m.
Lost some sizzle with the withdrawal of 2012 Olympic champion Kirani James, who has missed time with Graves’ disease and, more recently, his mother’s death. Instead, the three fastest Americans of the last decade line up — 2018 and 2019 world leader Michael Norman (43.45 from April 20), 2017 world No. 2 Fred Kerley and 2008 Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt.

Women’s 200m — 5:25 p.m.
Strongest sprint field of the meet: 2016 Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, 2015 and 2017 World champion Dafne Schippers and 2018 world leader Dina Asher-Smith. Should produce the fastest time in the world this year, which is currently 22.16, and the favorite for world champs.

Men’s 100m — 5:39 p.m.
Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman go head-to-head for the first time since the 2017 Worlds, where Gatlin took gold, Usain Bolt silver and Coleman bronze. Coleman is the world’s fastest man this Olympic cycle (9.79) and this year (9.85). Gatlin, 37, hasn’t broken 10 seconds since beating Bolt but has a bye to defend his title in Doha in September.

Men’s Mile — 5:51 p.m.
Olympic 1500m champ Matthew Centrowitz races on the track for the first time since July 22, eyeing his first win in the Pre mile in his sixth try. The foes are formidable, including the top two milers since Rio — Kenyans Timothy Cheruiyot and Elijah Manangoi — Norwegian brothers Filip and Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha, who on March 3 broke the 22-year-old indoor mile world record. Nobody has been within four seconds of the outdoor mile word record (Hicham El Guerrouj‘s 3:43.13 in 1999) since 2007.

MORE: Caster Semenya says she’s blocked from Rabat

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Diamond League kicks off with focus on women’s 800m; TV/stream info

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The Diamond League season starts Friday with scrutiny on an event that will no doubt see significant change this season — the women’s 800m.

A landmark sports court ruling Wednesday is expected to force some top stars — including Olympic gold and silver medalists Caster Semenya of South Africa and Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi — to take measures to reduce abnormally high testosterone for women’s events.

In that case, they would have to sit out international competition through the summer, while continuously keeping testosterone levels below the imposed limit, if they want to return to any event between the 400m and 1500m at the world championships in Doha in late September.

Friday’s Diamond League opener, also in Doha and the first of 14 stops over the next four months, will be the last one held before the testosterone-reducing rule goes into effect. Olympic Channel will air live coverage at 12 p.m. ET, with NBC Sports Gold streaming commercial-free coverage at 11 a.m.

The women’s 800m field is among the strongest, including Niyonsaba, Olympic bronze medalist Margaret Wambui of Kenya and world bronze medalist Ajeé Wilson, the American record holder. Semenya, undefeated at 800m the last three seasons, is not entered.

THURSDAY UPDATE: Caster Semenya a late entry into Doha

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

11:20 a.m. — Men’s Pole Vault
11:35 — Men’s Discus
11:55 — Women’s High Jump
12 p.m. — Women’s Long Jump
12:04 — Women’s 400m Hurdles
12:15 — Men’s 800m
12:27 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
12:37 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase
12:56 — Men’s 200m
1 — Men’s Shot Put
1:07– Women’s 800m
1:19 — Men’s 1500m
1:34 — Women’s 200m
1:46 — Women’s 3000m

Here are five events to watch:

Men’s 800m — 12:15 p.m.
While David Rudisha has been out injured for nearly two years, fellow Kenyan and former UTEP star Emmanuel Korir has emerged as the world’s best two-lapper, winning all but one of his meets in 2017 and again in 2018. In Doha, Korir’s competition includes the second-fastest man each of the last two years, Botswana’s Nijel Amos. Amos, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was the only man to bear Korir in 2018.

Watch out for American Donavan Brazier, who ascended the international rankings until an injury-shortened 2018. Already in 2019, Brazier broke the American indoor 800m record and ran the fastest indoor 600m in history.

Men’s Shot Put — 1 p.m.
Strongest field of the meet? The top seven men from the world last year. All three 2016 Olympic medalists, highlighted by Americans Ryan Crouser (gold) and Joe Kovacs (silver). Plus 2017 World champion Tom Walsh of New Zealand. The world record could be under threat given Crouser two weeks ago launched the world’s best throw since the bar was set 29 years ago.

Women’s 800m — 1:07 p.m.
Wilson, coming off an American indoor 800m record in February, eyes her first Diamond League win since 2015. Much has changed in the women’s 800m in the last four years, with the biggest tremor coming with Wednesday’s court ruling. Wilson has never won a race with Niyonsaba in the field but is now one of, if not the favorite for gold at worlds.

Men’s 1500m — 1:19 p.m.
Kenyans Timothy Cheruiyot and Elijah Manangoi traded the world’s fastest times the last two years, and they meet again here. While Manangoi is the world champion, Cheruiyot has lost only twice since London 2017, taking runner-up to Manangoi at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and 2018 African Championships. They are the only men to break 3:30 since the Rio Olympics. Gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz is sitting this one out.

Women’s 3000m — 1:46 p.m.
Another juicy head-to-head featuring Genzebe Dibaba, the 1500m world-record holder, and Hellen Obiri, the 5000m world champion and fastest 3000m runner in the last 25 years. Toss in steeplechase world-record holder Beatrice Chepkoech, and it’s one of the most unique headlining fields to open a Diamond League season.

MORE: Why Ryan Crouser postponed an NFL tryout

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