LOCAL NEWS FROM
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Disneyland character performers vote to unionize

Mickey Mouse, Sleeping Beauty, Darth Vader and other Disneyland employees who work with Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars character performers have voted to unionize, according to the union organizing workers.

The National Labor Relations Board announced the results of the vote on Saturday, May 18 following a four-day union election at Disneyland by character and parade performers.

Disneyland’s 1,700 character and parade performers — calling themselves Magic United — will be unionized under the Actors’ Equity Association.

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“The votes are in,” said the Equity website. “The cast members of Magic United have unionized with Actors’ Equity Association.”

The vote was 953 Yes votes to 258 No votes with 78.7% of the votes cast in favor of unionizing, according to Equity.

Equity has been circulating a list of key issues facing nonunion Disneyland characters and parade performers that include pay, annual raises, safety, costumes, scheduling, seniority and job security.

“We believe that our Cast Members deserve to have all the facts and the right to a confidential vote that recognizes their individual choices,” according to Disneyland officials.

Disney princesses, Marvel superheroes and other character performers who work at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure make $24.15 per hour and an additional $4.75 per hour if they perform onstage, according to the Disney Auditions website.

Nonunion hourly employees like Disneyland characters and parade performers have received annual raises for as long as company records show, according to Disneyland officials.

While most of Disneyland’s 35,000 employees are represented by 26 unions, the park’s 1,100 character performers and 600 parade performers and support staff had not been unionized until now.

California’s minimum wage increased to $16 an hour in 2024 with the hourly rate set to rise to $18 in 2025. After a lengthy court fight, Anaheim’s Measure L boosted Disneyland’s minimum wage to nearly $20 an hour.



The AVP’s solution for growing beach volleyball in America? Bullriding

HUNTINGTON BEACH — The day before the AVP Huntington Beach Open kicked off, one by one, the league’s Chief Operating Officer Robert Corvino welcomed a slew of competing teams in for a private presentation to sell a new vision for professional volleyball in the United States.

Bullriding. At least, its structure.

Despite the continued growth of beach volleyball as a sport in the United States, the AVP, as league veteran and Long Beach State grad Paul Lotman put it, has long struggled to be profitable. It went bankrupt in 2010. It’s gone through numerous ownership changes. Prize money, largely, has careened. And so, as players across the landscape of the AVP have expressed the need for innovation, Corvino’s vision for its future “just seemed different,” Lotman recalled.

And that vision, as Lotman learned in a 20-minute meeting on Thursday, was, yes, bullriding. In November 2023, the AVP announced the formation of the AVP League, a structure of eight teams based in eight cities across the nation; teams who won at three longtime spots on the AVP Tour, like Huntington Beach, could earn an automatic bid to the league. It’s a format structured nearly exactly, Lotman said, after the Professional Bull Riders’ (PBR) Team Series, which features eight teams hailing from eight cities.

Lotman is 38 years old. Not many reps remain in his knees. He has four children, and runs an Airbnb business, and played with a partner this weekend — Stanford beach volleyball assistant coach Billy Allen — who he’d had all of three training sessions with before Huntington.

He was playing, this weekend, for a love of the game greater than himself. And that meant throwing his weary legs fully into a new idea that has still been only vaguely flushed out, a new idea in a long line of them, an idea he could simply only hope would work.

“I don’t know how many years I have left to play,” Lotman said, after a match Friday afternoon. “But I want to see it succeed, for the future of the sport.”

As some of the best beach volleyball talent in the country has returned to Huntington this weekend for the Open, an annual mainstay on the AVP Tour, they’ve similarly aligned behind Corvino’s plan.

USC alumna April Ross, a reigning gold medalist at Tokyo who made her return to the court on Friday after having a son in the fall, emphasized her excitement at the new format. Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk had recently thrown in the towel on a year-long push for the Paris Olympics, but came back to compete at Huntington with the goal to continue advancing the game in the States. And Long Beach State alumnus Taylor Crabb, who saw 2020 Olympic dreams chased by a positive COVID-19 test 10 minutes after he hopped off a flight to Tokyo, has since moved his focus away from international play and centered on this new development within the AVP.

For years, the Open was free to all. This weekend, for the first time ever, tickets in the stands overlooking the main court cost money, at $21.60 per day. The stakes have risen, suddenly, around an event that’s been a staple of Huntington Beach for decades: the winners of the men’s and women’s bracket automatically get the first berth in the AVP League.

