Aries Merritt wins first Diamond League race since kidney transplant

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Aries Merritt won his first Diamond League 110m hurdles race since his 2015 kidney transplant in Rome on Thursday.

Merritt, the 2012 Olympic champion, prevailed in 13.13 seconds while jetlagged.

It’s well off his world record of 12.80, but Merritt beat a decent field that included Rio silver medalist Orlando Ortega and the last two world champions, Sergey Shubenkov and David Oliver.

“I made many mistakes, hit a lot of hurdles today, but my speed is getting better,” Merritt said, according to the IAAF. “The time 13.13 is not that terrible in the end. After 2015, it was tough, but I am here, I am healthy, so I just need to stay focused and the results will come.”

Merritt is 21 months removed from a kidney transplant. He won bronze at the 2015 World Championships with kidney function at less than 20 percent. He missed the 2016 Olympic team by .01 at trials, 10 months after his transplant surgery.

Merritt ranks second in the U.S. this year behind Devon Allen. The top three at the U.S. Championships in two weeks qualify for the world championships in London in August.

Sprint favorites Andre De Grasse and Dafne Schippers also won in Rome, the first of three Diamond League meets in an 11-day span.

NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold will also air live coverage of Oslo (next Thursday and Stockholm (June 18), the last two meets before the U.S. Championships.

Full Rome results are here.

In other events Thursday, the Canadian De Grasse won the 200m, his first Diamond League victory of 2017. De Grasse, billed as the top challenger to Usain Bolt, impressively pulled away in 20.01 seconds.

De Grasse now ranks No. 6 in the world in the 200m this year. American Christian Coleman is the world leader at 19.85 seconds. Bolt said he’s not racing the 200m in his farewell season.

Dutchwoman Schippers won the 100m on Thursday in 10.99. Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, fastest in the world this year at 10.78, was not in the Rome field.

In the women’s 5000m, Hellen Obiri broke the Kenyan record with her winning time of 14:18.37. Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba, the 1500m world-record holder, was sixth.

Rio triple jump champion Caterine Ibarguen of Colombia lost for just the second time in her last 42 competitions since her 2012 Olympic silver, according to Tilastopaja.org. Venezuelan Yulimar Rojas, who took silver to Ibarguen in Rio, edged her by six centimeters Thursday (14.84 meters to 14.78).

There were more upsets.

Rio gold medalist Michelle Carter was third in the shot put. Rio silver medalist Sandi Morris was sixth in the pole vault.

The men’s 100m lacked any individual Olympic or world medalists, but it still produced a surprise winner in Brit CJ Ujah. Ujah clocked 10.02 seconds, while Pre Classic winner Ronnie Baker was third in 10.05.

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Alysia Montano races pregnant again at USATF Outdoor Championships

Alysia Montano
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U.S. Olympic 800m runner Alysia Montaño raced four months pregnant in 110-degree heat at the USATF Outdoor Championships in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday.

Montaño, who raced eight months pregnant at the 2014 USATF Outdoors also in Sacramento, finished last in her 800m first-round heat in 2:21.40. She was 10 seconds faster than her time three years ago.

In a Wonder Woman top, she gritted her teeth on the final straightaway and raised her arms crossing the finish line.

“[In 2014] women let me know that my journey and my story had inspired them in so many different ways,” Montaño told media in Sacramento, standing next to 2-year-old daughter Linnea. “I think there’s something about coming out to any venue, not really expecting to win, but just going along with the journey and seeing what comes out of it. And that’s the most beautiful part for me, being a track and field athlete, the platform that I have, I feel so responsible to be a representative for people who don’t have the same platform, don’t have the same voice that I do.

“I represent so many different people. I represent women. I represent black women. I represent pregnant women. … I think it’s my responsibility to make sure I’m a voice and advocate for them.”

Athletes are looking for top-three finishes to qualify for the world championships in London in August. Finals are later this weekend.

In the men’s 800m, two-time Olympian and 2013 World silver medalist Nick Symmonds was eliminated, 32nd-fastest of 33 runners in the first round.

Symmonds, in his final season, said he has one more race left — the Honolulu Marathon on Dec. 10.

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Lilly King to be less vocal on Yuliya Efimova topic this summer

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Expect to see Lilly King and Yuliya Efimova resume their breaststroke rivalry at the world championships next month.

It will look very different than in Rio, when King became a vocal opponent of doping and directed some of her words at the formerly suspended Russian Efimova.

“This summer, I’m not going to talk about everything that happened last summer,” King said, according to the Indianapolis Star. “I spoke my piece. I’ve said everything I need to say.”

Her focus needs to stay in the pool, where she must finish first or second at the USA Swimming National Championships next week to make it to worlds (broadcast schedule here).

King said in May her goal is to break world records at worlds in Budapest in July.

She may need to in order to defeat Efimova like in Rio.

Efimova has the fastest 100m breast time in the world this year, a 1:04.82 set on Sunday. The national record put her No. 3 on the all-time list (and .09 faster than King’s winning time in Rio).

King is in third place this year at 1:06.20, though she spent all winter focusing on NCAA competition in 25-yard pools.

In Rio, King said Efimova shouldn’t have been allowed to compete given her doping history.

Efimova served a 16-month ban for testing positive for the banned steroid DHEA in 2013. She again tested positive in February 2016 for meldonium, though she said she stopped taking it before it became a banned substance Jan. 1, 2016, and was absolved along with other athletes.

King memorably finger-wagged at an image of Efimova on a TV in the ready room before her 100m breast semifinal and relegated the Russian to silver the following the night.

“You’ve been caught for drug cheating, I’m just not a fan,” King memorably said in Rio, adding last November, “[Doping] was on all of our minds. We had team meetings talking about what it was going to be like. We were going to be racing dopers, and we all knew it.”

King struggled with her newfound fame after she returned home last summer, sobbing in a winter meeting with her University of Indiana coach, Ray Looze, according to the Indianapolis Star:

It was so hard to do normal activities in her hometown – go to the grocery store or eat at a restaurant – that she considered wearing a wig to disguise herself. Her likeness was on a bingo card at a fall festival, so people purposely looked for her. When in Evansville now, she said, she looks at the ground so no one will recognize her. After an initial wave of attention on IU’s campus, she can walk around without interruption.

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