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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Lyles rallies, Richardson fails in bid for Olympic 200M spot

SportsLyles rallies, Richardson fails in bid for Olympic 200M spot

EUGENE, Ore. — American track and field enthusiasts take a lot of pride in making one bold claim.

When it comes to qualifying for the Olympics, they contend their team is the toughest one to make — of any sport, in any country.

Given what took place in two electrifying men’s and women’s 200-meter races at the U.S. Olympic trials Saturday night, the track and field diehards may have a point.

“The U.S. has been dominating. We’ve had two medalists at least at each world championship and Olympics since 2021,” men’s 200 winner Noah Lyles said. “So the 200, we definitely have a strong, strong [chance] for sweeping it.”

For the men such as Lyles, it was business as usual in Saturday’s final. By the end of the tightly contested sprint, the top 3 were Lyles, Kenny Bednarek and Erriyon Knighton, respectively. A semblance of that trio had long been expected to emerge from the last heat and qualify for the Paris Games.

Although Bednarek charged out to an early lead and appeared in position to hold on late for the win, it was ultimately Lyles’ world-leading, meet-record, 19.53-second time that paced the field. Bednarek checked in at 19.59 seconds, and Knighton had a 19.77-second time.

“We were supposed to [sweep] in Tokyo,” Bednarek said. “But I’m feeling very confident that we can get the job done this time. We’ve all got to make sure to execute when it matters most and get the job done.”

Unlike his long celebratory jog up half the next turn after winning the 100 final here last week, Lyles cruised to a much earlier stop Saturday and slapped hands with Bednarek before realizing what he had accomplished.

“I’ve kind of come to the 200 as it’s like harder and harder for me to celebrate, because I’ve kind of gotten into this streak of winning it so many times,” Lyles said. “That doesn’t mean I’m not trying to take it for granted because it’s my favorite race, by far.”

While the men’s race played out somewhat expectedly, it was a different story for the women.

Sha’Carri Richardson, the third-fastest woman in the event at last summer’s world championships, finished fourth in Saturday’s final and won’t participate in the event in Paris. That means she will only run the 100 and participate on relay teams at the Games.

Gabby Thomas, who won bronze in the 200 at the last Olympics, finished first Saturday night to qualify for Paris alongside NCAA champion McKenzie Long and veteran yet first-time Olympian Brittany Brown.

“I feel like everything’s coming together right where it needs to and I’ve done my job,” Thomas said, “and now we’re looking at a gold medal.”

Much like she did throughout the trials, Thomas cruised by the end of the finals, crossing the finish line in 21.81 seconds. Brown took the silver with a 21.90, and Long, the NCAA 200-meter champion competing five months to the day her mother died, registered a 21.91.

“I know my mom was smiling cheek to cheek,” Long said, a smile forming on her own face. “I know she’s beyond proud of me and that’s all I care about.

“Just crossing that line, knowing that I’m an Olympian now, it’s so surreal.”

Upon crossing the finish line shortly after Thomas, Long reached toward her lane neighbor, smacking her arm to get her attention. In one fluid motion, Thomas, the 200 bronze medalist in Tokyo, turned and hugged Long.

Right after, Thomas told Long what she dreamt about the night before: that the 23-year-old would be an Olympian.

“I was like: ‘You didn’t want to tell me this before we got out there?'” Long said. “But yeah, that’s what she told me. She was like, ‘I’m really, really proud of you. I literally tell her all the time: ‘I want to be you.’

“She’s inspiring. That’s my goal, I want to be like Gabby Thomas.”

Thomas, 27, added: “To have a younger athlete look at me and say that, it just feels so surreal, but it makes me happy. It really feels like it’s giving me purpose. That’s why I do this: to make other girls feel inspired.”

Just before the heat, Long said Richardson pulled her to the side and also offered words of encouragement. Similarly, Richardson dealt with learning about the loss of her own biological mother while competing at the trials three years ago. She wanted Long to know she wasn’t in this alone, Long said.

While Richardson was the odd woman out of her heat, the men will go to Paris without the likes of Christian Coleman, the world’s No. 1 100-meter runner who also failed to qualify in the 100, and Kyree King. The fourth- and fifth-place finishers were 0.12 and 0.13 seconds behind Knighton’s third-place showing, respectively.

In other notable events Saturday:

• America’s top long jumper certainly knows how to put on a show. Down to her last try after two scratches, Tara Davis-Woodhall finally took off from behind the board to avoid being eliminated.

Awarded three more tries, she jumped 7 meters on the second of those to vault from fifth to first place.

Davis-Woodhall remains undefeated this season, but this one was a nail-biter.

“I don’t want to put myself or you guys in that position again,” she said in an interview on the stadium PA system. “I apologize. But I’m going to Paris, baby!”

• Yet another sign of Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone’s dominance in the 400 hurdles came in the semifinal round.

Her time in the race where she was only trying to stay upright and advance, 52.48 seconds, was the best time in 2024 in the event.

McLaughlin-Levrone holds the world record at 50.68 seconds. On Sunday, she’ll race for a spot in the Olympics and a chance to defend her title.

• Weini Kelati won the 10,000 meters, 10 years after seeking asylum in the United States. Kelati traveled to Oregon as a teenager for the world junior championships and, without telling her friends or family, missed her flight back home to Eritrea to begin a new life.

Taken in by a relative, Kelati went to high school in Virginia and competed at the University of New Mexico, where she became a multitime All-American.

Now, Kelati, 27, has earned a trip to the Paris Olympics. She held off Parker Valby of the University of Florida by less than a half second. Karissa Schweizer, who made the team for the Tokyo Games in 2021, was third.

• Already a two-time world champion, Chase Jackson now has a new title: Olympian.

Jackson threw a season-best 20.10 meters to overtake Raven Saunders, the mask-wearing Olympic silver medalist, in the shot put final. Also making the team was Jaida Ross, who received quite a round of applause. She’s from the University of Oregon.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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