“The league itself is pushing us, giving us a reason for these tournaments,” Crabb said Saturday, after a win at Huntington with partner Taylor Sander to advance to Sunday’s semifinal in the men’s bracket. “Like, it’s do-or-die.”

“You want to make the league, these tournaments mean a lot. You got to win.”

That’s the simplest way to earn a bid to the league, ultimately. Winners of the Manhattan Beach Open in August and the Chicago Open, from Aug. 30 through Sept. 1, have the same chance. That part is easy enough. Less straightforward is how the rest of the league will be filled out.

Before the season kicks off in the fall, the AVP will hold a player draft in Manhattan Beach, to determine which pairs will represent which cities participating in the league: Los Angeles, San Diego, New York, Brooklyn, Miami, Palm Beach, Dallas and Austin. It’s unclear whether teams drafted will be required to move to those cities, or how an actual connection between pairs and cities will be established.

“The public needs to see you, right?” asked beach volleyball legend Misty May-Treanor in an interview with the Southern California News Group Saturday, expressing she wasn’t sure if “reinventing everything is the right way to go.”

But players strongly advocated that the sport needs a city-team connection, however it’s cemented. Beach volleyball, by nature, had become individualistic, as Lotman said: every team has their own coach, their own sponsors, their own motives. But the AVP needed to generate enough buzz and sell enough tickets to continue justifying the price of constructing their events, Lotman added. And having a city support a team, Lotman felt, was a “sustainable model.”

The timing, theoretically, aligns perfectly for the league to capitalize off the buzz generated from American teams at the Summer Olympics in Paris. And at Huntington, thus far, the United States’ best and brightest have dazzled.

Reigning Huntington Beach Open champions Sara Hughes and Kelly Cheng, who are headed to Paris, hung tough to beat Hailey Harward and Kylie Deberg 2-1 (19-21, 21-17, 15-6) in the women’s quarterfinal on Saturday. Fellow Olympians-to-be Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss, meanwhile, took down Canada’s Melissa Humana-Paredes and Brandie Wilkerson in three sets (17-21, 21-19, 15-12), and the two United States Olympic teams could well meet in the finals of the women’s bracket Sunday at 2:00 pm.

It’ll set the stage for an exciting final day at Huntington — the winners the first cogs in a grand, and sorely needed, experiment.

“I’m optimistic,” Lotman said. “I hope everyone is, too, because like I said, AVP’s struggled for a long time, and they need to figure out a way to make money and survive.”



Doug O’Neill’s Preakness day win comes at Santa Anita

ARCADIA — Doug O’Neill was in the winner’s circle again on a Triple Crown race day. That it wasn’t the Preakness winner’s circle, or even the Pimlico winner’s circle, seemed not to bother him at all.

O’Neill enjoyed the victory by his filly Miss Lizzy and jockey Antonio Fresu in the $100,000 Mizdirection Stakes, a sprint down the hillside turf course, in front of a Preakness day crowd Saturday at Santa Anita.

The trainer best known for winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with I’ll Have Another in 2012, and a second Derby with Nyquist in 2016, also seemed to enjoy watching the Preakness on TV and seeing D. Wayne Lukas-trained Seize the Grey score an upset.

“It’s fun to watch,” O’Neill said. “More fun to be there, but it’s a lot of fun to watch.”

O’Neill took the Preakness result as “validation” for his lightly raced colt Vlahos, who finished a close third to Seize the Grey in the Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day.

At age 55, O’Neill also was pleased to see Lukas win his seventh Preakness at 88.

“It’s the beauty of being a trainer,” O’Neill said. “We can do it ’til … ’til we can’t.”

O’Neill, leading trainer at the Santa Anita Classic Meet that ran from December to April, and 18th in the nation in purse earnings with $2.4 million in 2024, won his barn’s fifth stakes of the year when Miss Lizzy won the first of her career.

Four-year-old Miss Lizzy rallied from last in the field of eight in the about 6 1/2-furlong Mizdirection to win by 1 3/4 lengths and pay $12.

Favorite Getthemoney finished second after she and jockey Juan Hernandez were unable to shake clear early. Chismosa and Lucky Girl were third and fourth. Those four all came out of the April 6 Monrovia Stakes, where they’d run second, third, sixth and fourth behind Ag Bullet.

O’Neill gave credit to Fresu, who rode his third winner of the afternoon. Fresu replaced Hector Berrios on Miss Lizzy and replicated their last-to-first win together in February.

“He kind of found a lane and pushed her on through,” O’Neill said. “She’s not a real big filly. I didn’t know if she’d have the guts to do that. (Fresu) showed that she did.”

