Shaunae Miller-Uibo

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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Noah Lyles overtakes Justin Gatlin for Diamond League 100m title

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Noah Lyles beat Justin Gatlin for the first time, overtaking a struggling 37-year-old in the last 20 meters to win the Diamond League 100m title in Zurich on Thursday.

Lyles, who will not race the 100m at next month’s world championships to focus on the 200m, clocked 9.98 seconds into a .4 meter/second headwind. He remains the second-fastest man in the world this year (and this Olympic cycle) behind Christian Coleman.

“The race was not as fast as I wanted,” said Lyles, who has run 9.86 and went on to perform a song in a closing ceremony with Olympic silver medalist pole vaulter Sandi Morris on Thursday night. “Today was like a world championships final for me.”

Coleman, who has clocked 9.79, 9.81 and 9.82 the last three years, was not in Zurich as he as contests a charge of missing three drug tests that could lead to a suspension.

Gatlin led at about 70 meters before slowing to fourth place in 10.08. He came to Zurich as the world championships favorite with Coleman’s status in limbo, but now the likes of 2012 Olympic silver medalist Yohan Blake (third on Thursday) have to be considered.

The Diamond League season concludes with the second of two finals meets in Brussels on Sept. 6. Lyles is expected to race the 200m.

In other events Thursday, Norwegian Karsten Warholm ran the second-fastest 400m hurdles in history, clocking 46.92 seconds. Only Kevin Young‘s 27-year-old world record of 46.78 was faster. Warholm, the 2017 World champion, outdueled American Rai Benjamin, who ran 46.98 to move into a share of third place on the all-time list.

Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo ran the world’s fastest 200m in four years, winning in 21.74 seconds. The Bahamian is undefeated at all distances for two years but will not race the 200m at worlds because it overlaps with the 400m. The IAAF is reviewing Miller-Uibo’s request to change the 2020 Olympic schedule to better accommodate a 200m/400m double. More on that process here.

With Miller-Uibo absent from the worlds 200m, the favorites are Brit Dina Asher-Smith, who was runner-up in 22.08 on Thursday, and Olympic champion Elaine Thompson of Jamaica, who is ranked second this year at 22.00 and was third in 22.44 in Zurich.

Sydney McLaughlin ran away from world-record holder Dalilah Muhammad in the 400m hurdles. McLaughlin clocked 52.85 to win by 1.01 seconds, while Muhammad was third in 54.13, well her record-breaking 52.20 from the USATF Outdoor Championships last month. Muhammad and McLaughlin are the only women to break 53 seconds this year, making them the clear gold-silver favorites at worlds.

“I’m shocked and amazed,” McLaughlin said, adding that she must improve after hitting two hurdles. “I didn’t expect to come out here and win.”

Donavan Brazier surged past a gassed Nijel Amos to win the 800m in 1:42.70, one tenth off Johnny Gray‘s 34-year-old American record. Brazier, who notched his first Diamond League win in June, is now a gold-medal contender for worlds. No American has earned an Olympic or world title at 800m since Dave Wottle prevailed in a hat in Munich in 1972.

Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Naser won the 400m in 50.24 seconds against a field lacking Miller-Uibo. Naser hasn’t been beaten by anyone other than Miller-Uibo in two years.

World-record holder Beatrice Chepkoech won a 3000m steeplechase that included four of the six fastest women in history, plus reigning world champion Emma Coburn. Chepkoech, whose world record is 8:44.32, won in 9:01.71 to consolidate world championships favorite status. Coburn was 8.3 seconds slower in sixth and faces a difficult task to beat two of the four Kenyans at worlds next month to get back on the podium.

Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan followed up her mile world record from last month by winning the 1500m over a field including world-record holder Genzebe Dibaba. Hassan clocked 3:57.08, well off the world’s fastest time of 2019 that she owns (3:55.30). Hassan has range from 800m through the 10,000m, and it’s unknown what her world championships schedule will be.

American record holder Sam Kendricks won the pole vault over a field that included the world-record holder (Renaud Lavillenie of France) and Rio Olympic champion (Thiago Braz of Brazil). Kendricks, who leads the world this year with a 6.06-meter clearance, needed only to get past 5.93 for his second Diamond League title.

Cuban 21-year-old Juan Miguel Echevarria won the long jump with an 8.65-meter leap, farthest in the world this year.

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Shaunae Miller-Uibo’s request for Olympic schedule change under review

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Shaunae Miller-Uibo, the Rio Olympic 400m champion who just won the Diamond League 200m title in the fastest time in this Olympic cycle, requested that the Tokyo 2020 track and field schedule be changed to better accommodate a 200m-400m double.

Miller-Uibo, a Bahamian who hasn’t lost at either distance in two years, hopes the IAAF will facilitate her request, in part because it was done for Michael Johnson in 1996 and Allyson Felix in 2016. Miller-Uibo will probably stick to one individual event in Tokyo if the schedule is not changed, she told NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi at the Diamond League finals in Zurich on Thursday.

Johnson famously swept the 200m and 400m at the Atlanta Games (as did Frenchwoman Marie-José Pérec).

Felix, coming back from torn ankle ligaments, missed making the 2016 Olympic team in the 200m by .01. She earned silver behind a diving Miller-Uibo in the Rio 400m final.

Miller-Uibo said she will race the 400m at the world championships in Doha in next month, opting out of the 200m because it overlapped with the 400m. Miller-Uibo did not ask the IAAF to amend the worlds schedule.

The Olympic schedule is a little more favorable. The 400m first round and the 200m final are on the same day (former in the morning, latter at night), with the 400m semifinals the following day.

“It’s still a little bit tricky,” Miller-Uibo said Wednesday. “We’re just asking them to clear it up a little bit more for us, where we can focus on three [rounds in the 200m] and then focus on the other three [rounds in the 400m]. I think it’s always been so simple for the 100m/200m runners. The 200m/400m being a more complex double, I think we’re asking for a day, if they can at least do that for us. We’ve asked, and we’re just hoping that we can make the changes.”

An IAAF spokesperson said the request is under consideration and will require consultation with other key Olympic stakeholders.

Miller-Uibo said she has not spoken with her Rio rival Felix about the process.

“But I know that in the past it’s been changed a lot for people, so we’re just hoping they can make the change for me,” she said.

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