Sifan Hassan

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

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Noah Lyles, denying nature’s call, wins Diamond League 200m title

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Noah Lyles and Michael Norman are cemented as favorites for the world championships in three weeks after winning Diamond League Finals titles in Brussels on Friday.

Lyles, whose only 200m loss since the 2016 Olympic trials was to Norman in June, won in 19.74 seconds (as it began raining) and said he slowed before the finish line to prevent wetting himself, according to the BBC.

“No lie I was clenching my butt the whole time,” Lyles tweeted, adding, “What a chaotic race. Nearly everything that could happen, happened. … Two pins to fix my race number were not fixed well and lost while I was sitting down, and, to be honest, I had to go to the toilet. My stomach was growling although I went to the restroom before.”

He became the first man to break 19.8 five times in one year. Usain Bolt did it four times in one year. Lyles won the Diamond League 100m title last week and plans to race the shorter sprint at Olympic trials, but not at worlds in Doha.

Norman, who is focusing on the 400m and will not race the 200m at worlds or the Olympic trials, won in 44.26 seconds on Friday.

It was well off his 2019 world-leading time of 43.45 but a nice bounce back after he almost pulled out of the USATF Outdoor Championships in July with an unspecified strain. Norman was beaten by Fred Kerley at nationals, but topped Kerley by two tenths on Friday. The U.S. has the six fastest men in the world this year and could sweep the medals in Doha.

Full Brussels results are here.

The track and field season continues next week with The Match, a Ryder Cup-style meet featuring Olympic champions Allyson FelixMichelle Carter and Brittney Reese suiting up for Team USA. The two-day meet airs live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold on Monday and Tuesday from 12-3 p.m. ET.

Also Friday, Brit Dina Asher-Smith notched her first career 100m win over 2008 and 2012 Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, according to Tilastopaja.org. Asher-Smith, 23, clocked 10.88 seconds and remains fourth-fastest in the world this year. Jamaicans Elaine Thompson (absent from Brussels) and Fraser-Pryce top the rankings with 10.73 clockings from June.

Jamaican Danielle Williams scored her second straight win over world-record holder Keni Harrison in the 100m hurdles. Williams, who owns the fastest time in the world this year of 12.32 seconds, prevailed in 12.46. Harrison, who has the world record of 12.20, was a distant second in 12.73.

Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan comfortably won a star-studded 5000m in 14:26.26, beating world champion Hellen Obiri of Kenya for the first time. It’s unknown which event(s) that Hassan, who broke the mile world record in July, will enter at worlds.

Ajeé Wilson consolidated favorite status for worlds by taking the 800m in 2:00.25. Again, the field did not include any of the Rio Olympic medalists who are barred from the event under the IAAF’s new testosterone cap.

Double Olympic champion Christian Taylor reasserted his claim as the world’s top triple jumper, soaring 17.85 meters for the Diamond League title. Four different men had won the four Diamond League meets going into the finals. American Will Claye still owns the top triple jump in the world this year of 18.14, but he was second to Taylor in Brussels.

Rio gold medalist Katerina Stefanidi of Greece cleared 4.83 meters to beat a pole vault field that included Americans Sandi Morris (Olympic and world silver medalist) and Jenn Suhr (2012 Olympic champion). Suhr still owns the world’s top clearance this year (4.91).

German Malaika Mihambo beat 2012 Olympic champion Reese in the long jump, leaping 7.03 meters. Mihambo owns the best jump in the world this year at 7.16 and is favored to break the U.S. streak of seven straight Olympic or world titles.

On Thursday, New Zealand’s world champion Tom Walsh relegated Olympic gold medalist Ryan Crouser to third in the shot put. Walsh threw 22.30 meters, more than a foot shy of Crouser’s best throw in the world this year from April. Crouser bettered Walsh in their two other head-to-heads this season.

MORE: Christian Coleman cleared of drug-testing charge

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