Maybe a year from now O’Neill will be back at Pimlico.

“You want to be there (at a Triple Crown race) with a horse that’s got a chance,” O’Neill said. “This year we didn’t have one, but hopefully next. That’s the beauty of this sport. It’s hard to get depressed. You come to the barn and you think, ‘That could be the one.’

“We’ve got a few ‘That could be the ones.’”



Whatever your passion, you’ll find it in Laguna Woods

“We need men!” exclaimed Sandy Smolinsky, representing the Laguna Woods Village Square Dancers at the 2024 Club Expo held recently at Clubhouse 5.

“I’m dancing a lot of the boy parts now,” she added, laughing. “People don’t know how much fun square dancing is, and it’s good for your body and your brain.”

The Village Square Dancers garnered 30 signups of unspecified gender from the crowd that packed the clubhouse April 30.

“Classes will start in the fall, with the first one free,” Smolinsky told them.

With the Club Expo drawing several hundred residents – by one count, around 600 – ebbing and flowing from 10 a.m. on, and parking remaining an exercise in catch as can until closing at 1 p.m., it was clear that it was next to impossible to get bored. Underscoring that point, a few members of the Senior Clown Alley made sure everyone enjoyed a good laugh as well.

  • Residents pour over club information at the 2024 Club Expo...

    Residents pour over club information at the 2024 Club Expo last week. The expo drew 74 clubs and several hundred people to Clubhouse 5 in Laguna Woods on April 30. (Photo by Mark Rabinowitch)

  • The American Italia Club’s table displayed photos of the social...

    The American Italia Club’s table displayed photos of the social club’s dinners and dances at the 2024 Club Expo on April 30 at Clubhouse 5 in Laguna Woods. (Photo by Mark Rabinowitch)

  • June Hill staffs the table of the Porcelain Artists Club...

    June Hill staffs the table of the Porcelain Artists Club at the 2024 Club Expo on April 30 at Clubhouse 5 in Laguna Woods. (Photo by Mark Rabinowitch)

  • Nikki Thompson, longtime member of the Pickleball Club, shows how...

    Nikki Thompson, longtime member of the Pickleball Club, shows how to use a pickleball paddle at the 2024 Club Expo on April 30 at Clubhouse 5 in Laguna Woods. (Photo by Mark Rabinowitch)

  • The Hispanic Heritage Club in Laguna Woods was created in...

    The Hispanic Heritage Club in Laguna Woods was created in Jan.. The club had a table at the 2024 Club Expo on April 30 at Clubhouse 5…(Photo by Mark Rabinowitch)

  • Bev Elwell, right, is president of the Cat Club, whose...

    Bev Elwell, right, is president of the Cat Club, whose mission is to find homes for temporarily unhoused cats in the Village. Here she staffs the club’s table at the 2024 Club Expo on April 30 at Clubhouse 5 in Laguna Woods. (Photo by Mark Rabinowitch)

  • at the 2024 Club Expo on April 30 at Clubhouse...

    at the 2024 Club Expo on April 30 at Clubhouse 5 in Laguna Woods. (Photo by Mark Rabinowitch)

  • Laguna Woods Clubhouse 5 is packed for the 2024 Club...

    Laguna Woods Clubhouse 5 is packed for the 2024 Club Expo on April 30. The expo drew 74 clubs and several hundred attendees. (Photo by Mark Rabinowitch)

  • Carmen Pacella, center, is president of the All Musicians Club....

    Carmen Pacella, center, is president of the All Musicians Club. The club, which is open to all Village musicians and their friends, was at the 2024 Club Expo on April 30 at Clubhouse 5 in Laguna Woods. (Photo by Mark Rabinowitch)

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All told, 74 clubs – ranging from the big guns like the Boomers Club, Chicago Club, California Club and Pickleball Club, to smaller groups like the Porcelain Artists and the artistically related Potters and Sculptors Club – had set up their tables and a few wares explaining their missions. Also prominent were clubs of sundry political persuasions: Concerned Citizens, the Republican Club and the Democratic Club.

The porcelain artists displayed their colorfully painted plates and vessels, offering prospective new members a glimpse into an art form that is both functional and fun.

The club has been active in the Village since 1973, said Naomi Bernstein, whose mother, Stella, had also been a Village resident and member of the club. She said members are supplied with materials such as brushes and paints and a place to fire their creations free of charge.

“We’re down in members right now,” Bernstein said. “Anyone interested in slip casting and china painting should come and join us.” The members ply their craft at Clubhouse 4.

