Laulauga Tausaga-Collins delivers stunning gold for U.S. at track and field worlds
BUDAPEST — Laulauga Tausaga-Collins dedicated her out-of-nowhere discus world title — the first for an American woman — to her mom, who forced her into sports in high school.
“I just wanted to stay home and be a bookworm,” Tausaga-Collins said.
Mom Aveaomalo felt different.
“You are growing into a big girl. You’re getting very strong for no reason. We might as well put you somewhere,” Aveaomalo told her.
She was put in volleyball, then basketball, where a coach wanted her to get faster. So track was suggested. But, “I would die if I do track,” she now recalls thinking.
When she got out there, somebody said she could throw a steel ball instead.
“I just knew I didn’t have to run, and I loved that idea,” she said.
Shot put took Tausaga-Collins to the University of Iowa, where her talent took off in its sister event, the discus.
She won an NCAA title and entered the Tokyo Olympic Trials ranked third in the U.S. that year.
Three women made the team, but Tausaga-Collins, dealing with the remnants of a back injury, was not one of them. She fouled all three throws in qualifying.
“It crumbled me,” she said.
The pain followed her into 2022, where she made her second world championships team and placed last in the 12-woman final for a second consecutive time.
Tausaga-Collins had a rough start to this season. “I wasn’t only physically beaten but mentally questioning if I belonged here on the elite stage,” she posted on Instagram.
Then something clicked. She launched a personal best on her fifth and final throw at July’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, clearing the world championships standard distance.
Her practices after that were “phenomenal.” She believed something special was possible at her third worlds (where she was seeded ninth of the 12 finalists by best throw this year).
In Tuesday’s six-round final, Tausaga-Collins fouled her first throw. Her second ended up being the shortest legal throw of anybody this night. Then she went a personal best on the third by 10 centimeters, moving into fifth place.
She fouled her fourth. Then she unleased a 69.49-meter throw in the fifth round.
It was a personal best by nearly 13 feet. She moved from ninth to second on the U.S. all-time list, trailing only Tokyo Olympic gold medalist Valarie Allman, whom she supplanted atop the standings in this final.
She darted to the crowd and embraced her coach, John Dagata, who screamed “that’s it!” and “one throw!”
“I don’t know if I have a fairy godmother or something, or my ancestors had some say in it, but I was able to do something tonight that I didn’t think was possible yet,” she said later.
It held up for the win. Allman, who owns every major title in the event except a world gold, took silver for the first U.S. one-two in a women’s throwing event.
Also Tuesday, Kenyan Faith Kipyegon became the first woman to win three 1500m world titles, adding to a season that’s already included world records at 1500m, the mile and 5000m.
Kipyegon returns to the track Wednesday for the first round of the 5000m. No woman has won the 1500m and 5000m at the same worlds.
JuVaughn Harrison delivered high jump silver, the first U.S. men’s medal in that event since Jesse Williams’ gold in 2011. Gianmarco Tamberi, the co-Tokyo Olympic champion from Italy, earned his first world title.
Reigning Olympic and world champion Soufiane El Bakkali of Morocco won the 3000m steeplechase in a duel with world record holder Lamecha Girma of Ethiopia.
Steven Gardiner, the Olympic 400m champion from the Bahamas, fell coming around the final turn of his semifinal and did not finish.
Kirani James of Grenada and Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa, the 2012 and 2016 Olympic champions, made the final.
Dalilah Muhammad, the 2016 Olympic gold medalist in the 400m hurdles, was eliminated in the semifinals. Muhammad estimated she ran at worlds at 70 percent after an Achilles injury flared up after USATF Outdoors.
Olympic gold medalist Emmanuel Korir of Kenya was eliminated in the 800m heats in his world title defense after being slowed by injury this season.
American Keni Harrison ran the world’s fastest 100m hurdles time this year, 12.24 seconds, in her first-round heat.
Worlds continue Wednesday with Americans looking to dethrone Norwegian Olympic gold medalists in the 400m hurdles (Rai Benjamin vs. Karsten Warholm) and 1500m (Yared Nuguse vs. Jakob Ingebrigtsen).
Live finals coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. ET on USA Network, NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.