TSX BULLETIN: McLaughlin-Levone stars, Benjamin and Nakaayi get world leads at L.A. Grand Prix at UCLA

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone readies for a 22.07 win in the women's 200 m at the L.A. Grand Prix (TSX photo by Alan Mazursky)

The Sports Examiner: Chronicling the key competitive, economic and political forces shaping elite sport and the Olympic Movement.★

To get The Sports Examiner by e-mail: sign up here!

After a sterling distance program on Friday night, the main program of the second Los Angeles Grand Prix started at UCLA’s Drake Stadium under overcast, but friendly skies and only light winds and a knowledgeable crowd. They were rewarded with two world-leading marks on Saturday:

Men/400 m hurdles: 46.64, Rai Benjamin (USA)
Women/800 m: 1:57.56, Halimah Nakaayi (UGA) and Tsige Duguna (ETH)

But neither was the star.

The main actors got going before noon with Worlds 200 m runner-up Gabby Thomas in the B section of the women’s 100 m, but it was Destiny Smith-Barnett (LBA) who was out best, then overhauled in lane 8 by Rio 2016 relay gold medalist English Gardner, 11.22 to 11.27 (wind 0). Abby Steiner came on in the final 50 for third (11.32) and Thomas was fourth (11.42).

Ninety-three minutes later, Thomas and Steiner were back for the 200 m, with Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone. It was over by 80 m, as McLaughlin-Levrone surged into the lead and ran onto the Drake Stadium backstraight clear, winning in a lifetime best of 22.07, moving to no. 2 on the world list for 2024. There no no doubt. Steiner moved well in the final 60 m for second (22.32), with Brittany Brown third (22.35); Thomas was sixth in 22.68.

McLaughlin-Levrone is apparently going to defend her Olympic 400 m hurdles title and after this, how fast can she go?

Former UCLA star Benjamin made his season’s 400 m hurdles debut at his former home track, and left no doubt about his status as a gold-medal contender for Paris. He took over by the four hurdle and was clear of the field into the turn and ran all alone to the finish in a world-leading 46.64! That’s the no. 9 performance all-time, of which he owns four. Roshawn Clarke (JAM) was the next-best finish on the straight in 48.11, with Kyron McMaster (IVB) third in 48.51.

The women’s 800 m turned out to be a two-man race between world leader Tsige Duguma (ETH) and 2019 World Champion Nakaayi of Uganda. The two separated from the field after the 400 mark and 55.36 and kept moving away. They came off the final turn looking only at each other with 70 m to gop, then 50 ,, 30 m and finally Nakaayi edged ahead in the final 5 m, only to have to withstand a final charge from Dugima at the line. Both were timed in a world-leading 1:57.59. American Sage Hurta-Klecker came on in the final straight to get third (1:58.98).

In the men’s 100 m, all eyes were on Botswana’s 20-year-old star Letsile Tebogo, already with marks of 19.71 and 44.29 this season, Jamaica’s Ackeem Blake false-started out, and on the re-start, Kyree King of the U.S. exploded in the middle of the race and took over, clearly the winner until Tebogo’s finally caught fire in the final 15. But King won in 10.11 (+0.6), with Tebogo in 10.13 and Aaron Brown (CAN) third in 10.23.

London Olympic champ Kirani James (GRN), 2022 World Champion Michael Norman of the U.S. and U.S. champ Bryce Deadmon faced off in the men’s 400 m, with Norman coming to the front on the turn and exploding after 300 m to get a clear lead that he carried to the line in 44.53. James fought off multiple challenges to get second (44.85), with Vernon Norwood of the U.S. (44.86) getting third over Deadmon (44.92).

The men’s 800 m was another showcase for American 2024 World Indoor champ Bryce Hoppel. Brandon Miller had the lead on the final backstraight, but Kenya’s Noah Kibet came on with 200 m to go. Then it looked like Miller was back in front onto the straight, but Hoppel was coming fastest with 75 m left and passed everyone, winning cleanly in 1:43.68, no. 4 on the world list in 2024. Isaiah Jewitt of the U.S. also moved up late, as did Jake Wightman to go 2-3 in 1:44.02 and 1:44.10, with Miller getting a lifetime best of 1:44.24 in fourth.