The potters and sculptors have created a wide variety of vessels over the years.

“We are open to artists of all skill levels,” said Jan Cowin, in charge of recruiting new members for the club. “We’ve featured raku pottery and ceramic sculpture since the early 1970s.”

Also represented on the creative front were the Camera Club, Art Association and Publishing Club, along with the Village’s two groups for thespians, Theatre Guild and Old Pros.

The All Musicians Club is open to all Village musicians.

“We are a social club for Village musicians and their friends,” said club President Carmen Pacella.

Club members perform in several local bands. Club event entrance fees run between $3 and $10, and everything is BYO, as in bring your own.

Up until recently, the 1-year-old Community Bridge Builders represented the newest club with a distinct social mission. As of four months ago, the Village is also home to the Hispanic Heritage Club. Founded by Walter Valencia, the club welcomes anyone of Hispanic heritage.

Also centered on heritage and culture are the African American Heritage Club and the American Italia Club.

The Laguna Woods Friends of the Jewish Federation of Orange County, the Village’s National Council of Jewish Women, the Reform Temple of Laguna Woods, the Christian Women’s Connection of Laguna Woods and the Laguna Woods Bible Club were also among the groups vying for new members.

The Shalom Club’s table was festooned with flyers from past multicultural events.

“We invite everyone to join us in the exploration of the richness of cultures that surround us,” said club President Paula Kruger.

It’s hard to miss the scenic lawn bowling field near Clubhouse 2, and the Lawn Bowling Club offers free lessons to new players.

“Once a month we also have a ladies day, and use of the balls is always free,” said Joan Narmontas, who’s in charge of membership for the lawn bowlers.

And who could miss the Village’s cherished Aquadettes artistic swim team?

“We won’t have a show this year due to the remodel of Pool 1, but we are practicing and are also reaching out to assisted living places where we’ve really been well-received,” said Cindy Toerner. “We’re putting on smaller shows, which we modify according to pool sizes.”

Nope, there’s no reason to be bored in Laguna Woods.



LA Grand Prix: Benjamin, McLaughlin-Levrone back overcoming hurdles
  • Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone of the USA wins the women’s 200m race...

    Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone of the USA wins the women’s 200m race with a time of 22.07 as Gabby Thomas finished sixth with a time of 22.68 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone of the USA wins the women’s 200m race...

    Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone of the USA wins the women’s 200m race with a time of 22.07 as Gabby Thomas finished sixth with a time of 22.68 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Dalilah Muhammad of the USA with her shoe cut out...

    Dalilah Muhammad of the USA with her shoe cut out at the heel finished fourth with a time of 55.78 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Anna Cockrell of the USA wins women’s 400m hurdles with...

    Anna Cockrell of the USA wins women’s 400m hurdles with a time of 53.75 as Dalilah Muhammad of the USA finished fourth with a time of 55.78 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Dalilah Muhammad of the USA finished fourth in the women’s...

    Dalilah Muhammad of the USA finished fourth in the women’s 400m hurdles with a time of 55.78 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Anna Cockrell of the USA wins women’s 400m hurdles with...

    Anna Cockrell of the USA wins women’s 400m hurdles with a time of 53.75 as Dalilah Muhammad of the USA finished fourth with a time of 55.78 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Anna Cockrell of the USA wins women’s 400m hurdles with...

    Anna Cockrell of the USA wins women’s 400m hurdles with a time of 53.75 as Dalilah Muhammad of the USA finished fourth with a time of 55.78 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Dalilah Muhammad of the USA finished fourth in the women’s...

    Dalilah Muhammad of the USA finished fourth in the women’s 400m hurdles with a time of 55.78 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Anna Cockrell of the USA wins women’s 400m hurdles with...

    Anna Cockrell of the USA wins women’s 400m hurdles with a time of 53.75 as Dalilah Muhammad of the USA finished fourth with a time of 55.78 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Dalilah Muhammad of the USA finished fourth in the women’s...

    Dalilah Muhammad of the USA finished fourth in the women’s 400m hurdles with a time of 55.78 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Anna Cockrell of the USA wins women’s 400m hurdles with...

    Anna Cockrell of the USA wins women’s 400m hurdles with a time of 53.75 as Dalilah Muhammad of the USA finished fourth with a time of 55.78 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Dalilah Muhammad of the USA finished fourth in the women’s...

    Dalilah Muhammad of the USA finished fourth in the women’s 400m hurdles with a time of 55.78 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Dalilah Muhammad of the USA finished fourth in the women’s...

