TSX REPORT: U.S. stars Benjamin, Steiner and Ealey shine at T&F nationals; French hurdler wins national title after beating beaten up!

U.S. shot put champ, world leader and World Championships favorite Chase Ealey of the U.S. (Photo: Diamond League AG)

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≡ THE 5-RING CIRCUS ≡

1. World leads by Benjamin, Steiner, Ealey as hot USATF Champs closes
2. McDonald and Richardson won’t be at Worlds, for different reasons
3. French hurdler Happio beaten up, then wins 400H national title!
4. Ukraine boycotts as Russians win nine medals at Judo Grand Slam
5. Civil war inside Modern Pentathlon continues unabated

The U.S. track & field nationals concluded with brilliant performances at a hot Hayward Field in Oregon, with astonishing back stories from the performers. Things are not as happy elsewhere, with a track & field mugging in France, a Ukranian boycott in judo and the open civil war between the Modern Pentathlon federation and many of its star athletes.

1.
World leads by Benjamin, Steiner, Ealey
as fab USATF Champs closes

A forecast high of 93 degrees forced multiple schedule changes for the final day of the USATF National Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, but the competition matched the thermometer.

The women’s shot featured world no. 2 Chase Ealey, who has impressively emerged as the favorite for the Worlds. And she confirmed her status, getting all of her second-round throw, reaching a world-leading 20.51 m (67-3 1/2), the no. 2 throw in U.S. history (and the ninth-best performer world-wide this century)! Ealey closed with an excellent toss of 20.19 m (66-3) just to alleviate any doubt.

Behind her, Tokyo Olympian Adelaide Aquilla got second at 19.45 m (63-9 3/4) and Jessica Woodard was third with a lifetime best of 19.40 m (63-7 3/4). Tokyo silver medalist Raven “Hulk” Saunders ended up fourth at 18.95 m (62-2 1/4).

The much-anticipated men’s 200 m final had World Champion Noah Lyles in lane five, but with teen sensation (and world leader) Erriyon Knighton a lane inside him. And Knighton was off like a shot at the gun, sweeping past Lyles on the turn and into the straight, looking very much like a runaway winner. But Lyles found a gear that perhaps no one else has right now and not only closed a meter gap, but passed Knighton with 3 m left and wagged his finger at the tape: 19.67 to 19.69 (wind: -0.3 m./s)! This was trash running at a Bolt-like level, with a rematch coming at the Worlds. Said Knighton afterwards, “I’m coming back to win. It’s never finished.”

Behind them was 100 m winner Fred Kerley, storming into third on the straight to finish in 19.83, ahead of Tokyo silver winner Kenny Bednarek (19.87) and Josephus Lyles (19.93). Noah Lyles, Knighton, Kerley and Bednarek will all move on to the Worlds.

The questions in the women’s 200 m were about world leader Abby Steiner (21.80) and Tokyo bronze medalist Gabby Thomas, who was way off form in the semifinals and started in lane two. But Oregon alum Jenna Prandini and Olympic Trials fourth-placer Tamara Clark ran best on the curve and were 1-2 coming into the straight. Steiner didn’t reach top gear until just 50 m was left, but she flew to the finish and was running away from everyone to cross in a world-leading 21.77 (-0.3), moving her to no. 17 all-time and equal-6th all-time U.S. Clark got a lifetime best of 21.92 in second, Prandini ran a season’s best 22.01 in third. Thomas, looking anguished down the straight, finished last in 22.47.

Tokyo silver medalist Rai Benjamin was expected to breeze to the men’s 400 m hurdles title and took the lead right away. But he eased through the middle of the race and it was emerging star Khallifah Rosser who actually had the lead off the final turn. But Benjamin’s superior speed brought him back to the lead and he won going away in 47.04, fastest in the world for 2022 and the no. 14 performance of all time. Behind him, Trevor Bassitt, the NCAA Division II winner for Ashland, zoomed home for second with a huge lifetime best of 47.47 (no. 11 all-time U.S.), with Rosser also getting into the 47s for the first time at 47.65. The U.S. now stands 1-3-4 in the world for 2022.

The men’s 110 m hurdles saw World Champion Grant Holloway (13.03) and NCAA champ Trey Cunningham (13.09) win the semis, but Holloway – with a direct entry into the Worlds – decided to skip the final. Off the gun, ex-Kentucky star Daniel Roberts had the best start and was clearly in front at halfway, when Cunningham started to move hard and close. Cunningham leaned early, but Roberts kept his form and finish strong through the line in 13.03 (+1.2), with Cunningham at 13.08. Allen, the world leader at 12.84, was in a battle with Jamal Britt for third and got it, as both were timed in 13.09. Upset? Sure, but the U.S. now stands 1-2-3-4 on the world list and all four will be back to Eugene in July.

