Justin Gatlin, Ameer Webb
IAAF

Justin Gatlin nearly upset by new U.S. sprint sensation in Rome

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Justin Gatlin nearly lost to a countryman for the first time since 2013 at a Diamond League meet in Rome on Thursday.

Gatlin, the reigning World 100m and 200m silver medalist, won a 100m in the Italian capital in 9.93 seconds, edging Ameer Webb by .01.

Gatlin moved to 33-0 in competitions not including Usain Bolt since the start of 2014, according to Tilastopaja.org, but his time was much slower than his 9.75 in Rome last year, continuing an unimpressive overall start relative to 2015.

“I want to start slow and then progress steadily,” Gatlin said, according to the IAAF.

Webb extended his torrid start to 2016 by nearly sweeping the 200m and 100m in 80 minutes on Thursday. The 26-year-old who has never made an Olympic or World Championships team won the 200m in 20.04 seconds and came back to nearly upset Gatlin.

Full Rome results are here.

Webb came to Rome already owning two of the three fastest 200m times in the world this year. His 100m personal best set Thursday ranks him No. 4 in the world in that event this year.

Another U.S. sprinter, World 100m co-bronze medalist Trayvon Bromell, is under greater scrutiny after finishing seventh in the 200m behind Webb on Thursday. Following a breakout 2015, Bromell has not put up any 100m or 200m times this year that would make him a favorite to make the Olympic team individually, though he still has one month before the Olympic Trials.

Also Thursday, controversial South African Caster Semenya matched her fastest time in the world this year in winning the 800m in 1:56.64. In typical style this spring, Semenya took the lead with a little less than 100 meters to go and quickly opened up a large gap. She won by a comfortable 1.56 seconds.

“I did a lot of traveling with very little rest,” Semenya said, according to the IAAF. “I am trying to keep up the shape. It is not easy.”

Ethiopian World champion Almaz Ayana won the 5000m with the second-fastest time ever — 14:12.59 — 1.44 seconds off Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record from 2008.

In the long jump, Olympic champion Greg Rutherford of Great Britain held off Buffalo Bills wide receiver Marquise Goodwin. Rutherford leaped 8.31 meters to Goodwin’s 8.19 meters, but Goodwin still has the best jump in the world this year at 8.45 meters from May 14.

Jamaican Elaine Thompson won the 100m in 10.87 seconds, with American English Gardner taking second in 10.92. American Tori Bowie owns the fastest time in the world this year at 10.80, while Olympic and World champion Shelly Ann-Fraser-Pryce has been slowed by a toe injury. Neither Bowie nor Fraser-Pryce was in the Rome field.

World champion Wayde van Niekerk won the 400m in 44.19 seconds against a field that did not include the last two Olympic champions, Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt. James is fastest this year with a 44.08 from April 29.

Colombian triple jumper Caterine Ibarguen extended the longest winning streak in the sport with her 34th straight victory since taking silver at the London Games, according to Tilastopaja.org.

The Diamond League continues with a meet in Birmingham, Great Britain, on Sunday.

PHOTOS: Justin Gatlin to race on track over water

Simone Biles returns to the gym, going from mental drain to physical pain

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For Simone Biles, this was supposed to be the stretch run of a legendary career.

Instead, she returned to her gym on May 18 with long-term thoughts of waiting 14 months until the Tokyo Olympics. And the immediate aches of a world-class gymnast who just missed nearly two months of regular training.

“After that amount of time off, it kind of sucks because your body hurts and then you get really sore,” Biles said in a pre-recorded ESPNW interview that aired Thursday. “So you just have to get back into the swing of things. But it felt nice to see my coaches, my teammates, and just to be back on the equipment and in the environment.”

In that same Texas gym three months ago, Biles had a far different outlook. One that would have put fear into any gymnast who still harbored ambition of ending her near-seven-year win streak.

“I never felt more ready this early in the season,” she said. “I was so ready for the Olympics to be this year.”

Biles repeated in interviews the last two months that the Olympic postponement to 2021 was devastating. Thoughts zig-zagged: How do I go on another year, at age 23, in a sport recently dominated by (but not limited to) teenagers?

“I’m getting pretty old,” she said in the interview published Thursday. “Will I be at the top of my game?”

Biles proved the last two years — after a year off — that she can win — and comfortably — while not at her best. She grabbed the 2018 World all-around title by a record margin — with two falls. Last year, she became the most decorated gymnast in world championships history. In Tokyo, she can become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion, and the only one older than 20, in more than 50 years.

This for a gymnast whose early goal was to earn a college scholarship. Biles did, to UCLA, but had to give it up by turning professional.

“So I’ve exceeded that,” Biles said. “And then I wanted to go to world championships and Olympics, and I’ve been to five worlds and one Olympic Games. So, I’d be more than happy [to walk away].”

After gymnastics, Biles has another goal — to be a voice for foster kids. She was in foster care multiple times before being adopted at age 6 by grandparents Ron and Nellie.

Those plans, along with so much else for Biles and so many others, have been pushed back a full year.

“I was already being mentally drained and almost, not done with the sport, but just going into the gym and feeling tired and being like, OK, I’m going to get my stuff [done], get out,” she said. “We have this one end goal, and now that it’s postponed another [year], it’s just like, how are we going to deal with that? We’re already being drained, and so it’s to keep the fire in the sport within yourself alive.”

MORE: Top U.S. gymnasts disagree with Tokyo Olympic age rule

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2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

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The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, a quadrennial major international meet, will not be held in 2022 “out of respect for the recent changes to the international sporting calendar,” according to a press release.

The Pan Pacs’ charter nations — the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan — agreed to the move. The 2026 event will be held in Canada, which was supposed to be the 2022 host.

The decision came after the 2021 World Championships were moved to May 2022, following the Tokyo Olympics moving from 2020 to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial multi-sport Commonwealth Games — which includes Australia and Canada, but not the U.S. or Japan — are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 7, 2022.

“Organizing a third major championships in that window presented several challenges,” according to the Pan Pacs release.

Pan Pacs mark the third-biggest major international meet for U.S. swimmers, held in non-Olympic, non-world championships years.

MORE: Caeleb Dressel co-hosts a podcast. It’s not about swimming.

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