    Dalilah Muhammad of the USA finished fourth in the women’s 400m hurdles with a time of 55.78 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone of the USA wins the women’s 200m race...

    Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone of the USA wins the women’s 200m race with a time of 22.07 as Gabby Thomas finished sixth with a time of 22.68 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone of the USA wins the women’s 200m race...

    Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone of the USA wins the women’s 200m race with a time of 22.07 as Gabby Thomas finished sixth with a time of 22.68 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone of the USA wins the women’s 200m race...

    Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone of the USA wins the women’s 200m race with a time of 22.07 as Gabby Thomas finished sixth with a time of 22.68 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Kyree King of the USA wins the men’s 100m race...

    Kyree King of the USA wins the men’s 100m race with a time of 10.11 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone of the USA wins the women’s 200m race...

    Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone of the USA wins the women’s 200m race with a time of 22.07 as Gabby Thomas finished sixth with a time of 22.68 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Michael Norman of the USA wins the 400m race with...

    Michael Norman of the USA wins the 400m race with a time of 44.53 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Michael Norman of the USA wins the 400m race with...

    Michael Norman of the USA wins the 400m race with a time of 44.53 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Michael Norman of the USA wins the 400m race with...

    Michael Norman of the USA wins the 400m race with a time of 44.53 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Michael Norman of the USA wins the 400m race with...

    Michael Norman of the USA wins the 400m race with a time of 44.53 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Michael Norman of the USA wins the 400m race with...

    Michael Norman of the USA wins the 400m race with a time of 44.53 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Michael Norman of the USA wins the 400m race with...

    Michael Norman of the USA wins the 400m race with a time of 44.53 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Michael Norman of the USA wins the 400m race with...

    Michael Norman of the USA wins the 400m race with a time of 44.53 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Michael Norman of the USA wins the 400m race with...

    Michael Norman of the USA wins the 400m race with a time of 44.53 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Michael Norman of the USA wins the 400m race with...

    Michael Norman of the USA wins the 400m race with a time of 44.53 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Fan react after Rai Benjamin of the USA wins the...

    Fan react after Rai Benjamin of the USA wins the men’s 400m hurdles with a time of 46.64 for a world record during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Rai Benjamin of the USA throws a water bottle into...

    Rai Benjamin of the USA throws a water bottle into the stands after winning the men’s 400m hurdles with a time of 46.64 for a world record during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Alaysha Johnson of the USA finished second with time of...

    Alaysha Johnson of the USA finished second with time of 12.57 in the Women’s 100m Hurdles during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Gabby Thomas of the USA finished fourth with a time...

    Gabby Thomas of the USA finished fourth with a time of 11.42 in the Women’s 100m B race during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Rai Benjamin of the USA wins the men’s 400m hurdles...

    Rai Benjamin of the USA wins the men’s 400m hurdles with a time of 46.64 for a world record during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Rai Benjamin of the USA wins the men’s 400m hurdles...

    Rai Benjamin of the USA wins the men’s 400m hurdles with a time of 46.64 for a world record during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Rai Benjamin of the USA wins the men’s 400m hurdles...

    Rai Benjamin of the USA wins the men’s 400m hurdles with a time of 46.64 for a world record during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Rai Benjamin of the USA wins the men’s 400m hurdles...

    Rai Benjamin of the USA wins the men’s 400m hurdles with a time of 46.64 for a world record during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Rai Benjamin of the USA wins the men’s 400m hurdles...

    Rai Benjamin of the USA wins the men’s 400m hurdles with a time of 46.64 for a world record during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Alaysha Johnson of the USA finished second with time of...

    Alaysha Johnson of the USA finished second with time of 12.57 in the Women’s 100m Hurdles during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Alaysha Johnson of the USA finished second with time of...

    Alaysha Johnson of the USA finished second with time of 12.57 in the Women’s 100m Hurdles during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Alaysha Johnson of the USA finished second with time of...

    Alaysha Johnson of the USA finished second with time of 12.57 in the Women’s 100m Hurdles during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Alaysha Johnson of the USA finished second with time of...

    Alaysha Johnson of the USA finished second with time of 12.57 in the Women’s 100m Hurdles during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Gabby Thomas of the USA finished fourth with a time...

    Gabby Thomas of the USA finished fourth with a time of 11.42 in the Women’s 100m B race during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet at Drake Stadium on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

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LOS ANGELES — It’s been a promising week for New York sports.