The men’s 800 m final was a wide-open affair, with no American in the top 35 in the world for 2022. Front-running Brandon Miller, third at the NCAAs for Texas A&M, led Tokyo Olympian Bryce Hoppel through the bell and onto the backstraight. But Hoppel pushed hard going into the turn and had the lead, being chased by Jonah Koech of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program (WCAP). Hoppel’s lead was small but steady and he crossed in a season’s best 1:44.60 (no. 18 for 2022) to Koech’s lifetime best of 1:44.74. Miller dove across the line to preserve third over Rio bronze medalist Clayton Murphy, 1:45.19-1:45.23.

The temperature on the track read 93 degrees for the women’s 800 m final, with hopes for an equally-hot time. Tokyo Olympic champion Athing Mu ran from the front, leading World Indoor Champion Ajee Wilson and Olivia Baker through 200 m, 400 m and onto the backstraight. But instead of running away, Mu was challenged hard by Wilson coming off the turn, with Raevyn Rogers making her patented late charge in lane two. Mu and Wilson were together with 50 m to go and Wilson even edged ahead, but Mu had a little more to give and got to the line first in 1:57.16, the no. 2 time in the world for 2022 (she’s the world leader), with Wilson at 1:57.23 (no. 3) and Rogers at 1:57.96 (no. 4). Allie Wilson ran 1:58.35, but only good enough for fourth.

The meet start was moved up to 10:30 a.m. with the women’s 5,000 m going off in 79 F temperatures, with 23 on the line. The 2022 U.S. Cross Country runner-up Weini Kelati and Karissa Schweizer — the 10,000 m national champ – running at the front of the pack on a slow pace, passing 3,000 m in 10:08.35. The running picked up with three laps to go as Schweizer threw in a lap in 67 to lead Elise Cranny and Kelati, with seven still close to the front. Schweizer ran 66.38 for the next lap, with Cranny and Emily Infeld closest and at the bell, it was those four running for the win. Schweizer, Cranny and Infeld sprinted away and then it was Cranny surging down the straight for the win in 15:49.15. Infeld, the 2015 Worlds 10,000 m bronze winner, passed Schweizer in the final 20 m, but Schweizer came back for second, 15:49.32-15:49.42, with Kelati fourth (15:52.57). Cranny and Schweizer repeated their 1-2 finish from the 2021 Olympic Trials.

The men’s 5,000 m also started modestly, with U.S. Steeple record holder Evan Jager and 10,000 m world leader Grant Fisher passing 3,000 m in 7:56.59. Jager dropped out with 3 1/2 laps to go – his Worlds spot already secured – and Fisher, Emmanuel Bor and Abdi Nur were rolling at the front with three laps to go. Fisher zoomed 59.71 and led with two laps to go, then breaking Nur and Bor in a three-man race. At the bell, Fisher had more than three seconds on Nur and was moving away, finishing with a meet record of 13:03.86. Tokyo Olympian Woody Kincaid put on an all-out sprint over the last 200 m to pass Nur for second in 13:06.70-13:08.63, with Connor Mantz passing Bor for fourth, 13:11.81-13:13.15. Fisher ran his last four laps in 4:03.11 to win his first national title; pretty good in 80-degree heat!

Women’s Steeple favorites Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs stayed near the front of the pack, running with BYU’s NCAA champ Courtney Wayment and former Furman All-American Gabbi Jennings. Coburn surged with a lap and a half to go and was unchallenged to the finish in 9:10.63, moving her to no. 8 on the world list. Wayment had the fastest final lap in the field and got second with a lifetime best of 9:12.10, with Frerichs third (9:16.18) and Jennings fourth (9:25.05). It’s Coburn’s 10th national title and she will be back to try for a third career Worlds medal next month.

On the infield, the men’s high jump was quickly down to two: Tokyo Olympians JuVaughn Harrison and Shelby McEwen. Harrison looked hampered in the long jump, but found his footing, taking the lead with a first-time clearance at 2.30 m (7-6 1/2). The bar went to 2.33 m (7-7 3/4), the Worlds qualifying standard and McEwen needed to clear it to make it back to Eugene in July. And he did make it on his second try and as Harrison did not, McEwen took his first national title.

The men’s triple jump saw the return of four-time World Champion Christian Taylor, but Donald Scott got out to 17.07 m (56-0) in the first round and no one could catch him and he took his third U.S. outdoor title. Two-time Olympic TJ medalist Will Claye reached 16.93 m (55-6 1/2), good enough for second and he’s on his way to the Worlds too. Taylor, as defending champion, has a direct entry to the Worlds and he came up with an encouraging 16.54 m (54-3 1/4) in the final round for fifth.

The men’s javelin was a final-round win for Virginia’s Ethan Dabbs – the NCAA runner-up – who reached 81.29 m (266-8) to win over Curtis Thompson (80.49 m/264-1).

The prelims are over; the first-ever World Athletics Championships will come to the U.S. next month, starting on 15 July, also at Hayward Field.

2.
McDonald and Richardson won’t be at Worlds,
for different reasons

There are hundreds of stories at the USATF Nationals, with different goals, hopes and dreams for different athletes, their coaches, families and friends. Even with the World Championships coming to the U.S. for the first time ever next month, not everyone was either excited or ready to accept a spot on the American team.