The men’s 1,500 m had world leader Reynold Kipkorir Cheruiyot as the lead actor and he followed the pacer and took the lead with a lap to go, just ahead of Australia’s Ollie Hoare. On the final turn, it was Cameron Myers (AUS), making a hard move, but Cheruiyot was still in front. Finally, Hoare emerged with 70 m to go and had all the speed to catch and pass Cheruiyot to win in 3:34.73 to 3:34.3:34.83. An encouraging third with a strong finish out of traffic was Rio 2016 gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz with a seasonal best on 3:35.16, ahead of Henry Wynne (3:35.24).

E.J. Obiena (PHI) was the only one to clear 5.80 m (19-0 1/4) in the men’s vault, winning over Simen Guttormsen (NOR) and KC Lightfoot of the U.S. at 5.70 m (18-8 1/4).

Two-time World Champion Joe Kovacs of the U.S. owned the men’s shot, taking the lead right away and recording a brilliant series of 22.29 m (73-1 3/4), 22.66 m (74-4 1/4), 22.93 m (75-2 3/4), 22.73 m (74-7), 22.03 m (72-2 1/2) and 21.97 m (72-1). The 22.93 m is the second-best throw in the world this year. Roger Steen of the U.S. moved up to second in round five at 21.78 m (71-5 1/2).

TeeTee Terry got the best start in the women’s 100 m and was in front by halfway, but Morolake Akinosun looked like the possible winner, but was passed by World Relays 4×100 m star Melissa Jefferson, 11.27 to 11.28, running into a headwind of 2.4 m/s. Terry faded to fifth (11.37).

Marileidy Paulino, the 2023 World Champion, was the big favorite in the women’s 400 m and looked like it, coming hard on the turn to take the lead and broke away to win in 50.27. Kenyan 800 m World Champion Mary Moraa came up quickly on the outside on the final straight to get second (50.56), with Alexis Holmes of the U.S. third in 50.73.

The women’s 1,500 m included last year’s winner, Diribe Welteji (ETH) found herself trailing countrywoman Freweyni Hailu with 600 m to go, and Hailu led at the bell, with Welteji close behind. The two separated from the field with 1,200 m to go and they dueled into the straight, where Welteji pushed to the lead and won in 3:55.25, with Hailu at 3:55.48 Kenya’s Susan Ejore won the race for third in 3:58.63.

The women’s 100 m hurdles lost some luster when Olympic champ Jasmine Camacho-Quinn (PUR) false started, then ran under protest. On the re-start, it was world no. 2 Tonea Marshall of the U.S. who was strongest in mid-race and pulled away to win in 12.55 (-1.0). Alaysha Johnson came on hard in the final 30 m in lane eight and timed a seasonal best of 12.57 in second. Camacho-Quinn had her protest upheld and she got fourth in 12.66.

Anna Cockrell came on over the final half of the women’s 400 m hurdles to out-duel Andrenette Knight (JAM), 53.75 to 54.69. Cockrell, already no. 2 on the world list in 2024, improved her seasonal best by 0.01.

The women’s triple jump was won by Thea LaFond of Doninica with her 14.37 m (47-1 3/4) in the fifth round, just ahead of Shanieka Ricketts (JAM: 14.36 m/47-1 1/2). Tori Franklin of the U.S. was third (13.87 m/45-6 1/4).

Right at noon, nine former stars were introduced, many of whom had a UCLA connection, such as Olympic gold medalists Steve Lewis and Danny Everett and coaches Bob Larsen and John Smith. But the biggest cheer was for 1996 Olympic sprint icon Michael Johnson, heading what the crowd clearly hoped will be a sport-changing league in 2025. A knowledgeable crowd, indeed.

You can receive our exclusive TSX Report by e-mail by clicking here. You can also refer a friend by clicking here, and can donate here to keep this site going.

For our updated, 547-event International Sports Calendar for the rest of 2024 and beyond, by date and by sport, click here!