The Yankees sit atop the American League East. The Rangers advanced to the Stanley Cup Eastern Conference finals. The Knicks are a game away from reaching the NBA’s conference finals for the first time in nearly a quarter-century.

And Rai Benjamin, native of Mount Vernon, N.Y., 10550, ran a world leading 46.64 seconds for the 400-meter hurdles at the Los Angeles Grand Prix Saturday and his season opener in the event.

“This is New York’s year,” Benjamin said. “Hopefully my Knicks can close out and the Yankees started off pretty well. Hopefully this is our year.”

Does that include his Olympic year?

“That includes me of course,” he said. “One-hundred percent.”

Benjamin’s lap around UCLA’s Drake Stadium suggested at at this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris he might finally capture the gold medal that has eluded him at the last four major championships. The mark shattered the 44-year-old stadium record of 47. 45 set by Edwin Moses, the two-time Olympic champion and widely considered the greatest 400 hurdler in history, at the 1977 U.S. Championships.

The former USC NCAA champion’s post-race comments suggested Benjamin and his coach, Joanna Hayes, the 2004 Olympic 100-meter hurdles champion, have even bigger things in mind.

“Maybe 45 (seconds), maybe 44, who knows?” Benjamin said. “The skies the limit.”

Consider that Kevin Young’s 1992 world record of 46.78 loomed over the sport for like another planet for nearly 20 years until Norway’s Karsten Warholm lowered it to 46.70 in Oslo in 2021 and then again to 45.94 to win the Olympic gold medal in Tokyo later that summer.

I think once I keep coming out and just running well, staying healthy,” Benjamin said “I think I’m the fastest guy in the field, honestly.”

But he was second to Warholm in Tokyo, running 46.17, the second fastest time in history, and at the 2019 World Championships in Doha before picking up another silver at the 2022 Worlds in Eugene, this time behind Brazil’s Alison dos Santos. Benjamin was third in last summer’s Worlds but rebounded to hold off Warholm 46.39 to 46.53 at the Diamond League final at the Prefontaine Classic last September with dos Santos well back in fourth.

“I feel like I’ve shown that I could race well on the conditions we all raced when we were in shape in Oregon at the Diamond League final and I showed everyone I could win,” Benjamin said. “It’s not really a confidence thing. I think the past couple of years I’ve been dealing with injuries going into the championship season, so that kind of hindered me a lot fitness wise and technique wise. Not having races and practices catch up to you when it’s, you can get away with a lot of things when it’s the beginning of the season. But when it’s championship time the margin for error is very, very slim.”

To erase that championship margin Hayes and Benjamin have overhauled his race from start to finish, including how many steps he takes between hurdles, working on 12 steps instead of his regular 13.

“We changed a lot,” Benjamin said. “Changed the race plan. We can get away with 13 this time of year. But championship season, I have to go 12s on the backstretch, to at least three or four.”

Sydney McLaughin-Levrone, the Olympic champion and world record-holder, has also refocused on the 400 hurdles this spring after a 2022 season in which she hoped to break Marita Koch of East Germany’s 1995 world 400 record of 47.60 ended in injury.

McLaughlin-Levrone ran a 4×100 relay leg at the Mt. SAC Relays last month, then clocked a world class 12.71 100 hurdles victory at Occidental.

Saturday she blew away a 200 field that included two Olympic medal contenders with a 22.07 clocking into a slight head-wind.

“Honestly, I would have loved to have got 21.99,” she said “but I’m really happy with that.”

Abby Steiner, the 2022 U.S. champion in the 200, was second at 22.32, with Gabby Thomas, the 2021 Olympic bronze medalist, the silver medalist at the 2023 Worlds, sixth in 22.68.

“Honestly I think we started the season out just seeing where it went,” McLaughlin-Levrone said. “I think today’s race was just trying to see where we are speed wise.”

Her season is headed back to the 400 hurdles, an event where she broke the world record four times in 2021 and 2022, lowering it to 50.68 in winning the 2022 Worlds. She ruled out attempting a 400 and 400 hurdles double in Paris.

“The 400 hurdles is my bread and butter,” she said. “It’s what I’m most comfortable with. So we’re going to get back to that.

“Just wanting to come back after last season and just stick to one event and doing it the best I can, be healthy, which we are and I’m very happy about.”

Benjamin also downplayed his afternoon.

“I’m not trying to think too much on it because the Olympics aren’t today which is May 17, 18th,” he said. “They’re in August. So just keep the ball rolling and focus on running well there. This was one was great but I’m already forgetting about it.”




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