Little-known vaulter Alina McDonald, 24, eighth at the Olympic Trials in 2021, had the meet of her life and moved to 10th on the 2022 world list with her second-place finish at 4.65 m (15-3). Although short of the Worlds qualifying standard, her mark and world ranking would likely get her into the field. But she won’t be going.

She told Sarah Lorge Butler of Runner’s World that since the women’s vault final is scheduled for Sunday, 17 July, she will not participate:

“I won’t be going. I could request that they change it, but I won’t ask for something so large as switch the schedule for me. … I would love to go, it would be a dream come true, but I think it would only be fair to allow the fourth-place finisher – who could do prelims and then finals [on Sunday] – and actually compete in finals, it wouldn’t be right for me to go and then not jump in finals.

“It’s a religious belief and I plan to stick to it. I’m a Christian. I just remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. That’s my plan and I plan to stick to it.

Gabriela Leon finished fourth at 4.60 m (15-1), but also does not have the 4.70 m (15-5) standard, but fifth-placer Emily Grove does.

On the other extreme was sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, who failed to get into the final of either the women’s 100 m or 200 m, but asked on Friday on Twitter after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was announced:

Why would I want to represent a country that has no respect for their women the only reason that all of them that make these ‘laws’ exist ?!!!”

In a completely different sphere was a little-noticed, but important gesture by USA Track & Field, which allowed two Ukrainian athletes to compete in the concurrently-held U.S. Junior Championships.

Valeria Sholommistska won the women’s 10 km Walk and Yuliia Petryk was sixth in the women’s 1,500 m, a welcome break from the conflict which has enveloped their homeland.

3.
French hurdler Happio beaten up, then wins 400H national title!

Even track & field isn’t safe. France’s Wilfried Happio was attacked during his warm-up for the 400 m hurdles final at the French national championships in Caen, being punched in the face before the attacker was finally stopped by police.

Happio, the 2017 European Junior Champion, was “coughing up blood,” but managed to finish his warm-up, improvised an eyepatch and a bandage around his head and won the final in a lifetime best of 48.57, his first time under 49 seconds! He qualified for the World Championships in Eugene in July.

The attacker, who actually asked Happio to confirm his identity before attacking him, was arrested. Happio was taken to a hospital for more attention after his win, but is expected to be fine. Wow.

4.
Ukraine boycotts as Russians win nine medals at Judo Grand Slam

The International Judo Federation is among the few federations which allow Russian athletes to compete as neutrals, as at its 30-nation Ulaanbaatar Grand Slam tournament in Mongolia over the weekend. The response was the withdrawal of the Ukrainian federation.

“Everybody who follows world sport in a small way understands that Russian athletes are a key part of this country’s aggressive propaganda politics,” wrote Ukrainian Judo Federation chief Mykhailo Koshliak in an open letter last week.

“Speaking of Russia and sport, it is by no means possible to say that ‘sport is out of politics.’ The silence of Russian and Belarusian athletes and coaches supports the war against Ukraine and kills thousands of Ukrainian citizens.”

The Russians did well, winning nine medals (5-2-2), the most of any entrant, ahead of seven (4-1-2) for Japan. Not sure that anyone but they were happy about it.

5.
Civil war inside Modern Pentathlon continues unabated

Following the Tokyo Olympic incident in which a horse refused to jump and was punched by a German coach, the sport of modern pentathlon has been in an uproar. And it’s getting worse.

The sport’s federation, the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM), determined that it was necessary to replace riding as part of the event after the Paris 2024 Games, insisting this was at the request of the International Olympic Committee. After a very showy set of meetings with a star-studded advisory board, it decided on Obstacle Course Racing in early May.

But many of the sport’s current and past stars are having none of it. Tokyo Olympic gold medalist Joe Choong (GBR), Rio 2016 silver medalist Pavlo Tymoshchenko (UKR), Sydney 2000 bronze medalist Kate Allenby (GBR) and many others are pushing back – hard – against the removal of riding.

On Saturday, the PentUnited athlete group posted a four-page, 16-point program to reform the way riding is conducted within the modern pentathlon, essentially tying itself to the practices of the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), which is well entrenched in the Olympic program. PentUnited contends that riding need not be replaced:

“IOC have never asked @WorldPentathlon to remove riding. Of course there are ways to reduce cost, complexity & participation of our equestrian discipline. Equestrian sports are safe in the O prog. It’s just UIPM EB who don’t want riding & that’s what they told IOC #savepentathlon”

For its part, Sports Director Kit McConnell (NZL) said at last week’s news conference that the IOC is monitoring the UIPM’s activities and waiting on a final presentation on its fifth discipline proposal, importantly including the voice of the athletes, and how the changes will more widely popularize athlete and viewer interest in this tiny sport. In the meantime, the sport is not on the Olympic program for Los Angeles 2028, and if no unity within the sport is forthcoming, it may well be on the outside looking in when the program is finalized next year.

Casual observers can well ask: is a sport that had just 72 athletes from 27 countries at the Tokyo Games really be worth this much fuss?

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